Manchester stadium plan for 2002 Games

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The Independent Online
SPORTS POLITICS

BY MIKE ROWBOTTOM

Manchester, which will stand as sole bidder for the Commonwealth Games of 2002 when the deadline for entries falls at midnight tonight, has a more taxing battle ahead if it is to host the event in the stadium of its choice.

The city wants to build the 80,000-seat structure designed for its failed bid to host the 2000 Olympics. To do so it would almost certainly need the National Lottery funds which are to be deployed for a new national stadium. But there are already four other challengers for that honour - Sheffield, Birmingham, Bradford and London, which plans to develop Wembley stadium - and further bids may transpire before the deadline of 30 June.

The awkward question for Manchester is: what use would an 80,000-seat stadium be after the Games in a city where the two leading football teams, United and City, are busy developing their own grounds for the new millennium?

"We know what we want, and we look forward to giving battle," Sir Bob Scott, the chairman of Manchester 2002, said yesterday. "There is no point in building white elephants. There must be a stadium to suit the occasion and to make sense in the long term."

Significantly, Scott accepted that a national stadium need not be the only option for Manchester and did not rule out having a smaller arena, perhaps with some temporary extra seating. "I don't think we should discount any possibility of what stadia can be," he said. "They can be converted, they can be temporary or they can be proud and majestic."

There is a well established precedent for the Commonwealth Games to be held in temporarily enlarged stadia - Edmonton adopted that policy in 1978, and Victoria followed suit last year. Against that, Kuala Lumpur, who will host the 1998 Games, are building a 100,000-capacity stadium within eight miles of an existing arena with a capacity of 85,000 - a statistic which the Manchester camp is naturally happy to have noted.

The Sports Council, which will oversee the awarding of National Lottery money, plan to announce their decision by the end of September.

Derek Casey, director general of the Sports Council, said the possibility of building two stadiums from Lottery funds had not been ruled out. He also noted that many people would not be comfortable watching football across an athletics track, and expressed interest in plans which might allow tracks to be covered with removeable seating. "That would make better economic sense than building two stadiums," he said.

The Commonwealth Games Federation's secretary, David Dixon, confirmed that Manchester would secure the 2002 Games. "There is no other bid on the horizon before the deadline at midnight tomorrow," he said.

Stephen Dorrell, the Secretary of State for National Heritage, pledged "diplomatic and promotional" support for Manchester's Commonwealth Games. Graham Stringer, chairman of Manchester city council, said Dorrell had written to him saying there was "a possibility of central funding from the National Lottery or from Government sources for specific projects".

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