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Let’s be perfectly honest: We’re no chance of ‘handing back’ the Games – and why on Earth would we?

The Premier’s 60-day investigation into Brisbane’s 2032 Olympics infrastructure might prove to be the best time ever spent on the event, writes David Fagan

Jan 30, 2024, updated Jan 30, 2024
Brisbane 2032 Olympics CEO Cindy Hook on the Kangaroo Point cliffs overlooking Brisbane, QLD, Australia.  (pic Lyndon Mechielsen/Brisbane 2032)

Brisbane 2032 Olympics CEO Cindy Hook on the Kangaroo Point cliffs overlooking Brisbane, QLD, Australia. (pic Lyndon Mechielsen/Brisbane 2032)

Time continues to be on our side in the Brisbane countdown to host the 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games. While the clock is ticking, the month or two Graham Quirk and his panel of experts have to review current planning will not make any material difference to the Games when the torch is lit in eight and half years’ time.

Bear in mind where Sydney and every other Olympic city has been at this stage of planning. Sydney, 8 1/2 years out, was still 18 months away from being declared the 2000 host.

And the seven years of lead-up were peppered with controversy about the facilities, the governance and the value of turning our biggest city over to the world’s biggest event for a fortnight. All forgotten once the flame was lit.

This is the script ahead for Brisbane and south-east Queensland. Getting the infrastructure planning on solid footing will take the edge (but not blunt) the criticism.

Some big issues are very much alive. Whether the Gabba should be the Olympic Stadium (and at what cost) is top of the list. And it’s followed closely by the location of an aquatic centre.

In my view, there should be no debate about whether we are to host the Games. We’ve signed up to an opportunity to showcase our city and region to the world and should relish it.

I’m also a fan of making the Gabba Olympics Central and investing what’s needed to make it a stadium that will serve our needs into the 2040s, one accessible by frequent public transport from every side of the city. And that’s why it’s the best choice. Will it cost? You bet. So let’s control the costs while making it comfortable, high-tech and fit-for-purpose.

Should it be prioritised over building more social housing or investing more in health and education? No. But we’re a First World state. We can do both so long as we do it prudently and with a bit more thought than has recently been evident. How this is done should be the subject of debate that runs deeper than the odd media release.

It’s an unfortunate fact of life around the world that major building projects always bust their budgets. And we should factor in that the Games infrastructure will do the same just as we’ve seen with Cross River Rail, the Metro and the Star Casino.

Should we be concerned about this? Of course we should. So what are we to do instead? Surrender the opportunity? Where would this city be if it had not taken the opportunities to host the Commonwealth Games in 1982 and Expo 88?

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Indeed this city’s capacity to grab opportunities and modernise has been quite remarkable over the past half century, a theme I will explore in coming weeks.

The higher priority is that we are careful managing costs, that we are focussed on hosting an exquisite Games and have a really clear vision of how it will contribute to the city we want to be in the 2040s and beyond.

The links between these priorities have been missing. But we still have time. We should be concerned if 2025 dawns with no clear plan and alarmed if the uncertainty spreads into 2026. Thankfully the Premier has enlisted the wisdom of former Lord Mayor (and political rival) Graham Quirk to spare us this risk.

What we need also is some imagination. How depressing to see attendance at the Gabba on Sunday reduced to a few thousand for one of the most enthralling days of Test cricket since the famous tied Test of 1961.

A remodelled Gabba needs to be full more frequently and it’s a mystery how cricket’s promoters couldn’t grab the opportunity apparent by early afternoon Sunday to fill the stands even for the price of a gold coin donation.

I must declare an interest here. One of the live plans is for the Gabba’s games to move to the Brisbane Showgrounds during any reconstruction. I am a councillor of the Royal National Association which owns and operates the showgrounds, best known as home of the Ekka.

But my greater interest is in seeing this city continue to develop. The Games are an important catalyst. Let’s make the most of the opportunity they offer.

David Fagan is a weekly columnist for InQld. He is a former editor and editor-in-chief of The Courier-Mail.

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