Olympic Games: Scott poised for the game of Games: Hugh Jones examines the questions of politics, geography, finance and character which Manchester must be able to answer before it can hope to win the Olympics

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The Independent Online
FOR Manchester's Olympic bid to succeed, there has to be an almost Messianic sense of purpose. Bob Scott, chairman of the bid's organising committee, provides that, but his star has to be seen from afar. The light has reached Downing Street, but it has to travel much further - to the 94 potentates of Olympia.

The International Olympic Committee members are representatives of the Olympic movement, and not their individual countries' ambassadors. Despite the remnants of mysticism that cling to the Games, Manchester's fortunes will be determined by worldly men, subject to mortal frailties.

In September 1990 Scott emerged from his previous Olympic lobbying campaign battered but unbowed. The decision for 1996 was between Athens on sentiment and Atlanta on cents, with Manchester capturing only 11 votes in the first round and five in the second. Scott, a theatrical entrepreneur, hardly looked then like the man who, three years later, might turn the tables in Monte Carlo, where the IOC will meet on 23 September to select the venue for the 2000 Olympics. Sydney, Peking, Istanbul, Berlin, Milan and Brasilia are Manchester's rivals.

There are grounds for optimism. The Manchester team are familiar with the lobbying process, and, personally, with those that have to be lobbied. Equally valuable is the familiarity of IOC members with Manchester's lobbyists. Scott himself has cultivated some charisma over the last five years.

Personalities - 'people we feel comfortable with', in the words of one IOC member - may be what sways this tiny electorate towards the end of the campaign, but the earlier calculations may be at a more global level. There are certain geopolitical niceties that the IOC try to observe. In favouring Atlanta for 1996, the second US host city in 12 years, the IOC could claim that Athens would have been the second successive European venue for the Games. If Athens had won, the present European contenders would stand very little chance.

By the end of the century there will have been 13 post-war Olympiads. Six have been held in Europe, four will have been in North America, two in the Far East and one in Australia, the single southern hemisphere venue. To redress the historical imbalance within the 'Olympic Family', the IOC president, Juan Antonio Samaranch, would no doubt greet an African or South American bid with alacrity.

But the Olympic summit is no longer the home of the gods, and decisions have to be based on realpolitik. The fall from grace of the Brazilian president, Fernando Collor de Melo, has undermined Brasilia's bid, despite its recent re- entry into the race under new management. The benefits of a policy of geopolitical balance would - by default - fall to Sydney.

Where politics leads, finances follow. The European locations gain by the lesser travel costs they would inflict on many participating nations, particularly poorer African nations that are increasingly providing medal winners. Both Sydney and Peking, however, are offering to pay travel costs.

There are also specific political considerations. On German re- unification it was casually thought that the Olympics might make a good celebration of the 10th anniversary of unity. Conditions today make the prospect less likely.

There are also big questions raised by Peking's candidacy. The legacy of Tiananmen Square may cast doubts for some, but there will be others who see the Games as a means of securing China's participation, by then still of less than two decades' duration, within the 'Olympic Family' and within the commercial world of which the Olympics forms an increasingly obvious part.

Domestic political currents are just as important. Whereas China embraces the Peking bid in a general development drive, Berlin has its active internal opponents, who showed their resolve by disrupting the city's marathon last year. The Aboriginal resistance to the 1982 Commonwealth Games in Brisbane could return to haunt Sydney's candidacy. Manchester faces no such organised opposition, but the publication in Britain last year of The Lords of the Rings, a book by two British journalists highly critical of Samaranch and the IOC, serves equally well.

Conversely, forceful or charismatic leadership and backing can win votes, especially if the contest is pursued all the way down to the line. Jacques Chirac's 11th-hour oratory nearly swung the vote for Paris in 1986, against Samaranch's Barcelona.

John Major has given impetus to the Manchester bid through his attendance at the Barcelona Olympics and his announcement last Wednesday that the Government would underwrite the entire pounds 1.5bn capital cost of staging the Games in Manchester. But it is also a case of putting the mouth where the money is: he must be convinced by Scott that his personal advocacy in Monte Carlo is essential.

One of the last questions the IOC will consider is the suitability of the location for the athletes' performances. Sprinters like warmth and endurance athletes like cool conditions, but avoiding extremes is the best policy. Here Manchester's prospects are not so gloomy as might be imagined. The Sydney winter would be no warmer than a British summer. However, crisper mornings and brighter days might make Sydney look better on television. Peking would be a cauldron of heat and dust.

Viv Symson and Andrew Jennings allege in The Lords of the Rings that the showering of IOC members with expensive gifts and hospitality by bidding cities amounts to corruption of the electoral process. The vote, though, is secret. Even the number of votes in each round will not be declared and no one will know how any member votes. Under these circumstances, and with IOC members unlikely to recollect what gift- giving was done by whom, Scott believes they will be free to make an unencumbered choice.

The hurdle which bidders have to clear is an evaluation of their technical and financial competence to stage the Games. Beyond that, the geopolitical, political and climatic factors are assimilated by members translating them into more personal questions, such as: 'which is the visionary choice?'; 'which is the choice that Samaranch favours?'; and, less frivolous than it sounds, 'where would the Games be most fun?'

Manchester can best further its cause, while still pursuing it through more formal diplomatic channels, by suggesting answers to these questions through their personal relationships with IOC members built up over their five years in the Game.

(Photograph omitted)

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