Alan Graham, Grace Grace, Steven Miles, Wally Lewis and Cameron Dick
The Queensland government has denied seeking advice on pulling the plug on the Brisbane Olympics. Image by Darren England/AAP PHOTOS
  • Summer Olympics

Games venue concerns not ‘fake news’ for government

Laine Clark March 24, 2024

Reports of the Brisbane 2032 Games’ demise have been greatly exaggerated, according to Olympic powerbrokers.

But concerns over its prospects are hardly “fake news” judging by the backlash over the Queensland government’s controversial plans.

A turbulent week for Premier Steven Miles and his team began with a cabinet meeting to consider a 60-day Brisbane 2032 infrastructure review on Monday.

The meeting also reportedly considered cancelling the Games due to concerns over venue costs and waning public support.

The state government was forced to deny a report claiming it had sought advice on pulling the plug but the allegations didn’t go away, reaching the International Olympic Committee’s ears.

IOC president Thomas Bach appeared bemused when quizzed about it.

“This is mere speculation … this was some kind of fake news,” he said after an executive board meeting in Switzerland.

International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach
 Thomas Bach was reportedly bemused by “speculation” Queensland was thinking of quitting the Games. Image by AP PHOTO 

But the uproar caused by the host’s Games venue plan is very real.

Mr Miles has copped it for ignoring the independent review’s key findings, specifically knocking back the idea of building a $3.4 billion stadium at Victoria Park in inner-Brisbane as the event’s centrepiece.

But the premier appeared to receive most grief for ignoring the review’s warnings and choosing the 49-year-old Queensland Sport and Athletics Centre (QSAC) as the Olympic track and field venue.

Complaints about his plan had “echoed across the state”, federal Sport Minister Anika Wells said.

“It is a shame that things have come to this point,” she told Nine’s Today Show.

Former world champion swimmer Cate Campbell has led the chorus of disapproval.

The QSAC – a 1982 Commonwealth Games venue – now features a high performance centre for athletes preparing for this year’s Paris Olympics and beyond.

Ms Campbell fears its upgrade would displace athletes who train there, disrupting their preparation and costing Australia Olympic medals.

“The moment I hear that athletes are concerned, I am concerned as well,” Ms Wells said.

Olympic gold medal-winning swimmer and melanoma survivor Cate Campbell
 Cate Campbell has been one of the government’s loudest Games critics. Image by Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS 

Then there’s the cost.

The review said QSAC would require a $1.6 billion makeover but added that it would be “very hard to justify” and not represent value for money as a legacy project.

Brisbane lord mayor Adrian Schrinner claimed up to $500 million in additional funding may be required to fix the transport problems associated with the venue, which is a 20 minute drive south from the city.

It will also be 20km from the Olympic village, ensuring “significant” travel time for athletes, the review warned.

Conservationists are also up in arms.

The review said “significant bushland” may need to be cleared if QSAC was revamped.

It has sparked fears this would impact a koala habitat in the adjacent Toohey Forest.

Even when it’s completed the QSAC redevelopment may cause headaches.

The upgraded 40,000-seat capacity would mean the smallest Olympic track and field stadium since the 1928 Amsterdam Games and “potentially leave little opportunity for the general public to attend major finals”.

Brisbane Lord Mayor Adrian Schrinner
 Adrian Schrinner: more funds may be needed to fix transport issues linked to the athletics venue. Image by Jono Searle/AAP PHOTOS 

In need of an ally, the government appears to have found one in the IOC.

To date Olympic bosses have been unfazed by the smaller scale, sometimes decades-old venues chosen.

“Size does not matter. What really is important is to consider the legacy, the choice of the given community,” Olympic Games executive director Christophe Dubi said of Brisbane’s infrastructure plan.

Indeed, the government appears to be toeing the IOC line despite its choices sparking controversy.

Brisbane was picked for 2032 under the Olympics’ “new norm” approach aimed at avoiding massive cost blowouts that have plagued past editions.

Host cities are now encouraged to cut spending by reducing new infrastructure and using existing or temporary venues.

Under Mr Miles’ plan, the only new 2032 venue will be the $2.5 billion Brisbane Arena – set to host swimming – funded by the federal government.

“We will deliver the best Games ever but we will do it in our exiting venues and the Brisbane Arena,” he says.

Suncorp Stadium GM Alan Graham and Premier Steven Miles
 Mr Miles has set aside

billion for Gabba-Suncorp Stadium improvements. Image by Darren England/AAP PHOTOS 

However the premier has been accused of playing politics ahead of the October election with his infrastructure plan.

He claims he can’t justify paying $3.4 billion for a new stadium amid a cost of living crisis.

But Mr Schrinner says the premier will be looking at spending money in that ballpark anyway with his upgrades.

A venue and transport revamp will push the QSAC price tag past $2 billion, he says.

Another $1 billion has been set aside for Gabba-Suncorp Stadium improvements, ignoring the advice of the review which itself cost $450,000 in taxpayers’ money.

An independent authority is set to be introduced mid-year to deliver the venues under their funding budget.

The state government will no doubt hope the IOC is hearing only good – and not “fake” – news by then.

“What’s going on right now, it’s not a good look for any of us,” Brisbane Games organising committee president Andrew Liveris said of the venue controversy.