Murder, bankruptcy and terrorism: three things to avoid for a successful Games

Don’t murder your citizens. Don’t bankrupt yourself. And don’t invade Papua New Guinea. These are just some of the lessons organisers of the Brisbane Olympics can learn from past games, writes Robert MacDonald

Jul 26, 2021, updated Jul 26, 2021
The planned Brisbane Live site, part of the Roma Street redevelopment, will be a key investment for the Brisbane Olympics - but most facilities are already built. (Photo; ABC)

The planned Brisbane Live site, part of the Roma Street redevelopment, will be a key investment for the Brisbane Olympics - but most facilities are already built. (Photo; ABC)

The Brisbane Olympic Games will be the best games ever.

It’s a big call; anything can happen in the next decade and tempting fate is always dangerous.

But I’m basing my case on what’s gone wrong at past games and the assumption that the organisers of the 2032 Olympiad are students of history.

Here’s my list of lessons:

Don’t murder your citizens. Ten days before the opening of the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, government troops fired on students protesting about the money spent on the games and demanding more political freedom.

Public order was restored but at the cost of a still-unknown number of lives, possibly hundreds.

Be ready for terrorists. The shock of the Mexico City student deaths and the heavy presence of troops during competition saw 1972 Munich Games organisers downplay security, reportedly spending less than US$2 million on unarmed and unobtrusive guards.

A week into the games, eight Palestinian terrorists broke into the Olympic Village and killed 11 Israeli athletes.

Today, games security budgets typically run to a couple of billion dollars.

Don’t bankrupt yourself. Olympic Games always run over budget but Montreal set the benchmark for overspending.

The cost of its 1976 games topped out at either eight or 13 times the original budget, depending on your calculation method.

The city had to introduce new taxes and spent the next 30 years paying off the debt.

This is unlikely to happen in Brisbane because of the International Olympic Committee’s recently adopted “New Norm” principles, designed to save bidding cities hundreds of millions of dollars in set-up costs.

Don’t invade Papua New Guinea. The US and its allies including Australia – but only up to a point – boycotted the Moscow 1980 Games because of Russia’s invasion of Afghanistan.

Russia then boycotted the Los Angeles Games four years later.

As long as Queensland doesn’t try to annexe Papua New Guinea, as it did in the 1880s, we should be alright.

Don’t be corrupt. This would seem obvious but whatever the successes of the Rio Games in 2016, its legacy will be tainted by the stench of corruption.

Former Rio de Janeiro governor Sergio Cabral is now serving a 200-year prison sentence for corruption offences while the head of the Brazilian Olympic Committee, Carlos Nuzman, who denies all charges, is still waiting to go to trial.

“The Olympic Games were used as a big trampoline for acts of corruption,” said Brazilian federal prosecutor Fabiana Schneider, who searched Nuzman’s house.

Probably not the legacy Rio organisers were hoping for.

 Have a post-games plan. The Sydney Olympic Games might have been hailed as “the best games ever” but even Australian Olympic Committee boss John Coates has criticised the city’s failure to build on its two weeks in the global spotlight.

“If there was a lesson to be learned, it’s that you can’t just host a Games and think the tourism and the conventions will necessarily follow,” he said.

Work out early who’s in charge. This is always an enormous challenge, with so many vested interests – government and non-government and different layers of public administration.

This will be an even bigger challenge than normal for the Brisbane Games.

Not only are the State Government and the Brisbane City Council involved but also south-east Queensland mayors and the Olympic Committee.

And now, we also have Prime Minister Scott Morrison declaring that the Commonwealth, which is funding a fair chunk of the Brisbane Games, will also be a full partner in the decision making.

“It’s not just one state running the games and sending us the bill,” he said.

“What we offered was to partner 100 per cent and work shoulder to shoulder, share in those decisions, share in the planning, share in the contracting and the procurement.

“That will be done hand in hand from here, all the way to the 2032 Games.”

All that sharing is going to take a dab hand at the top to make sure it works.

It is also sharply different from the Sydney Olympics, which were mainly financed by the NSW Government and organised at the state level.

Fifty years ago, an Australian journalist writing from Munich on the last day of the 1972 Olympic Games, pondered the future.

“The 1972 Olympics, which began 17 days ago as the greatest sporting extravaganza in history and then exploded in a bloodbath, end today with everyone wondering whether the four-yearly Games will ever be the same again,” he wrote.

He was right, of course. The Games have changed and adapted to changing times and demands.

They’re never quite the same from year to year.  The Brisbane Games will doubtless be unique and quite possibly the best.

But the more things change, the more they stay the same. The Games are still the Games.

As a skerrick of proof, here’s a fact: the name of that journalist writing 50 years ago was Bob MacDonald, my father.

Half a century on here I am, his son, doing what he was doing then, speculating about the future of the Olympic Games.









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