Pounds 1.5bn will back Olympic bid: Britain 'going for gold' says Major, pledging public money to underwrite cost of Manchester hosting Games in 2000

JOHN MAJOR yesterday formally launched Manchester's bid for the Olympic Games in 2000 with a pledge to underwrite the event's whole pounds 1.5bn cost with public money.

Declaring Manchester's to be 'the British bid' and 'a national undertaking,' he said he believed the city had a winning plan, - adding 'we are going for gold and I believe we will get it'.

The Prime Minister's full-blooded commitment to Britain and Manchester getting the games - Sydney and Peking are out in front as favourites among the seven cities bidding - was reflected in the formal bid document's promise by the Government 'to ensure that the money to stage and organise the Games will be provided'.

Mr Major said there was 'no doubt' a large contribution would come from the private sector - which has put up cash for the Olympic Arena under construction - but for the bid to go forward 'it is necessary to underwrite the facilities'.

The Prime Minister added that the Government's estimate of the cost was about pounds 1.5bn, a good deal of which would be raised from private finance. How much of the substantial public funding would fall on the taxpayer was unclear but it would be spread over many years.

Much of the cash would have been spent anyway on urban and other programmes, he said, and it would leave an enduring legacy in fine sports facilities and east Manchester's regeneration.

The government willingness to back the bid with money is in marked contrast to the distinctly limited help Manchester got last time under Margaret Thatcher's premiership, when the 1996 games were awarded to Atlanta.

The Government has already committed pounds 75m, allowing construction of the Olympic Arena to start. Work on a national cycling centre and clearance of the Olympic Stadium site is under way.

Graham Stringer, leader of Manchester City Council, said that pounds 75m was generating pounds 200m of investment and if the bid was successful more than 10,000 full-time equivalent jobs would be created in Manchester.

Bob Scott, leading the city's bid, believes that from being a rank outsider Manchester has fought its way into the front pack.

Mr Major said: 'There could be no better start to the next millennium than hosting the 2000 Olympics in Britain.' The bid was 'a vision that the citizens of Manchester have for the city's future and for their region - I share that vision.' Having twice taken on the event at short notice, in 1908 and 1948, it was 'time we had the Games in our own right'.

The Prime Minister will visit Lausanne in April to see Juan Samaranch, President of the International Olympic Committee, to promote Manchester's bid, and he has not ruled out going to Monte Carlo for the IOC meeting in September which will decide the Games' location. Aside from Sydney and Peking, Istanbul, Milan, Berlin and Brasilia are in the race.

The Prime Minister, underlining his high-profile support for the bid by holding a press conference in Downing Street, refused to be drawn on whether Peking could hold the Games after Tiananmen Square. 'I am here to promote the Manchester bid, not to damn the bids of others,' he said.

Manchester is laying great emphasis on the 'compact' Games it can offer, with 15 of the 25 sports being accommodated in the city centre, 10 of them within walking distance of the Olympic village and 21 within a 20-minute drive.

The city believes work having started on the cycling velodrome and gymnastics and basketball facilities will boost its bid, while an 'innovative' Olympic Stadium will be announced shortly.

England hosting the 1996 European Cup ensures up-to-date football facilities, while Lancashire's Old Trafford cricket ground would host baseball and Haydock Park racecourse would take equestrian events.

A management consultants' study says the Games would generate pounds 4bn of expenditure in the region, and provide pounds 400m in increased tax revenue.

Leading article, page 24

Scott optimistic, page 37

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