Manchester’s doomed bid to host the 2000 Olympic Games failed because of Britain’s arrogance, its reliance on former glories, and because “no-one in their right mind would spend three weeks” in the English city when Sydney was the alternative, secret Government correspondence reveals.
A “post-mortem” on Manchester’s failed attempt to win the backing of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), carried out in February 1994, offered a list of reasons why the city was overlooked.
Downing Street aide Alex Allan pulled no punches in his assessment of where the failures lay, according to files released by the National Archives.
“We have had too many nice old buffers running things or representing Britain on international sporting bodies,” he said in a dispatch to Prime Minister John Major, citing as examples Mary Glen-Haig, an Olympian at the London Games in 1948, and sports administrator Marea Hartman, who died aged 73 the year after the bid failed.
“We have also adopted rather an arrogant attitude, based either on past glories or on a belief that many of those now running international sporting bodies are corrupt and/or power-mad,” Mr Allan added.
“Some probably are – but we didn’t win any friends by saying so.”
Damian Green, who would go on to become an MP and First Secretary of State, offered a different perspective.
“The reason for Manchester’s failure,” he said, “is the obvious of one: that no-one in their right mind would spend three weeks in Manchester rather than Sydney.
“It is hard to imagine Manchester ever being successful.”
Manchester would go on to host the 2002 Commonwealth Games.
The secret files also contained a previously unseen speech celebrating Manchester’s victory, which saw Mr Major commend Britain’s “world-beating success”.
The draft entitled “Prime Minister’s statement: If Manchester wins” added: “We faced some stiff competition. This success shows that when we put our minds to something in Britain, we are world-beaters.
“We went for gold and got it.”
Defeat meant Mr Major’s victory speech was never heard in public, despite careful preparations to secure success.
This included a Downing Street briefing note offering intelligence on members of the International Olympic Committee ahead of the crucial vote which revealed the Grand Duke (Jean) of Luxembourg to be “a potential Manchester supporter”, adding that he “needs (a) word from Princess Royal”.
Mr Major also sent a personal letter to IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch in September 1993, ahead of the crucial vote, hinting at the possibility of a meeting between the two.
“I very much hope that we will have the opportunity to meet on Thursday and renew our friendship,” the Prime Minister’s letter said.
A response from Mr Samaranch, sent after the decision to award the Games to Sydney, expressed regret that there could only be one winner, but invited Mr Major and his family to “visit the Olympic Museum” instead.