The 1992 Birmingham Olympic Bid by Tim Cornbill
What do the NEC, The Dome nightclub and Pontins in Weymouth have in common? Well, they were all part of Birmingham’s bid for the Olympic games in 1992.
Do you remember the Birmingham Olympic bid? Believe it or not a bid was submitted to host the 1992 games which was eventually won by Barcelona. I have managed to get hold of a copy of the official bid document, and I am hoping to give an insight into the technicalities of the proposals, and the way in which Birmingham was portrayed to the rest of the world. It is a fairly modest document which summarises why Birmingham should host the 1992 games, and gives a great insight into life in 1986.
The Logo of the 1992 Birmingham Olympic Games
The first surprise for me was that there wasn’t a message from the Queen, but a message from Princess Anne, giving her backing to the bid on the opening page of the document. I’m sure the bid for London 2012 received a slightly more high profile introduction!
“This brochure will give you an idea of the real thing: the real thing will be better” Princess Anne, 1986
Princess Anne’s introduction is very matter of fact an uninspiring – it’s certainly not the rousing royal stamp of approval that one might have expected to accompany such a high profile bid! However, this may be explained by the fact that there was an initial lack of government support for the project, with the bid being lead by Dennis Howell, a member of the Labour party, who at that time was in opposition. The government did eventually get behind the bid, but certainly not in the way that we would later see for the 2005 campaign for London 2012. The bid also took a major PR hit when ‘Spitting Image’ created a mock video for the Birmingham 1992 bid, which can be seen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LGBp8nyPwl8
There is no doubt that Birmingham had the infrastructure to hold such an event, and the proposed siting of the Olympic Park at the NEC would have allowed the development of a huge hosting complex. In fact, to this day the NEC is still Britain’s largest exhibition centre, with an impressive area of two million square feet.
The bid also focuses on the fact that Birmingham International would be a 62 minute journey by train from London Euston by 1992 (a time which we still haven’t managed to beat in 2014)!
The wooded area to the north of Pendigo Lake near the NEC was to be the site for the ‘superb’ futuristic 75,000 seater Olympic stadium. The athletes’ Olympic village was also proposed to be constructed near by. The main exhibition halls at the NEC would have played host to the majority of the events, including: Handball, Boxing, Volleyball, Badminton, Judo, Table Tennis, Wrestling, Fencing and Weightlifting.
Visual of the proposed Olympic Stadium at the NEC
An interesting array of additional venues were also proposed. Equestrian & Archery events were be held in the grounds at Stoneleigh Abbey, with Rowing, Canoeing and Kayaking at the nearby National Watersports Centre, Holme Pierrepont. Yachting was to be held at Weymouth Bay, and the Pontins holiday camp was even rumored to be a likely location for the Olympic village on the south coast! The National Small Bore Rifle Association’s shooting centre in Wolverhampton was also to be used.
Outline plan of the range of venues at the NEC
So what other aspects did Birmingham have to offer the Olympic committee? It was portrayed as Britain’s “number one provincial city” – “cosmopolitan, cheerful and colorful”. Its citizens were said to “have an independence of mind and spirit” qualities which I think we can all agree stand to this day. Birmingham was described “a name for the future” and it was noted that it shouldn’t surprise readers to learn that one of the Moon’s craters had been officially labelled “Birmingham” after the city. However, having looked this up, the title actually refers to Astronomer John Birmingham, so here the bid committee were bending the truth ever so slightly!
As expected, the old adage “more miles of canals than Venice” was mentioned, (130 miles to be precise)! The Dome night club (now known as the O2 Academy) was highlighted as a “luxurious appointed entertainment centre which caters for a cosmopolitan clientele”, though I’d predict that many of those in Birmingham who remember the Dome may have a different opinion! Other crowd pleasers included the antiques market, the Birmingham Superprix, and the city’s industrial heritage. A wider view is also given in order to promote Stratford, Shrewsbury and Warwick, as well as a large section of London.
The Dome ‘Discotheque’ – The biggest nightclub in Europe in 1986
Ken Barton, Chairman of the Birmingham Olympic Committee and former Lord Mayor, signs off the bid with: “To include the summer Olympic Games among our massive achievements would be a great honour. It is not an honour we fear, because Birmingham has made itself big by thinking big; by striving for magnificent goals, and striking them.”
Unfortunately, despite the optimistic vision and sound bid, Birmingham was eliminated in the second round of voting after Amsterdam, and Barcelona pipped Paris to be chosen as host for the 1992 Olympics. The rest, as they say, is history.
Do you have any memories of the Birmingham Olympic bid? Please share them below.
‘Tim Cornbill is an Architect and photography lover from Birmingham. He is interested in the architecture and development of the city, with his photography of Birmingham aiming to change preconceptions and represent it’s beauty.’