Manchester taking Wembley to the wire

Mike Rowbottom on the fight for the site of the new National Stadium
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The Independent Online
Manchester came out fighting yesterday as it submitted its final proposals for building the National Stadium.

Despite last week's endorsement of the rival Wembley bid by the football, athletics and rugby league authorities, Manchester - which was awarded the 2002 Commonwealth Games - maintained it was the best option for the country at large. "They think it's all over," reads the latest Manchester slogan. "It's not yet."

The city, which failed in bids for the 1996 and 2000 Olympics, has modified its original stadium design, adding a retractable roof and moveable seats to an all-seater 80,000 edifice it hopes will be the centrepiece of the proposed National Academy of Sport. Yesterday was the deadline for bids to host the Academy, and Manchester is among the two dozen or so contenders who also include Birmingham, Bath, Leeds, Liverpool, Sheffield and the London boroughs of Redbridge and Greenwich.

A spokeswoman for the newly formed United Kingdom Sports Council, which will decide on the location of the Academy, denied yesterday that the decision would necessarily be linked with the destination of the National Stadium.

Launching Manchester's latest proposals, Graham Stringer - the councillor who spearheaded the city's successful bid for the 2002 Commonwealth Games - said: "The stadium that will be at the focus of the world's attention in 2002 must be the best in the country - it's unthinkable that it isn't.

"And remember, the national stadium in Manchester will not be profit- governed. Any monies generated will be ploughed back into sport, unlike Wembley, which is a Plc."

Lee Shostok, a New York-based planner, insisted that Manchester's was a better option than Wembley in all the relevant criteria, from the use of lottery money - around pounds 122m is estimated to be required from the Sports Council - through to stadium design.

The former Conservative minister Sir David Trippier said: "Wembley's bid may have been backed by football, rugby and athletics' chiefs, but I wonder if they took the view of their members into account. The most famous football and rugby league clubs in the world are in this region and it also has the largest number of athletic clubs."

Trippier also contested London's claim that only capital cities can succeed in attracting major sporting events. He added: "Look at the examples of Atlanta and Sydney with regard to the Olympics. Manchester has already shown that it can attract events like the World Cycling Championships, the World Table Tennis Championships and the Commonwealth Games."

Adrian Moorhouse, the former Olympic swimming champion, added: "Households in the North-west spend 45 per cent more on watching sport than anywhere else in the UK."

The Sports Council plans to make its final decision in December. "At the moment the competition we are in is for the National Stadium," said Penny Boothman of the City council. "We are not at the stage of saying `this is what we want if we don't get the decision'."

Wembley, meanwhile, has announced the trustees who will submit the request for National Lottery funds. The six nominated representatives include the TV mogul Greg Dyke.

Up to pounds 100m of National Lottery money is also available for the National Academy of Sport, which will have a central site linked to regional centres.

Accepting bids to run the Academy, the Sports Minister, Iain Sproat, declared: "This is a real step forward for our elite athletes."

The Department of National Heritage and the new UK Sports Council will draw up a shortlist, with the help of specialist advice, and hope to announce a decision by the end of January. Regional centres will be named by September with a view to having the whole structure up and running by the year 2000.