P103: British bid to stage Olympics in the Dome - by Colin Brown and Simon Hart

The Sunday Telegraph, 4 August 2002

Manchester has basked in glory by hosting the Commonwealth Game and would be a rival to the Dome in bidding for the Olympics

Row looms on finance and venue after report backs £2bn plan to bring 2012 Games to London

Tony Blair faces a row with Labour MPs over a £2 billion plan to host the 2012 Olympic games in London.

A confidential port that recommends using the Millenium Dome for staging indoor sports events has been submitted to the Prime Minister by Arup, an engineering and consultancy company commissioned by the Government to assess the merits of staging the Olympics.

The report says that a bid for the Games, which would also require the construction of several new stadiums and an Olympic village, could be used to regenerate eastern parts of the capital. The proposal is likely to meet resistance from Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, about underwriting the cost. Opposition is also expected from supporters of a bid from Manchester, whose success in hosting the Commonwealth Games ha led to renewed pressure on the Government to back a campaign to host the 2012 Olympics there.

Hundreds of thousands of spectators and millions of television viewers have enjoyed the Commonwealth Games, which will come to a spectacular finale today, leaving Manchester a legacy of world class sporting arenas.

Richard Caborn, the sports minister, confirmed that a detailed assessment of submitting an Olympic bid would begin in the wake of Manchester's success but said he believed that the venue would have to be London.

"The Commonwealth Games have been a fantastic success in Manchester, but Manchester has had two shots at hosting the Olympics," he said. "Birmingham has had a shot at it. The IOC (International Olympics Committee) have made it clear that if we are to stand any chance, is has to be in London."

The Arup report envisages a new stadium at Stratford, near the Channel Tunnel rail link, east London. An Olympic village could be constructed nearby. The report warns, however, that London's worn and overcrowded roads and railways would be inadequate without big improvements.

The concern is shared by Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London, who is seeking urgent talks with ministers on the Arup report. Renewed interest in staging the Olympics follows several embarrassing Government failures.

Besides the fiasco over rebuilding Wembley stadium, Britain's reputation suffered when ministers scrapped plans for an athletics stadium at Picketts Lock, north London, forcing the country to pull out of hosting the World Athletics Championships in 2005.

The Sunday Telegraph has learned that the Government now intends to mount a bid for these championships in 2007, with the promise of improvements to Crystal Palace stadium. (Ed. my bold)

To qualify for the 2012 Olympics bidding process, the Government, London's mayor and the British Olympic Association have to agree to an outline plan by the end of this year. It would then take them years of detailed planning. The Treasury is concerned about underwriting the cost, which could be offset by private investors.

Although Mr Blair has yet to decide whether to back the bid, Downing Street is considering the possibility because of the immense prestige that the Olympics would bring to Britain.

"It's possible that we will make a bid," said Mr Caborn. "We will be strategy-led and not events-led. There has got to be a clear exit strategy. It's not going to be an emotional decision. We have to be hard headed about it."

Graham Stringer, the Labour MP for Manchester Blackley, called on Mr Blair to let other cities compete for a British Olympic bid.

"When things have been awarded without an open competition, such as the athletics championship at Picketts Lock, it's ended in a fiasco," he said. "There should be an open competition of all the cities who want to host it."

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