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THE campaign for a London Olympic bid was born in the ashes of the failed attempts by Birmingham and Manchester to stage the Games of 1992, 1996 and 2000.

The British Olympic Association, led by chairman Craig Reedie, decided that in future only a London bid stood any chance of success.

In October 1996, Richard Sumray, the chief executive of London International Sport, an organisation bringing together various London bodies, had dinner with Reedie and offered to work for a London bid.

The following January Reedie met key London figures brought together by Sumray to assess support and various working groups were set up to look at possible sites.

In December 2000 the BOA submitted a report on a London bid to the Government, though parts of it remain secret even to this day because it is claimed they are commercially sensitive.

In early 2001 the BOA made a presentation of their plans to Ken Livingstone, the new Mayor of London. The BOA had looked at sites in west and east London but Livingstone said he would only support a bid if it regenerated east London and so the west London option was dropped.

A stakeholders group of the BOA, London Mayor and Government was set up in May 2001 and decided to make a cost benefit analysis of the bid and the Games. That December, Arup, a firms of consultants, won the right to prepare the report.

Arup presented their report to the Government in May 2002 and were asked to work on a specimen bid based in east London. Arup concluded that though a bid might cost the taxpayer £500 million, the benefits, such as increased tourism, could lead to a profit of £82 million. The Government, however, decided not to take any action until after the Manchester Commonwealth Games, which they feared would be a disaster.

It was only in the weekend after the Manchester Games, with the country basking in the feel-good factor, that Richard Caborn, the sports minister, picked up the 400-page Arup report.

On Nov 1, 2002, the Arup report was finally made public, though parts of it had already been revealed in The Daily Telegraph. The following day The Daily Telegraph launched a major campaign to persuade the Government to back the bid.

Meanwhile, within the Government a furious debate was going on as to whether the Arup figures were accurate.

By December, there was now more media interest in the bid and editorial endorsements, though only one other newspaper, London’s Evening Standard, formally joined the Daily Telegraph campaign.

Privately, Tessa Jowell, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, said a London bid had a strong sporting case but refused to publicly campaign for it. Her advisers said this was part of a clever plan to bring round Cabinet colleagues who were not enthusiastic about the bid.

On Dec 18, Lord Moynihan sponsored a debate in the House of Lords that resulted in unanimous backing for a London bid. But five days later, Gerald Kaufman, the chairman of the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, said it would be “madness” to have the Games in London and his comments caused an uproar.

In January, The Daily Telegraph revealed that an official opinion poll showed that 75 per cent of those questioned backed a bid and the London Development Agency bought land near the proposed Olympic site.

Later in the month the Select Committee reported that a London bid was desirable but not at any price and Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, chaired a Cabinet committee meeting that conditionally approved the bid, provided there were guarantees about who would meet the financial costs.

The Iraq war soon intervened, pushing the Olympic bid off the agenda, but negotiations continued behind closed doors with Ken Livingstone and Camelot to make sure the funding was in place. Their plans included having a special Olympics lottery and a £20 per year tax on London’s council tax payers.

Finally, yesterday, the Cabinet unanimously approved Tessa Jowell’s recommendation to back the bid.

© Mihir Bose

      

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