Queenslanders are only now coming to the realisation you are always awarded two Olympic Games when you win hosting rights to the biggest event in sports.
Most of us love the short, golden weeks of medals, athletes pushing the limits of human achievement, discovering we’re great at BMX freestyle and the 24-7 party of nations that engulfs every Olympic city.
“It’s not the winning but the taking part” tales always leave us with a lump in the throat. It could be a barefoot underdog from Djibouti conquering hardship or a swimmer from a country with only one 50m pool.
Brisbane will put on a great Olympics in 2032. There’ll be Americans wondering why they didn’t pull themselves away from watching re-runs of the Tiger King to travel to Australia years earlier.
That’s the Olympics that inspires.
The second Olympics you sign up for is the bunfight that rolls on for years and years to get to that point. It’s the one where stadium delays, transport issues and vocal minorities win gold, silver and bronze every month of the year.
This week’s proclamation from International Olympic Committee heavy John Coates that the $2.7 billion rebuild of the Gabba ”doesn’t stack up” is a voice worth putting weight to as the 60-day review of the stadium plan advances.
Don’t imagine what Brisbane is going through is unique. It’s the same before every Olympics.
Before the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, there was a huge outcry that LA’s suffocating smog would choke distance runners and endurance athletes. That was on top of transport coming to a nightmare standstill on the highway arteries that sustain the metropolis.
The image was painted of Rob de Castella and Co trudging into health problems through a haze of car exhaust fumes.
The scare campaign was so powerful that tens of thousands of Californians actually fled LA during the Olympic fortnight. The air over LA had never been clearer when the Olympics began. Funny how things work.
In 1988, the South Korean government could sense a PR nightmare. The nation’s cultural liking for eating dog as stew, soup or cutlets meant the restaurants with dog on the menu had to disappear so not to offend the sensibilities of sports fans from Western nations.
Restaurants were moved, were forced to remove dog dishes from menus or offered incentives to move from around the Olympic precinct. The ploy was largely effective.
The poisonous Gabba debate that Brisbane finds itself in is largely self-inflicted. When your initial planning document trumpets a revamped Gabba as the central hub for the athletics and the opening and closing ceremonies, you assume someone has actually worked out it is feasible.
We’re not talking about the money figure which of course is very important. We are talking about messing with the ancient plumbing system under the stadium, years of traffic chaos and just fitting the right sort of super stadium on a patch of land which has always been too small between Vulture and Stanley Streets.
Correct me if I’m wrong on this. A wonderful Cross River Rail project is nearing completion to efficiently transport thousands of fans daily to and from a Gabba venue that may now be hosting…errh…nothing of great significance in 2032.
That’s a dog stew right there.
What’s been missing most of all in the Olympic dialogue in Brisbane is a big figure telling it straight so we’re all on board and heading in the same direction. The 2012 Olympics in London got it right with former Olympic gold medallist Sebastian Coe as frontman. He had such gravitas he was influential in Queen Elizabeth II joining James Bond in that fantastic short film for the Opening Ceremony.
The State Government needs to boom its Olympic messages, not whisper them.
There was a whole cohort of commentators taking up the chorus that $2.7 billion was being spent on adding 8000 seats to the Gabba.
That might have been a cute line but it was wrong and the State Government just didn’t have the one voice cutting through to say so.
The Gabba is an ordinary stadium with 42,000 ordinary seats and losing ground by the year with Perth and Adelaide having got their acts together to build or redevelop world class stadiums for cricket and the footy codes.
Brisbane was always getting 50,000 better, more spacious, more serviced seats. It may not happen now as the pivot to Opening and Closing Ceremonies at Suncorp Stadium gathers steam.
Before The Greens plan a lap of honour to talk up victory, some reality should also creep in. East Brisbane State School should still be closed and the space ceded to help make the Gabba a better sports precinct.
It’s not like the State Government has ever wanted to make the school disappear altogether. A new location at Coorparoo with more green space in refurbished and new buildings is the sort of hard call that you have to make when a city is trying to become an Olympic city.
The whole thing about the Olympics and Paralympics is creating legacy pieces in facilities, transport and liveability that serve the community long after the last gold medal is awarded.
This should have been shouted before now. Queensland is the greatest swimming state in the country yet there’ll be no legacy for swimming from the 2032 Olympics.
A drop-in pool will be created at the Brisbane Live precinct to be built at Roma Street. It will be central and serviced well by the city and transport but it will be dismantled.
There should be a major upgrade of the Brisbane Aquatic Centre at Chandler or could a visionary new pool complex in the area around the Centenary Pool on Gregory Terrace be a late infrastructure option.
Wherever your thoughts, anger or patience lie with venue planning for the 2032 Brisbane Olympics, we all would agree that firm decisions need to be made. Let’s get on and build some stuff rather than be the city awarded multiple gold medals for dawdling.
JIM TUCKER has specialised in sport, the wider impacts and features for most of his 40 years writing in the media. He covered the West Indies in their pomp as a Test cricket nation in the 1980s and ’90s. He is the Queensland Reds Communications & Media Manager.