x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

UAE prepare for an industrial effort in Manchester

The Olympic team arrived in the northern English city on Saturday night, and Paul Oberjuerge finds a city proud of the honour of hosting

Ismail Matar, centre, and other members of the UAE Olympic football team arrived at Manchester Airport.
Ismail Matar, centre, and other members of the UAE Olympic football team arrived at Manchester Airport.

Two decades ago, Manchester staged a bid to host the 2000 Summer Olympics.

It was a quixotic attempt from the start, considering the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution had been in decline for decades. It lacked even one five-star hotel and its 1993 population of around 450,000 would have made it the smallest city to host the Summer Games.

Manchester survived longer in voting, by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), than did Berlin and Istanbul, no mean feat. But the Mancunian bid was not as slick as that of the winners Sydney, or the runners-up Beijing, which in 2001 won the right to stage the 2008 Games.

Many believe that the fatal blow, in 1993, was Manchester's promotional video, seen just before the IOC balloting, a visual presentation which devoted considerable time to images from London - presumably to demonstrate that a visit to the British capital during a Manchester Olympics could be easily managed.

The takeaway, however, seemed to be that one of Manchester's biggest selling points was its proximity to Big Ben and Buckingham Palace. Ultimately, as The Independent wrote: "IOC members saw the Manchester Olympics as being likely … to take place in Manchester."

Nineteen years after the failed bid, 12 years after the 2000 Games, the Olympics are coming to Manchester, albeit in the somewhat muted form of Olympic football games spun off by the London 2012 organisers.

Summer Games in the modern era have farmed out most football matches to other major cities in the host country, and Manchester officials put up their hands for part of the 2012 action, at the venerated Old Trafford, and were rewarded with nine games.

Seven of them are on the men's side, and no city, even London, has more.

Several of the nine matches to be played here figure to be prominent, including Team Great Britain versus Senegal on Thursday, the second half of the Group A double feature that opens with the UAE versus Uruguay; as well as Brazil-Belarus on July 29, Spain-Morocco on August 1, a quarter-final match on August 4 and a semi-final on August 7.

Also coming: a women's semi-final on August 6.

Awareness here that Olympic football will soon be played at the Theatre of Dreams seems high, especially now that four men's football teams, including the UAE and Team GB, have taken up residence at the Marriott Worsley Park Hotel in Salford, Greater Manchester.

"I think people are interested, because we're a football city first and foremost," said Rob Mager, a designer who works for United We Stand, a magazine devoted to coverage of Manchester United. "I think people realise this is a big event going on.

"Of course, it's not like it would have been in 2000. We're not kidding ourselves that we're a big part of it. But to go to an Olympic event is a lifetime thing. It's important. But we're not under any illusions we're a big part of the Games."

Manchester's role in the Summer Olympics is easiest to see in the neighbourhoods around Old Trafford; many homes have hung flags ahead of Thursday's matches. The stadium itself has seen new sod put down and the press tribune expanded.

In recent days, residents also have become aware of the contributions made to the Olympics by local police. As part of the fall-out from the failures of the private firm G4S to provide security employees, 32 members of the Greater Manchester Police will work at Old Trafford and also provide protection at the "locked down" Worsley Park hotel, at a reported cost of £30,000 (Dh 172,000) daily.

The Manchester of 2012 in many ways seems better prepared to put on the Olympics than it was two decades ago. In 1996, an Irish Republican Army bomb destroyed much of the old central city, and it has been rebuilt to a high standard.

Also, security officials seem to have made inroads into gang violence, which was a blight here in the 1980s and 1990s, when the city sometimes was referred to as "Gunchester".

Perhaps the most telling bits of proof that Manchester again can aspire to a place as a world-class city are the number of non-stop international flights that land at its airport, including those from the UAE, and the city's 19 per cent jump in population in the decade ending in 2011, a gain of 80,000 people often attributed to its leadership in higher education and a vibrant jobs market.

City leaders surely would have preferred to be the epicentre of the 2000 Games, but a prominent role in the 2012 football tournament can also turn some attention towards a Manchester again on the rise.

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The UAE begin their tournament on Thursday against Uruguay at Old Trafford. These Emiratis are the first to qualify for the Olympic football tournament, which is considered the world Under 23 championship by Fifa.

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