Manchester’s Olympic Bids

This relatively short account covers the period from 1984 onwards, when the first idea of bidding for the Olympics came up, through lessons from the unsuccessful bids for the Olympic Games to be held in 1992, 1996 and 2000, leading to the successful bid for the 2002 Commonwealth Games. The major sporting facilities that Manchester gained of The National Cycling Centre Velodrome, Manchester Aquatics Centre Olympic Pool, Manchester Arena and Manchester City Football Club’s ground, the Manchester Stadium, are a testament to the vision of the people who persevered through the many setbacks.
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1985: Manchester's First Olympic Bid
Graham Stringer’s aspiration was to make Manchester a world class city[1]. When Bob Scott had first arranged to meet Graham in October 1984 to put forward his ideas about bidding for the games, Graham tried to involve John Nicholson as Deputy Leader (see chapter 24 when it is available online). But John didn’t take to Bob and thought the scheme was mad. He had no interest in being involved and left all the discussions to Graham. Graham convinced the City Party that there would be no public funds spent by the Council being involved in the bid and so no objections were raised.

In 1985, Bob Scott set up the Manchester Olympic Bid Committee with himself as the Chairman and put a tremendous amount of time and energy into raising money and involving influential people from the city. But Birmingham was chosen by the British Olympic Association as the bidding city for Britain and the British bid was in any case unsuccessful and Barcelona was chosen to mount the 1992 games.

At the Council meeting in July 1985, thanks were recorded to Bob Scott and the Manchester Olympic Bid Committee and the following was minuted:

“We consider the Manchester bid was both realistic and imaginative. Whilst we regret that the bid failed to attract the nomination, we are nonetheless happy that it was made. As a result of the bid, contacts have been established with a number of people and organisations in the sporting world and we hope that this might result in bringing more national and international sporting events to Manchester … We would wish to bid for future Olympics to be held in Manchester … In the meantime, we wish to register our interest in hosting the 1994 Commonwealth Games.”

1986-90: Manchester's Bid for the 1996 Olympic Games
Undeterred by the lack of success, Graham was keen for Manchester to make a bid for the following Olympics in 1996. According to Ted Kitchen, the first Olympic bid had no facilities proposed for Manchester itself and the main arena was proposed to be on the outer edge of Salford. For this second bid, a group of officers (including Ted Kitchen and Howard Bernstein) lobbied strongly for a large proportion of the facilities to be in Manchester.

Graham Stringer continued to be involved in the bid committee but there was no discussion of the pros and cons of bidding for the games at any meeting of the Party or the full Labour Group. I suppose this is hardly surprising, given all the conflicts between the different factions of the Left and the debates between the Labour Group and the City Party about the poll tax, the budget and the future direction for the Council.

At one level it is difficult to understand how Graham could have been thinking about Olympic bids in the context of dissent and disunity in the Labour Group and the Party, but at another level it demonstrated his ability to detach himself from his colleagues and move in completely different circles.

Graham’s firm belief was that the city would get high class sporting facilities that the Council couldn’t otherwise afford to build, and that these could, and would, be a ‘legacy’ to be used after the games for the benefit of Manchester citizens. He also saw it as an opportunity to redevelop the derelict parts of East Manchester, the heart of the city’s former engineering industry.

As the decision-making time for the 1996 games got closer, reports appeared at the Policy and Resources Committee dealing with different aspects of the bid. The Policy and Resources Committee minutes for July 1988 noted:

“Chief Executive to be Council’s representative … Full support for bid committee … Chief Executive and Director of Economic Development to participate fully in development and delivery of the bid … Council to offer the necessary guarantee commitments to the British Olympic Association on behalf of the Olympic bid committee recognising the clear intention to eliminate any risk to the public sector should Manchester be successful in securing the nomination.”

The September 1988 minutes contained a reference to the bid involving ‘no new council resources’ – which implied that some had already been committed. It also referred to:

“short-term promotions … Christmas lights, town hall banner site, Manchester magazine, activities in schools, sporting events etc … Private sector bearing costs … Integrate council’s current expenditure to fit in with the general thrust of the bid.”

At the meeting of the Policy and Resources Committee on 7 December 1988, Manchester was formally declared as a candidate to be the British bid city for the 1996 Olympic Games and authority was given to the Chair (Graham Stringer) and the town clerk to prepare a detailed bid.

At the Labour Group meeting of the Policy and Resources Committee on 27 February 1989 it was agreed that there would be no direct council funding for the bid. This was rather disingenuous wording since, although no council budget was allocated to the Olympic bid committee or the bidding process, there was certainly a great deal of time and effort spent over the next decade by a number of senior council officers (including Howard Bernstein and Penny Boothman) in putting together proposals for sports venues and in meetings with potential developers and partners.

In July 1989, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) president, Juan Antonio Samaranch, visited Manchester and in August, Graham went to Puerto Rico with Bob Scott and council officers to meet with the IOC. The Strategy Sub-committee formally agreed that preliminary work should begin on a possible Olympic facility in East Manchester.

In October 1989, the Policy and Resources Committee anticipated further visits to Manchester by IOC officials and agreed to offer the necessary hospitality and assistance. It was also agreed that the host city contract should be signed, while at the same time reiterating the policy about the Council not bearing any costs associated with the games.

As part of the preparation for convincing IOC officials that the city was in a position to host the games, top quality sporting venues had to be in place (or sufficiently far advanced in their planning). So, in 1990, plans for an 80,000 capacity sports stadium were commissioned for a brownfield site in East Manchester that came to be known as Eastlands[2]. The Council negotiated with around 40 firms for compulsory purchase of land to free up the East Manchester site for future development. At the Policy and Resources Committee meeting in July 1990, it was again stated that no liability should fall on Manchester poll tax payers, but this constant repetition of the policy suggests that there was a background worry about the issue. Indeed, it is difficult to reconcile all the work being done on planning for sporting facilities with the stricture that there should be no revenue or capital costs falling to the Council as a result of the bid.

Six cities including Manchester submitted bids for the 1996 games and the US city of Atlanta was selected on 18 September 1990 after 5 rounds of voting. Again, undeterred by this failure, the Manchester Olympic Bid Committee began the work of bidding for the 2000 games. Bob Scott was said to have regarded the 1996 bidding process as a ‘tremendous learning curve’ and Chris Patten, Secretary of State for the Environment at the time, was convinced that it had been an opportunity to promote the UK abroad and urban development at home.

1990-3: Bidding for the 2000 Olympic Games
In September 1990 the Council formally thanked all the organisations supporting the 1996 bid and gave special thanks to the council officers involved for their unstinting efforts. It was noted how close to success the bid had been and it was agreed to begin preparations for bidding for the 2000 games, using the interest and vitality generated to improve sports facilities in East Manchester. A consultants’ study was commissioned (with the agreement of the Manchester Olympic Bid Committee, and Salford and Trafford councils) to look into the sporting infrastructure and how a number of identified facilities could be developed, irrespective of whether Manchester was awarded the games.

Their report, received in the summer of 1991, set out detailed specifications for three sporting facilities – a national stadium, an indoor arena, and a velodrome (indoor cycling centre). The Council allocated £160,000 from urban programme and derelict land grant funding for a feasibility study into building the stadium on an Eastlands site, with discussions to be held with Manchester City Football Club about potential relocation there afterwards. Further studies, at a cost of £10,000 each, were to be carried out on the indoor arena and velodrome. To justify this expenditure, emphasis was placed on the general value to the city of building these facilities:

“Although the bid for the 1996 games was unsuccessful, it is generally recognised to [have been] of great benefit to the city, both in promotional terms and by bringing together public and private sectors to provide further stimulus to the process of regeneration. The British Olympic Association [has] adopted Manchester as the British candidate city for the 2000 games.”

It was again stressed that:

“involvement in the bid should be at no cost to the council [or] Manchester residents and that all risks be minimised.”

Shortly after this, there were reports in the press about the debts faced by Sheffield City Council following the huge losses made by the Student Games held there[3]. I had the temerity to ask a question in the Labour Group about any likely impact of our Olympic bid on future council tax payers. I was roundly attacked by other members of the Labour Group for such negativity in the face of the potential benefits for our great city.

By March 1992, the Council was able to publicise the excellent news that:

“the government [is] now committed to providing £2 million in support of the bidding process and £53 million towards the provision of three core facilities [the indoor arena[4], cycling velodrome and acquisition of the stadium site] and further support for the regeneration of East Manchester. The government is committed to contributing to the delivery of facilities needed if the bid is successful, and full ministerial and diplomatic support will be provided – both at home and abroad. The Sports Council and the Sport and Arts Foundation have agreed to allocate £2 million and £1 million respectively for the velodrome, which will now have national status. This and the arena will now be delivered. The regeneration plan for East Manchester will now begin.”

Because of the tight timescale, delegated authority was granted to the Deputy Chief Executive, Howard Bernstein, in consultation with the Chair and deputies of the Policy and Resources Committee and the Chair of Planning and Highways, with continuing consultation with opposition councillors. This seemingly convoluted decision-making structure was necessary because councillors couldn’t legally be given delegated authority to make spending decisions. These could only be delegated to council officers, so the ‘in consultation with’ device was the means of ensuring that it was councillors who actually made the decisions.

Over the next few months, Graham Stringer, Bob Scott and the bid team went to Barcelona and to Mexico to meet IOC officials to press the case for Manchester. Further negotiations were held with government ministers for additional funding. The latter talks were very successful and it was reported to the November 1992 Policy and Resources Committee that the government had promised additional funding of £15 million to ensure clearance of the Eastlands site. This raised the level of government support to around £70 million, which was unprecedented. A competition was launched for the design of the stadium complex on the Eastlands site and the contract was awarded to Arup.

Velodrome, Arena and Olympic Swimming Pool
The first of the sports venue projects to get off the ground was the velodrome, with Penny Boothman’s team again being involved in making it happen. This was to be a 250-seater facility with a state-of-the-art cycling track – the first purpose-built indoor cycling facility in the UK. A site in East Manchester was chosen and the project developed as a joint venture between the Council, the British Sports Council and the British Cycling Federation. Of the funding promised by government, £6.5 million was allocated to the velodrome, together with the £3 million provided by the Sports Council and the Foundation for Sport and the Arts[5]. The Council contributed the land and the expertise and time of the officer team putting together the project. Building started in early 1993 and the work was completed in 1994 with the building being opened as the National Cycling Centre in September 1994. It is currently managed by the Velodrome Trust.

The work on planning the stadium complex and the £50 million indoor arena for gymnastics and basketball on the Victoria Station site (later called the MEN Arena and later still the Manchester Arena) was also progressing and in February 1993 the bid for the 2000 Olympics was formally lodged with the support of the Tory government.

Soon after that, negotiations were begun for another of the vital facilities – an Olympic-sized swimming pool. This became the Aquatics Centre on Oxford Road, jointly owned by the city council and the two universities (Victoria University and Manchester Metropolitan University). Building work on this didn’t start until August 1996 but it was substantially completed by February 1997. It is now managed by the Manchester Sport and Leisure Trust.

Financial Benefits to the City
Graham Stringer commissioned a survey from KPMG on the employment benefits of all the building projects in the city. As well as the construction related to the Olympics, the survey included the second terminal at Manchester Airport, the new airport rail link, Metrolink, the International Concert Hall and the regeneration of Hulme. Altogether, the projects were estimated to be worth more than £574 million and create at least 11,500 full-time equivalent jobs over six years. This warranted a press release and a letter to the whole Labour group. The Manchester Evening News headline on 19 April 1993 declared: ‘Olympic bid helps to bring jobs bonanza.’

In July 1993 a progress report was given to the Council:

“Phase 1 of the Victoria Arena (developers – Vector Investments Ltd) has been completed and all the building and operational risks have been transferred from the public sector to the private sector. It is the first project of its kind in the country. The building programme is well under way and half those employed on site are Manchester residents.

“The building of the National Cycling Centre is well under way. The only outstanding issue is the lease of the land and building from the council to the Sports Council. A bid has been made for the world cycling championships for 1996/97.

“Acquisition and clearance works are going on in Eastlands and discussions being held with the preferred developer (AMEC) and the Department of the Environment.

“The government has given a commitment to underwrite the capital programme. The overwhelming proportion of risks can be mitigated or eliminated. No major operating commitments will be entered into unless they are covered by confirmed revenues.

“It is estimated that bidding for, and hosting, the games will generate £4 billion of new spending in the region and create the equivalent of 11,500 new jobs.”

In September 1993, there was a large reception in the Town Hall for the bid sponsors and all councillors were invited. It was agreed at the Labour Group that Graham Stringer, Pat Karney and Jack Flanagan would go to Monte Carlo with key council officers for the final presentations and lobbying.

And the winner is...
The decision on the winning city for the 2000 games was announced on 23 September 1993. The ceremony was televised and shown on a huge screen in the Castlefield arena, with hundreds of Mancunians gathering there for a big outdoor party. All the local pubs and bars were tuned to the same TV station and even those disinterested in sporting activities were hooked into the excitement. When the IOC chose Sydney over Manchester, the disappointment in the city was palpable. However, within a few seconds, the crowd in Castlefield started singing ‘Always look on the bright side of life’ from the Monty Python film Life of Brian. I don’t know if this was orchestrated from the stage in the arena (perhaps having been planned in the case of failure) or whether it started spontaneously from people in the crowd, but it was heart-rendingly emotional and brought a lump to my throat. In bars throughout the city, people joined in the singing, and from the one in which I was watching the announcement on TV, it seemed as if the song was taken up in every location in the city centre. [This is featured in the video clip of news coverage below]


Throughout the various bidding rounds, I (and many others) had been disgusted at the hoops through which everyone had to jump in order to woo the IOC officials. The hospitality expenses, even though borne by the Olympic Bid Committee (ie the private sector and not the Council) were, in my view, excessive and it made me sick to see Graham Stringer and senior council officers working so hard to persuade and cajole IOC officials into supporting Manchester’s bid.

However, as a result of the bidding process, the city has some major sporting facilities that wouldn’t otherwise have been built and all the planning and work that had gone into it meant that the city was in an ideal position to make another bid.

1993-4: Bidding for the 2002 Commonwealth Games
In November 1993, the Labour Group agreed not to bid for the Olympics again but to put the city forward for the 2002 Commonwealth Games, so long as it meant no cost to the Council. In December that year Manchester beat off competition from London and Sheffield to become the English bid city.

In January 1994, the Council agreed to underwrite the revenue costs of the Commonwealth Games, which were estimated at £51 million, on the assurance that the expected income (based on the income of the last three games) was at least that amount. However, it was planned to ask the government to underwrite the costs if the bid was successful, since the games would be on behalf of the country, not the city. Graham insisted that bidding would not cost the Council a penny.

Graham Stringer’s continual emphasis on there being no cost to the Council came back to bite him. A Manchester Evening News reporter who scrutinised the Council publication containing the annual report and accounts found that £874,000 had been labelled as ‘Olympic Games’. He wrote a prominent article towards the end of January 1994 claiming that the council had ‘splashed out’ this sum on publicity for its Olympic bid. This was picked up by national newspapers and it was claimed that the House of Commons Heritage Committee would be investigating spending on various sporting bids and that MPs were shocked at spending that included lavish hospitality expenditure for Olympic VIPs.

Graham Stringer issued a press release refuting this and giving a full breakdown of the figure (see Appendix 26A). He said:

“The £874,000 did not go on Olympic publicity, hospitality for VIPs or chartering aircraft. It was part of the cost of approved projects, including the National Cycling Centre, the Victoria Station indoor arena and the main stadium. It was also part of a campaign, financed from other sources, to bring jobs to Manchester. This total investment has already brought thousands of jobs and development worth many tens of millions of pounds to Manchester and promises to bring much more.”

Although Graham was correct in saying that this money wasn’t spent on publicity, the breakdown showed that, despite his continual assurances that the Olympic bid incurred no cost to the Council, in fact over £200,000 of the above was spent on the Olympic sporting facilities, in addition to the unquantifiable sum from the time spent by council officers working on the projects. However, as he pointed out, given the amount of capital investment generated (and the jobs created) it was patently worthwhile to spend this money and he should have just been more open and honest about it from the start, rather than insisting it wasn’t costing us anything.

The Manchester Evening News didn’t print a retraction, and in February 1994 the news was received that Manchester’s bid was successful. Graham immediately issued a press release:

“Manchester’s gains from its Olympic and Commonwealth Games bids have been enormous and will continue to grow… [They have] boosted Manchester’s name across the world and raised our profile as an international city. This will enhance our long-term investment and job prospects… We have already gained well over £100 million of public investment, including the Victoria Station development and indoor arena, the National Cycling Centre and other Eastlands improvements, [bringing] more than 5,000 person-years of employment… [We are] looking forward to building of the Millennium Stadium, which, with its associated commercial complex, is expected to create 3,000 jobs. Last year, the city council gave £750,000 in grants to small businesses to create or safeguard 622 jobs… We didn’t charter any aircraft, fund foreign Olympic trips, or expend council taxpayers’ money on big banquets for VIPs. All that was paid for by the Manchester Olympic bid committee, which was outstandingly successful in raising money from private sources and from the government… Not one penny of council taxpayers’ money has been spent to date on the 2002 Commonwealth Games bid. Everything has been covered by contributions from external sources. It is true that the city council has, of necessity, had to underwrite the 2002 games, but we have been advised by top financial experts… and we are confident that… there will be an enhanced level of international interest and sponsorship and that we will at least break even.”

City of Manchester Stadium
The stadium[6], designed by Arup and constructed by John Laing, was eventually built at a cost of approximately £110 million. Of this, £77 million was provided by Sport England, with the remaining £55 million agreed by John Major’s government. The stadium’s foundation stone was laid by Tony Blair in December 1999, and construction began in January 2000.

The first public event at the stadium was the opening ceremony of the 2002 Commonwealth Games on 25 July 2002. Among the dignitaries present at the ceremony was the Queen. The event was incredibly successful, particularly in relation to the huge number of volunteers involved in supporting the athletes and visitors, and it had an enormously positive impact on the city.


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Editor’s Comments

This account is relatively short because Kath wasn’t interested in Sport. She does include some personal views on the matter. I’ve added the sub-headings, made minor typographical edits and added in some links to other sources of information.


[1] I don’t know whether it was the process of bidding for the Olympics that generated this aspiration or he had the aspiration first and the Olympics bid was just a step along the way.

[2] I think this name was originally coined by Eddie Turner, the Council’s Director of Land and Property, although he was very disparaging about the possibility of a successful sporting venue in such an area. His remarks to this effect during a speech to local businesses was reported in the press and, allegedly, contributed to his later dismissal from the Council.

[3] I’d heard at the time that there had been no real discussion in Sheffield’s Labour Group or Party about the bid. The later loss of Labour’s control of the Council was attributed to the Student games fiasco

[4] Ted Kitchen felt strongly that the main arena had to be next to a transport interchange and he talked to the developer, Norman Turner, about the Victoria station site. Part of the money received from the government was for clearing the site.

[5] Set up in 1991 to channel money originally donated by Littlewoods and other football pools companies to a wide range of sporting and artistic causes. It closed at the end of March 2012 with the last funding applications being accepted in March 2009. Source: viewed 28 Nov 2015.

[6] The Manchester City Stadium was renamed the Etihad Stadium on 2011 after signing a 10-year sponsorship deal with the airline Source:

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Further Reading

  • Google books section of ‘Bidding for Development: How the Olympic Bid Process Can Accelerate Transportation Development (Sports Economics, Management and Policy)’ by Ngiste Abebe, Mary Trina Bolton, Maggie Pavelka, Morgan Pierstorff, 2013 (available to buy on
  • ‘Designing the City of Manchester Stadium’ by Martin Austin et al, 2003 (View PDF online)
  • Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence, Memorandum submitted by Manchester City Council and Manchester 2002 Limited, 22 April 1999 – gives much more detail about the process of bidding for the Commonwealth Games and the facilities developed as a result.
  • ‘Legacy of Commonwealth Games Lives on in Manchester’, by Alice McKeegan Manchester Evening News, 15 July 2014
  • John Major’s speech in Manchester on 23 April 1993 mentioning support for the Olympics bid for the 2000 Games.

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