Manchester given Commonwealth nod

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The Independent Online
Manchester, which has received little more than a pat on the head for successive Olympic bids, finally closed its jaws on a piece of the action yesterday when it was confirmed as host city for the 2002 Commonwealth Games.

The unanimous verdict of the Commonwealth Games Federation meeting in Bermuda was broadcast live on Manchester's Metro Link travel system and in the Arndale Centre. The news also came direct to the town hall in Albert Square, where it lit the blue touchpaper to what was officially described as "a short firework display".

After the huge anticlimax of 1993, when the decision to award the 2000 Olympics to Sydney turned Manchester's street party into a wake, the planned celebrations this time around have been more measured.

Despite the absence of any rival - neither Adelaide nor Cape Town followed through the interest they expressed last year - it was done with panache, and not a little enjoyment.

"It's a feeling of delight, relief and whoopee," said the soundbite-friendly figure of Bob Scott - now transmogrified to Sir Robert - who has led all three of Manchester's bids for major events. Part of the reason for Adelaide and Cape Town's withdrawal from the fray was the advanced state of readiness for a major Games in the north-west.

Their Olympic efforts mean they have already built a velodrome and an indoor arena, and a site is cleared and ready for a stadium in the centre of the city. Whether that, rather than Wembley, will turn out to be the national stadium is something the Sports Council will decide over the next three to six months.

The Sports Council's chief executive, Derek Casey, reiterated the commitment to providing sufficient facilities. "We will play our part to ensure that the Games are successful," he said.

The Minister for Sport, Iain Sproat, welcomed what he described as "the right choice". The fact that it was the only choice did not diminish the satisfaction that was felt within the city. Graham Stringer, the leader of Manchester City Council, said that a long-term ambition had been fulfilled "through strong partnerships between the private and public sector and sports organisations."

Stringer is confident there will be no repeat of the nightmarish occurrences the last time the Games came to these shores, in Edinburgh nine years ago. The 1986 Games were diminished by persistent rain and boycotts by a succession of African countries. For all the intervention of the late Robert Maxwell, which eventually took the form of appealing to people's patriotism to raise funds retrospectively, they made a loss of over pounds 10m.

"We are extremely confident of the viability of the operating budget we have proposed," Stringer said. "It has been subjected to the closest scrutiny from all parties involved and contracts have now been drawn up and agreed. The continued development of the Commonwealth, including the admission of South Africa, together with the buoyancy of broadcasting rights and sponsorship, means that we can look forward confidently to at least a break-even position."

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