Commemorating “Sportsdock”

25th March 2021

University of East London.

As part of a series of articles celebrating over 25 years of Ball Hall’s expertise, we have asked Alan Hodgkinson (who has overseen Ball Hall’s business development for all those years) to provide his recollections of a particularly special project, the “Sportsdock” complex at University of East London, constructed as a training venue for the US Olympic team to use for the 2012 Olympics.

What are your abiding early memories of the Sportsdock at UEL?

At the time, with a cost of about £15m, this was one of the biggest projects we had undertaken. We had been working on the project for some time but as the years moved closer to 2012 there were a few exciting factors that increased the scope of what we were trying to achieve from the project including an increasing need for the University to expand, a decision of the US Olympic team to base themselves there as a training venue and an opportunity to develop the Newham All Stars Sports Academy at the venue.

In particular, the decision by the USA Olympic Organisation to hire the whole campus as a training base for several sports was an exciting event for one of our Ball Halls. Especially for me as a lifetime basketball fanatic the fact that the US Olympic Basketball Team would be training on one of our Dynamik sports floors was thrilling!

Even after the Olympics the venue has continued to be the home to the Newham All Stars Basketball Academy, one of the largest in the country. And is currently used as the training base for London Towers one of the leading teams in the British Basketball League.

What were some of the interesting matters around building for the Olympics?

There were many interesting matters. One unusual example at the outset were meetings held with Counter Terrorism officers who helped us put in place a void detection procedure whereby we had to sign off any space as being empty before it could be closed up to reduce the chance of a terrorist planting a bomb timed to go off during the Olympics.

There were also many rules emanating from the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games including no branding in the building whatsoever, which even meant sourcing toilets without the traditional “Armitage Shanks” writing on them!

Obviously, the liaison with the US Olympic team was very exciting for us all and the scale of the plans they set out even in very early meetings and years before the Games was truly impressive.

Can you recall any other anecdotes about the Olympic training use that made it different from our normal sports venues?

We fitted out the Gym including a Strength and Conditioning room for the US athletes. This was like no other strength and conditioning room we had built before or since. The size of the weights was really something to behold. We had large labourers who couldn’t even lift a single dumbbell!

For me personally, having worked in basketball for many years and also being a huge fan of the game, one the of the very best moments was seeing a photograph of Koby Bryant (who has sadly now passed away), James Harden, Lebron James, Russell Westbrook and Andre Iguodala practising basketball in the arena we had built. Even way back then their combined worth was over half a billion dollars!

Do you have any other thoughts to add?

I would only add that the building itself was always far more than a training venue for the Olympics. It has a great legacy of providing fantastic facilities for the University students including two huge sports halls, as well as lecture rooms, a gym, dance studios etc.

The link to Newham All Stars Sports Academy has been tremendous too. In 2014, they were named charity of the year and have many hard hitting messages such as “carry a basketball not a blade” and their success is a reason I am a very strong advocate for seeing more academies developed in deprived inner city areas.

I could go on but hopefully I have provided some good reasons why, from my perspective, the Sportsdock at UEL was such a special project in our 25 year journey.

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Whether you are a school, an academy, a university, a local authority or a sports club, we understand that, when it comes to a new sports facility, you will have your own set of special circumstances.

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