Olympic Bid Borders on Theater of the Absurd : Manchester of England Seeks 1996 Games Despite Athens Being Clear Favorite

Times Staff Writer

If one can judge by the questions at a news conference, Robert Scott, the Manchester, England, theater owner who serves as chairman of his city's bid committee for the 1996 Summer Olympics, should close his latest show before the curtain rises.

For example: Considering that Athens is the sentimental favorite, that Manchester still must build more than half the required facilities, that soccer games in that part of England have been terrorized by hooligans and that the United Kingdom's record on apartheid is out of step with most of the rest of the world, how can Manchester's candidacy possibly be taken seriously?

"I like being the outsider," Scott said, displaying the same sort of humor that served another Englishman, Alfred Hitchcock, so well.

Actually, except for Athens, all of the cities contending for the 1996 Summer Olympics appear to be outsiders, although Belgrade, Yugoslavia might be further outside than the others considering that its representatives chose not to come to the annual International Olympic Committee session here this week.

"They had nothing more to say," said Boris Stankovic of Yugoslavia, who will be inducted into the IOC tonight at the session's opening ceremony. But Stankovic said Belgrade's bid committee will appear before the IOC when it counts, for the election on Sept. 18, 1990 in Tokyo.

Meanwhile, representatives from the other five cities bidding--Athens, Atlanta, Manchester, Melbourne and Toronto--have had more than enough to say this week to make up for Belgrade's absence.

None have said it more dogmatically than those from Athens, which advertises its bid as the "Golden Olympics." They claim that it is their right to have the 1996 Summer Games to celebrate the centennial of the revival of the Modern Olympics at Athens in 1896.

"We owe it to history to have the Games in Greece, and all democratic nations owe it to Greece because that was the birthplace of democracy," said Miltiades Evert, former mayor of Athens who is now Greece's minister of health.

Kevan Gosper, an IOC executive board member from Melbourne, reacted to that suggestion angrily.

"No city has a right to the Olympic Games," he said. "Every city has a right to bid."

Paul Henderson, the chairman of Toronto's bid committee, reacted diplomatically.

"As we know, Athens has the emotional claim," he said. "But all the cities have the right. We wouldn't be bidding unless we had something to give to the Olympic movement." (One thing Toronto gave this week was a poster of a moose on a 10-meter diving board.)

Scott reacted as he normally does, with candor.

"We see the strength of the Athens Games," he said. "We agree with them that they have the historical, sentimental and emotional imperative for the centennial Games. They are a very worthy candidate and may be irresistible. I make no apologies for saying that. But if that's not exactly what the IOC wants, Manchester stands ready."

There is something to recommend all the cities. For instance, IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch has raved about his recent stay in Atlanta's Marriott Marquis, calling it the finest hotel he has visited.

Of the bidders here, Toronto's are the only ones who did not bring a video. They brought one of their city's best chefs, who prepares lavish buffets each day for the IOC members. Toronto's also are the only ones who did not rent a hospitality suite. They rented three cabanas an Olympic pin's throw from the Caribbean.

Nevertheless, there is a sameness to all of the candidates' campaigns. They all promise state-of-the-art facilities, rapid transportation, smog-free sky, splendid weather, tight but non-oppressive security and billion-dollar or more budgets.

Melbourne plans to spend $13.5 million on its bid for the Games. That compares to the bid budgets of $6 million for Athens, $5.3 million for Atlanta, $4.5 million for Manchester and $6.5 million for Toronto. Asked why their bid is more expensive, Melbourne representatives deny that it is. They claim that they are the only ones telling the truth.

But although all the cities have their strong points, they also have weaknesses. To their credit, they have tried to meet them head on. For example, there are doubts about Athens because of its numerous political factions. All were represented Monday at a news conference. There were 15 people on the stage.

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