Stadium bidders may all succeed

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Only one of five contending cities will be completely happy at today's scheduled announcement on the location of the new national stadium. Even if a restructured Wembley gets the nod from the Sports Council's steering committee - the most likely outcome - a variety of other funding options mean that this is a party from which everyone may yet walk away with a balloon.

The Sports Council is already committed to assisting Manchester in building a stadium for the 2002 Commonwealth Games from its own capital funding scheme. other aspirants, such as Bradford, which seeks the relatively small amount of pounds 40m from Lottery funding, can proceed with some hope, judging by the Sports Council's stance.

"We said there was a need for one national stadium by the turn of the century," said Jonathan O'Neil, the Sports Council's spokesman. "We haven't said that there is not a need for large stadiums around the country. There is a lot of lottery money, and we have ring-fenced around 10 per cent for that type of project over the next few years."

The main challenge facing any large facility will be to find sufficiently profitable activities to take place in their stadium, given that the national stadium will claim the lion's share.

Sheffield's late switch to a project involving separate stadiums for athletics and field sports such as rugby and football strays outside the steering group's stated goal of creating a single, all-purpose stadium capable of hosting major sporting events.

The bidding cities - London, Manchester, Birmingham, Sheffield and Bradford - were questioned in detail during final presentations to the steering group at the end of last week. "It is going to be a tough final call," O'Neil said. "There are so many different factors involved, and it is difficult to say that one bid is clearly ahead of the others."

The aspirations of Wembley and Bradford have been tempered by the need to adjust their claims so they fall within the technical requirements of the National Lottery scheme. Both bids involve plcs, which need to transform themselves into non-profit making trusts before Lottery money can be forthcoming.

The problem does not apply to Manchester, where the bid is going through the City Council, or Sheffield, which has a trust. Whoever gains the recommendation will have to apply from scratch for Lottery funds - because bids for money cannot be solicited.