Wembley given seal of approval

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The Independent Online
Wembley's adoption as the national stadium now appears a formality after votes of confidence from all three of the main sports involved - football, athletics and rugby league.

Yesterday's announcements by the sports' respective governing bodies confirmed the worst fears of the only rival bidder, Manchester.

The choice of location for the national stadium, which stands to receive major National Lottery funding, is expected to be made before Christmas by the Sports Council, which postponed its decision last November.

Manchester, which has been awarded the 2002 Commonwealth Games, responded in dignified fashion to yesterday's events. A statement from Manchester city council asserted that the final scrutiny by the Sports Council when the two bids are submitted on 6 November would reveal "the quality and deliverability of the Manchester bid".

In the end, however, the factors which have swayed the sporting bodies are tradition and reputation. Wembley's imperishable history and its perception abroad as an Olympic venue have been crucial even though the pounds 200m scheme proposed will leave only the twin towers remaining from the present fabric of the stadium.

The Football Association - with the biggest say in the final decision - announced it was backing the Wembley bid.

The scale of the rebuilding work means the FA Cup final will be moved from the stadium for the first time since the famous "White Horse" 1923 final between Bolton and West Ham.

Graham Kelly, the FA's chief executive, said the construction of a national stadium was essential "to achieve our ambition of bringing the 2006 World Cup to England." He added that issues still to be resolved were legal, financial and commercial, but he was "very optimistic".

Earlier, the British Athletic Federation had become the first of the three governing bodies to throw its weight behind Wembley, with its executive chairman, Peter Radford, admitting the prestige of the 74-year-old stadium had been a huge factor.

Radford said: "It is our ambition to stage major world and European events, and our international colleagues tell us that London, and in particular Wembley with its rich sporting history, would have an outstanding chance in any bidding process."

The first such tender will be for the 2001 World Athletics Championships, with Radford revealing that the BAF had confirmed to the International Amateur Athletic Federation that it will be bidding for the event.

The Rugby Football League chief executive, Maurice Lindsay, also gave his sport's blessing to the Wembley bid. "We've been playing continuously at Wembley since 1929 and there is so much illustrious history attached to Wembley in rugby league terms," he said. "The Challenge Cup final is synonymous with Wembley and we would lose a lot of the glamour if we took it away."

Last October the five original bids were whittled down to a shortlist of two, with Bradford, Sheffield and Birmingham falling by the wayside. But since then, the bid process has been altered to allow the FA to select its preferred bidder.