Wembley expects favourable verdict

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The Independent Online
Wembley was yesterday preparing to celebrate getting the go-ahead to be the pounds 180m home of Britain's new National Stadium.

The decision on the location for the nation's showpiece sporting venue is due to be announced by the UK Sports Council at a news conference in London this morning and it is certain Wembley has got the nod over Manchester to be turned into a new-look, Olympic-class 80,000-seater stadium.

That will be possible through around pounds 100m of National Lottery funding, with the rest being met from private sector sponsors. The Wembley bid, which will see the old stadium virtually rebuilt from scratch, with only the twin towers remaining, has received enthusiastic backing from the Football Association, the British Athletic Federation and the Rugby Football League.

There is likely to be some consolation for Manchester in the form of another Lottery grant to pay for a smaller stadium to host the 2002 Commonwealth Games.

The three-year search for a home for British sport has always seemed likely to end in a victory for Wembley, despite some concerns over the fact that it is privately-owned. Originally there were five bidders, but Sheffield, Birmingham and Bradford quickly fell from contention.

Leading sports officials are convinced that the choice of Wembley will improve Britain's chance of winning the right to stage the World Cup finals and the Olympic Games. Primo Nebiolo, the president of the International Amateur Athletics Federation, has hinted strongly that a rebuilt Wembley would be favoured to stage the 2001 World Championships and a successful event would strengthen Britain's hand in an Olympic bid.

While Wembley was always the most likely candidate to win the contest, there were some doubts from athletics quarters over football's wish for an intimate stadium, without a running track. Wembley and the FA accept that provision for athletics will be a central requirement of the scheme.

The rebuilding phase is expected to start after the 1998 FA Cup final with completion by the middle of 2000, although the precise date would depend on the scale of the final plans.

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