How a lick of paint and (slightly) shortening the 100m track can save our Games

If only the late comedian John Clarke and his counterparts in The Games were running the Brisbane 2032 Olympics, there’d be no problem with a lick of paint here and there, writes David Fagan

Apr 03, 2023, updated Apr 03, 2023
If only he were still alive, The Games star John Clarke would be able to sort out this "lick of paint" issue in no time.  (AAP Image/ABC)

If only he were still alive, The Games star John Clarke would be able to sort out this "lick of paint" issue in no time. (AAP Image/ABC)

Sloppy language is so unforgiving. One lousy line can break a career, shatter an illusion and, every now and then, reveal a simple truth.

The suggestion that the Gabba just needs a lick of paint rather than a $2billion-and-rising upgrade to host the Olympics and Paralympics for a month in 2032 is such a line.

Trouble is that it has the ring of truth, particularly to those of us who drive, walk or bus by the Gabba most days and are dreading the years of disruption to our journey that its upgrade will cause.

Truth is that the Gabba will adequately host the more sustainable (ie, slimmed down) version of the Games that the International Olympics Committee says it is happy for Brisbane to host – with a few exceptions.

One that may be obvious to viewers of the superb John Clarke series, The Games, is the issue of placing the 100-metre track. In The Games, the solution was to pull the track up short – and it’s by far the funniest episode in a series full of gold medal hilarity.

(If a weekly episode isn’t on the State Cabinet agenda, it should be – along with an accelerated response to housing shortages, a restriction of sale of vapes to kids and a plan to make sure Brisbane isn’t plagued by water restrictions in 2032).

The problem for the Gabba in 2032, I’m told, will be to get a straight 100-metre track close to a boundary on the current playing field. Yes, a 100-metre track will fit but end up closer to the centre than right on the boundary as it has been at other Games.

Maybe that’s no big deal but the question for Brisbane and the egos at play is whether they really want to run down a slimmed down Games – or just say they want a slimmed down Games.

A lick of paint won’t fix that problem. Nor will it modernise the Gabba to the extent cricket is demanding if Brisbane is to retain its lock to host an annual Test match.

Paint isn’t the only solution. A 100-metre track in the middle of the Gabba gives more people a lesser but equal view. So a bit of spin could easily portray it as an equal opportunity initiative (at least for the spectators who will be paying four-figure prices to see the 100-metre final when it comes around). Spin is cheaper than paint but won’t create a venue worth having as we move through the second quarter of the century.

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So, it all comes back to cost and inconvenience. And this is a perpetual issue. It’s difficult to name one major project in this city or the whole country that has not overrun its budget and finished later than intended.

The cost blowout in Cross River Rail, revealed Friday, is the latest. But the bridges and tunnels that have reshaped the city over the past 20 years are in the same category. So are the palatial 1 William St state offices, the underused initiatives to create urban water security and just about any project that involves information technology.

We can all spare ourselves a lot of angst by taking any announced figure and adding, say 50 percent to the proposed cost. But, at the same time, we need to get more vigorous about challenging the purpose of how our money is spent. Budgets should not just include the cost of inputs but should put a value on outcomes – both economic and social. Then we can assess if the spending is really worth it.

The Federal Treasurer, Dr Jim Chalmers, is onto something with his proposal to add some wellbeing measures to his future budgets but it will impose the burden on future governments to invest in benefits we don’t currently measure – sense of personal security, mental wellbeing and trust in authority among them.

Hopefully, he can apply this to all government activity. At the least, we might get some honesty about the purpose of big-ticket spending and its value to the everyday life of the community.

I’m looking forward to Brisbane hosting the Games but have no illusion it can be done on the cheap. Nor do I think it likely to transform the city we love into a city that will attract a world of tourists after 2032. But, done right, it can be the catalyst to clean up a lot of dysfunctions that should just naturally be on the government and council agendas.

So, is that enough? If we can lift living and wellbeing standards across the board, then yes. Otherwise get out the paint brushes and The Games DVDs. Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. You decide which is which.


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