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Mayors, ministers and mandarins all in mix to be Brisbane's Olympics czar


It is the guessing game that has enthralled Brisbane’s corporate and bureaucratic elites for months now – who will win the highly-prized gig of leading the organisation and delivery of the 2032 Olympics.


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With an appointment of a chief executive of both the Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and the Olympics Coordination Authority due within months, the speculation will only grow more frenzied as the recruitment process begins.

It is little wonder that such high profile and pressured positions – where the goal is no less than to ensure the successful delivery of the most spectacular sporting event on earth – are regarded as career breakers as much as they are career makers.

There is no typical resume for the perfect candidate for such a role: the job is a unique combination of financial nous, administrative guile, subtle diplomacy and ruthless politics.

Sport administrator Etienne Thorbois has just been confirmed as CEO of the organising committee for the 2024 Paris Olympics, but it was investment banker Paul Deighton who was tapped on the shoulder to steer the organisation of the 2012 London Games.

Former NSW premier Nick Greiner saw the Games organising committee as more of a “Paul Dainty” style of promoter rather than an administrator, operating at arms length from the government of the day. That was wishful thinking.

The lead up to the 2000 Sydney Olympics (the best ever, it was declared afterwards) was marked by several sudden resignations from top organising committee positions, with its first CEO Mal Hemmerling quitting after two years to be replaced by bureaucrat Sandy Hollway.

After the 1996 Atlanta Olympics was criticised as having too little government oversight, the organisation of the Sydney Games was remarkable for the amount of political control. Hemmerling’s resignation was announced by Olympics Minister Michael Knight (also SOCOG president) in a terse media release.

Billy Payne, the president and chief executive of the 1996 Atlanta Games organising committee, was the first figure to both lead the city’s bid for the Olympics and then its delivery.

Could a similar outcome be on the cards with Brisbane? Sunshine Coast Mayor Mark Jamieson, along with former Brisbane lord mayor Graham Quirk, spearheaded the Brisbane bid from the very start.

Jamieson is much more than a local politician, having spent a long and successful career in the private sector (he was managing director of Australian Provincial Newspapers) before becoming mayor.

But while he recently said he had been encouraged to apply for the OCOG chief executive role, he said he had no aspirations for major Games roles.

Others mentioned as possible candidates for chief executive or chair include former Minister Kate Jones, who was responsible for the delivery of the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, Star Entertainment boss John O’Neill, former NRL CEO Todd Greenberg and former Olympics swimmer and now property developer Mark Stockwell.

Given the fractiousness and heavy political scrutiny that the organising committee will attract, perhaps the more coveted Olympics role for the state’s public service mandarins would be heading up the powerful Olympics Coordination Authority that will be in charge of Games-associated infrastructure delivery.

Here, the speculation is more focussed on those with a track record of working with the bureaucracy, particularly given the job will involve working with agencies across federal, state and local governments.

One fancied contender is Department of Tourism, Sport and Innovation director-general John Lee, a former NSW premier’s department boss with a strong background in sports administration.

Others mentioned include State Development director-general Damien Walker and Graeme Newton, the man currently in charge of Queensland’s biggest infrastructure project, Cross River Rail.

But whoever gets the nod for these coveted positions, they will have to jump through a lot of hoops first.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has made it clear several times that, unlike with Sydney 2000, the federal government will have considerable say in who i sput in charge of delivering Brisbane 2032.


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