When actor and comedian John Cleese visited Queensland in 2016, he quipped that Brisbane would be a great city “when they finish it”.
He had a point. You never really finish a city, but Brisbane has long seemed like a place with a Work in Progress sign hanging on the gate.
This is not a bad thing. Mature cities struggle with re-invention. Brisbane is still developing its character and crafting a unique culture and mindset to rise above being perceived as a third wheel in Australia’s city suite.
Given this, the announcement that Brisbane will host the 2032 Olympic Games is opportune and perfectly timed.
Over the next five years, an unprecedented wave of infrastructure projects – Queens Wharf, Cross River Rail, Brisbane Live, Brisbane Metro, Waterfront Brisbane etc – will transform the city fabric.
Then the Olympics will come along and allow us to showcase our credentials in the brightest of all international spotlights. The city won’t be finished, but it will be ready, largely renovated, and raring for a global open house.
Big events are never without their controversy. There will be an unrelenting chorus of calls for the money that is being devoted to the games to be redirected to health, welfare and other worthy causes. This is a legitimate view and these events should always be assessed against the opportunity cost.
The fact is, we do not have to only do one thing. Complex societies require us to juggle many balls. We can travel to space and still invest in welfare. We can invest in entertainment that provides fabric to our lives without dropping the ball on health and research. It is always about balance and establishing the right priorities at any point in history.
As a human race, we have never aspired to just keep the lights on. Our living standards and longevity have lifted because we are on an unrelenting quest to transform and improve.
In the case of the Brisbane Olympics, there is a stronger than usual justification:
• All the infrastructure being created for the games is needed by the city and will bring economic benefits well beyond the games.
• In an era of intense global competition for investment dollars and talent, there are few better opportunities to showcase our credentials and lift our economic development.
• The sheer economic energy and confidence that comes from a 10-year games build-up will drive positive conditions for all. This will lift public coffers and create the opportunity to improve health and public facilities.
• Breaking even is harder than it sounds, but certainly doable. Brisbane has the chance to not only create a very memorable Olympics, but to write the textbook on a sustainable model for the future.
We also should not underestimate the power of optimism and creating the conditions for new ideas and ventures. The pandemic has dented our resolve and punctured our social norms. Now we have a perfect horizon to look beyond the current challenges to a time when the international community will come together unmasked in Australia, and Brisbane can hug the world.
In global terms, Brisbane is more than the little Aussie city that could. It is the Australian new world city that did.
We hosted the Commonwealth Games (twice when you include the Gold Coast), World Expo 88, the Goodwill Games and the 2014 G20. The Olympics will complete our international event collection with the most coveted prize of all, and leave no doubt that Brisbane is a serious player.
Crucial to the success will be:
• A narrative and plan to translate the Olympic period into genuine economic opportunity and programs that business can buy into. This includes a powerful post-event strategy (which is often lost in the exhaustion of delivering a mega project)
• A clear destination and lifestyle message to ensure Olympic visitors and viewers develop a clear and memorable impression of Brisbane
• Using the period to supercharge the transformation of the Brisbane and Queensland economies in a way that sets us up for the next 50 years
• The courage to invest in transformative infrastructure, like fast rail, as part of an Olympic mindset that dares us to be bold and reach new heights in creating the machinery for growth and jobs
• A strategy to leverage the event so the benefits also flow to the regions and other parts of Australia
The next 10 years will be an amazing time to be part of Brisbane’s Olympic odyssey. We have been fortunate to see an extraordinary level of strong leadership and cooperation across political colours at all levels of government to get this far.
Perhaps the Olympic spirit will be the reminder we need that ultimately there is more that unites us than divides us, and markers in history are usually the signposts for a more prosperous future.
Shane Rodgers is the Brisbane-based Chief Operating Officer of national employer association The Australian Industry Group. He is a former Chief Operating Officer of Brisbane Marketing (now Brisbane EDA) and, as a very young reporter, he covered World Expo 88.
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