The British Olympic bid: Manchester 2000: Scott optimistic as Major promises backing: From being a rank outsider Manchester's bid for the 2000 Olympics now figures firmly among the front-runners. Mike Rowbottom reports

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IT IS a matter of intense regret to Bob Scott, the leader of Manchester's bid for the 2000 Olympics, that he described the city's unsuccessful attempt to gain the 1996 Olympics as 'a bit of a con'.

Speaking at yesterday's official launch of the latest bid, he explained that all he had meant by that stray remark was that 'a certain amount of liberty' had been taken with regard to the aspirations expressed.

However, as Manchester prepares to race its six rival cities all the way to the line - the International Olympic Committee will make their choice in September - Scott can proceed in the certainty that, this time around, any aspirations are being backed unequivocally by Her Majesty's Government.

In underlining his commitment to underwrite the total cost of the Manchester Games, currently estimated at around pounds 1 1/2 bn, John Major has given a hard edge to the lobbying in which Scott will now become frantically engaged.

The Prime Minister will lobby himself when he visits Lausanne, home of the International Olympic Committee, on 5 April to meet the IOC president, Juan Antonio Samaranch. There are also plans for him to address a delegation of around 12 IOC members who are due to watch the FA Cup final on 15 May.

'It feels like the bell in an 800 metres race,' Scott said. 'We are second or third on the shoulder of the leader, beginning to leave four of the others behind and making very good progress.'

From being a rank outsider 18 months ago, Manchester has done very well to move into serious contention, although it is still generally regarded as being a distant third behind Sydney and Peking.

'Our main flaw, I suppose, is our lack of glamour,' Scott said. 'It is something we are always having rammed down our throats. But we don't believe this is a glamour parade. It is not a competition between postcards. Britain has a noble bid, a fine bid, a proper bid, and we believe its virtues will be rewarded.'

He remained unabashed by yesterday's endorsement of the benefits of Australian sunshine from Linford Christie, interviewed on breakfast television. 'I believe the vast majority of athletes are behind us,' Scott said. Athletes and Government both.

On the subject of offers from the Sydney and Peking bids to pay the fares of the estimated 10,000 athletes and 5,000 officials taking part in the Games, Scott responded that this was not seen as a good way of spending the Manchster 2000 budget. 'We believe that the US team, for instance, can afford to pay for themselves. We think it would be much better to target countries that had particular problems.'

The general sense of financial well-being within the bid was echoed by the comments of Graham Stringer, leader of Manchester City Council. On the basis of an analysis commissioned by KPMG, the accountants, he said that staging the Games in 2000 would be likely to attract pounds 4bn of investment to the city, creating a total of 10,000 full-time jobs for local people.

'The figures are staggering,' he said. 'And at the end of the Games we will have an area of the city which has been rejuvenated.'