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Canny Mancs make London connection

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Matt Slater | 23:27 UK time, Monday, 20 July 2009

There are plenty of reasons why nobody should feel too sorry for London 2012 chief executive Paul Deighton - he was a master of the universe at Goldman "Money" Sachs, for example - but his current job does involve a lot of headaches.

If it's 2012-related and it's attracted the interest of Fleet Street's Olympic attack dogs it will be in Deighton's in-tray. Which is probably why he looked so delighted to be in Manchester last week to see something wonderful take place, especially as it was happening three years early.

When London won the bid to host the Olympics one of the key pledges the leaders of the bid made was that these Games would benefit the entire country, not just London. Those leaders have spent much of the last four years trying to convince everybody there was some substance to that sentiment. It has not been the easiest of sells.

Until now, that is, because there's nothing like the presence of 70 members of the Australian swimming team in green, gold and flip-flops to convince even the most disbelieving of Mancunians that there might be more to this Olympic lark than a few games at Old Trafford and the vicarious thrill of watching our Manchester-based track cyclists ride to glory.

But before I get into that (and before you watch the video below) let me rewind a little and explain why I was in Manchester last week with Deighton, the Aussie swimmers, 400 screaming school kids and a healthy smattering of local dignitaries.

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Watch Matt Slater's report on Swimming Australia's deal to train in Manchester in run-up to 2012

Almost 18 months ago, the organisers of the London Olympics (Locog) announced a plan to encourage countries to set up pre-Games training camps around the UK. The scheme was based on the camps Team GB had used to great effect before the last three summer Olympics in Queensland, Cyprus and Macau respectively, and the underlying motivation was to spread the benefits of hosting the Games beyond the M25.

Mindful that only wealthy nations could ever afford this type of thing, Locog put its money where its mouth was by preparing a guide to the UK's sports facilities and offering a £25,000 sweetener - from its own privately-funded pocket - for each national Olympic and Paralympic committee that came here early.

But having built the field, would they come?

The early evidence suggested not. Rumours of deals being struck between this country and that UK region came thick and fast, and the saga started to sound a bit like the "will he/won't he" summer dalliances of a "want-away" Premier League footballer.

I was sceptical. It struck me that the UK was a temperate nation, well placed for many of the larger Olympic/Paralympic teams, with good transport links but not quite so good sporting facilities (or not enough to go around). Why wouldn't most nations just turn up a few days before the Queen cuts the ribbon at 12 minutes past eight (think about it) on 27 July, 2012?

So when I heard a few grumbles from regions that were starting to wonder if they'd been sold a pup - and picked up the unmistakable smell of the French preparing a large revenge quiche in the shape of training camps across La Manche - I started to think another hand grenade was heading in Deighton's direction.

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London 2012 chief Paul Deighton says there are benefits for hosting the 2012 Olympics for the whole country

And then, a bit like Ronaldo and Real, the dalliances stopped and alliances began.
The Kenyans bagged Bristol, Serbia signed up for Yorkshire, Japan opted for Loughborough and Dutch swimmers chose Leeds, which was really something as there are parts of the Netherlands actually closer to east London than the West Riding is.

But the really interesting deals were being signed in northwest England. Having already chalked up commitments from Thailand and the 15 island states of Oceania (apart from Australia and New Zealand), Manchester landed the first big fish: a six-year agreement with one of the most successful and well-resourced outfits in Olympic history, Australia's swim team.

What set this deal apart was that it started now. The Australians would be using the Manchester Aquatics Centre, the venue for the successful 2002 Commonwealth Games, as their "northern-hemisphere base" for the 2009 Worlds in Rome, the 2012 Games and the 2014 Commonwealths in Glasgow.

But there was more to the Aussie-Manc match-up than its longevity; there was also breadth and depth to this union.

The main matchmakers were the Northwest Regional Development Agency and Manchester City Council - although successes aren't short of fathers - and they should congratulated for grasping the fact that London 2012 could help maintain the good vibes started by the 2002 Commonwealths and continued by events such as last year's World Short Course Swimming Championships.

They should also be praised for realising there could be more to training camps than having a dozen Turkish wrestlers holed up in a gym for a few weeks in 2012. The arrival of the Aussies last week was marked by a series of events that demonstrated just how much can be achieved if you really put your mind to it.

There was a reception for Australian firms with Manchester outposts and local firms with Australian customers on Thursday, Friday witnessed a fantastic swimming gala for hundreds of schoolchildren and on Sunday the Australians held a master class for 150 local coaches (which was only fair as Sir Alex Ferguson gave the Aussies nearly an hour of his time on Wednesday).

There will be more of the same between now and 2014 as Manchester uses this relationship (which is worth £1m in immediately quantifiable economic benefits) to foster business links with Australia, improve its "brand" Down Under and tap into the sporting passions stirred by the once-in-a-generation opportunity of hosting the Olympics.

It would be easy to be cynical about this if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes.

The Australians (God bless them) were superb sports during Friday's schools event - captaining the relay teams, dishing out prizes, signing autographs. It's not beyond the realms of possibility that their generosity of spirit could have provided the spark for a future Team GB swimmer.

There are still three more years before London 2012 and there are a lot more countries and teams out there. England's northwest already has a few more irons in the fire and there is growing speculation that Birmingham's patient wooing of America is about to pay off.

Add that to the £6bn-worth of contracts that Locog will be dishing out to British companies for supplying goods or services to London 2012 and you begin to realise just how valuable an economic stimulus the Games could be.

Throw in the revitalisation of London's last great bombsite and a month of great sport and you start to appreciate what gets Deighton (who is interviewed in the clip a few paragraphs up) and co out of bed each morning.

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  • Comment number 1.

    "But the really interesting deals were being signed in northwest England. Having already chalked up commitments from Thailand and the 15 island states of Oceania (apart from Australia and New Zealand), Manchester landed the first big fish: a six-year agreement with one of the most successful and well-resourced outfits in Olympic history, Australia's swim team."


    The Oceania nations are actually signed up to Liverpool, not Manchester - their swimmers have been here all week!

  • Comment number 2.

    Actually, I live in Manchester and find the Aussie swim team a massive irritation. As a student I can get discounted rates at the Aquatic centre and have been trying to get back into an old rountin and swim regularly since hurting my knee playing football earlier this year. Unfortunately I can only go in during about three hours of the day - none of which I can actually make - meaning that my swimming has gone from enthusiastic to non-existent. The Aussies are simply preventing me from using one of the best swimming venues is Britain.

  • Comment number 3.

    "But the really interesting deals were being signed in northwest England. Having already chalked up commitments from Thailand and the 15 island states of Oceania (apart from Australia and New Zealand), Manchester landed the first big fish: a six-year agreement with one of the most successful and well-resourced outfits in Olympic history, Australia's swim team."


    The Oceania nations are actually signed up to Liverpool, not Manchester - their swimmers have been here all week!


    Last time I checked, Liverpool was in the North West

  • Comment number 4.

    Well done, langdale_09, you beat me to it! But on the Oceania issue, TommyTigs is right, the youth swimmers were training in Liverpool most of last week. In fact, Deighton was off to see them after the schools event in Manchester. That deal was put together by the NWDA (not to be confused with NWA) too but in some ways is one Locog should be even prouder of, as those 15 countries would never have considered anything like this in the past. Those £25K cheques (per country, for Olympic and Paralympic) will go a long, long way. And what's nice about this deal, as opposed to the Aussie one, is that it's all about exchange visits, lots of input from colleges/unis, development issues, cultural ties etc etc. Basically it really ticks that "international inspiration" box that Locog really pushed in Singapore and since.

    As for the issue of these benefits going beyond Manchester, of course! The Thai team will be training in venues across the region and I believe there is talk of Ukraine opting for a NW base.

    finny_77, are you kidding? Can you really not see the wider benefits of the Aussie visit even if it means slightly restricted access to the pool for a week or so? The kids I saw last week won't forget the Aussies, neither will the 150 swimming coaches who attended Sunday's master class with Alan Thompson, one of the world's top coaches.

  • Comment number 5.

    Matt I totally understand what you are saying about kids getting some brilliant training and having great fun with Olympic athletes. It could inspire the next Olympic champion, who knows? But for those of us who are not members of any clubs, and are never going to even be decent recreational swimmers, it's honestly not great. I'm not going to have any contact with them, and all that happens is that me and the thousands of other recreational swimmers are denied what might be our only exercise of the week. In an increasingly unhealthy nation, that isn't a good thing. (I'm pretty aware that this is a losing battle on this message board, but everyone's opinions matter).

  • Comment number 6.

    Fair enough, finny, I hear you. But if we're going to have a moan/grumble about every little inconvenience that comes along with staging something as massive as the Olympics/Paralympics then we're really in danger of missing the bigger picture. The same can be said of all the wonderful sport we get to host in this country. Holding one of golf's four majors here every year is clearly a good thing for British golf in terms of inspiring youngsters, it's also pretty good for the UK tourism industry, not to mention the local economies of the courses on the rotation. But should we forget all that because it puts out the members for a few months? The same can be said of the local residents in Wimbledon. I'm sorry to hear you've been put out but go for a gentle jog or bike ride safe in the knowledge that your small sacrifice is part of a much bigger, nobler effort.

  • Comment number 7.

    What about Sheffield...?
    Isn't ponds forge, like, the best swimming place in the world?

    and there's an ice rink and an english institute of sport (not sure which one) and an athletics stadium in the shape of an alien's nest and everything....

    I heard we were america's first choice..but we refused them due to their tenuous grasp of irony. If they're not able to produce sufficiently witty banter in conversation with bus drivers/passengers, they're not welcome.

    The greeks would be perfect.

  • Comment number 8.

    I'll be interested to see where the Chinese end up, seeing as they make up the biggest Olympic team and medal prospects, alongside the Americans. They will presumably come over early like the Aussies, whereas the big teams from Europe and the Russians don't quite have so far to come...

    But the more the merrier in Manchester! Be nice to see a few big names down at Sportcity, as a testament to the success of 2002, if you like.

  • Comment number 9.

    Seriously... if getting the Aussie swim team is the best the UK can do then its a bit depressing. Yes its a great swim team... but thats only one part of the Aussie team. Where are the larger portion of it going?!

    I guess the Japanese team is alright, the few Kenyan distance runners is nice and a smattering of Serbs... but come of it, it a bit of a pitful smattering so far for the regions.

    Where are China going, where are USA? etc...

  • Comment number 10.

    alexft, you're right, Sheffield has great facilities and legendary native wit. The Steel City will be fine in terms of teams eager to base themselves in your fine city.

    unounos, I fear you're missing the point a bit. The reason the Aussie and Oceania deals are so good is that they're here now. They're not waiting until 2012 so the mutual benefits start right away. Locog admits this is far beyond their wildest expectations.

    As far the other big teams (and the rest of the Aussies) they usually don't commit to these kind of things until 24-18 months out. You're right, China is the big prize and I think they will probably spread themselves across a few different venues. I think the Aussie athletes might have opted for a place in Italy and there are whispers of the American swimmers going for France. But We have done the same thing ourselves. Only about half the team passed through Macau. The swimmers prepared in Japan, the triathletes in Korea (I think), the cyclists in Wales (seriously) and the rowers, sailors and a few others came from other places outside China. Anyway, what I'm trying to say is there are lots more of these deals to come. So come on, don't be so negative. Keep the faith.

  • Comment number 11.

    As a resident of Manchester for the last 9 years, I've never ceased to be impressed by the foresight of the City's authorities. Sadly it's not fashionable in England to ever be positive or state that anyone in authority is doing a good job, but the work of the NWDA, City Council and MIDAS (the inward investment agency in Manchester) is second to none.

    Not only is £9billion for the London games money well spent as Matt Slater notes, the Mancunian Olympic bids of the 1990s were also a highly effective catalyst for the development of SportCity, the Velodrome, Aquatics Centre etc.

    Next step... getting a World Cup semi-final at Old Trafford in 2018!

  • Comment number 12.

    Have seen less publicised examples of the Olympic effect. Last month was coaching on the river Trent when some Chinese crews went past - the Sichuan Rowing Association, training for Henley Royal Regatta.

  • Comment number 13.

    I think that this is really fantastic and Manchester and all the other cities should be congratulated for the work they have put in to get these athletes to have their training base in their city. The economic and sporting payoffs can only be positive.

    I would love to see Oxford follow suit as we have excellent athletics and sports fields throughout the centre of the city. A football team, tennis and field sports team would be great. And I imagine that some of the Olympic Associations would love to stay in a world famous city that is within 1 hour of London. However, as the majority of these outdoor spaces are university or privatley owned and the City Council are not exactly proactive when it comes to sports (we have no sporting events at all) I can't see it happening.

  • Comment number 14.

    The Aussies might as well take their swimming serious as that's about all their good at in the Olympics. They've not go much to cheer about outsuide the Olympics either - their football team has always been useless (albeit FIFA has fudged the qualifying groups to allow them to qualify for the World Cup), and they can't even win at cricket, rugby union and rugby league any more!

    Where's the Aussie finger? Where's the flags?

  • Comment number 15.

    Swimming isn't doing too badly, and well done Manchester for attracting the aussies!
    But what about the other aquatic disciplines Matt?
    In diving we will get to see so few - we just don't have the facilities to offer them. Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield and Edinburgh will be the only pools which can offer an 'Aquatics' venue that can provide facilities for both swimming and diving without even thinking about Water Polo and Synchronised swimming! For diving only you could add in Southampton.
    I asked some 6 years ago, what we were gong to do about the loss of so many of our diving facilities - Not a problem- was the answer! When we won the Games I asked how we could accommodate the teams wanting to train for Diving, would this give us the opportunity to build the infrastructure the sport needs - with regional facilities that were accessible to the country.
    The Answer - NO.
    Even where new pools are being built, as usual - diving- the cinderella 'swimming' sport is being left high and dry. Yes we will get some new facilities - eventually - but post 2012 we will be in a worse situation than we are now. Sunderland has a new pool with diving - but it didn't need highboard as they "can travel to Sheffield to train", the same statement that was given to the welsh coach when he was pleading for facilities for Cardiff. Actually, Sunderland is closer to Edinburgh!
    But the cosy relationship between governing bodies, Sport England and DCMS is killing sport as there can be no outside voices heard.
    We have just run a Masters diving in Manchester, with an age range of 16 to 87 competing - but we have lost competitors over the last few years as they are being squeezed out of clubs as they are being forced to focus their limited time and facilities on developing children in the 8 to 14 age range and the adults 'get in the way'. Developing 'sport for all'???


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