— Published 19 September 2023

Brisbane 2032, so far away and already controversial

Australians can either congratulate themselves or regret it: the Brisbane 2032 Games have already broken at least two Olympic records. They were the first in history to be awarded by the IOC more than 11 years in advance – 11 years and two days to be precise – erasing by a few weeks the mark set by Los Angeles 2028. And, in a cruel domino effect, the first to accumulate problems and doubts with almost a decade to go.

At the end of July, the Brisbane 2032 team travelled to Lausanne for a meeting of the IOC Coordination Commission in the Olympic capital. At the time, the faces were all smiles. Since then, they’ve been a little tense.

The cause: a succession of controversies concerning the Olympic construction sites, the costs of the event and its preparation. At the top of the list is a stadium known throughout Queensland as one of the state’s jewels. Its name: Gabba Stadium.

In the Olympic project, the 42,000-seat stadium is to be rebuilt and its capacity increased by 8,000 seats, to accommodate the athletics events and, barring a scenario to the contrary, the opening and closing ceremonies. The announced cost of the project, which also includes modernization of the surrounding area, is 2.7 billion Australian dollars, or 1.63 billion euros at current exchange rates.

So far, so good. But the prospect of such a project, its costs already set to soar, and the consequences for the surrounding area, including the demolition of a school, led a Senate committee to take up the matter. Unsurprisingly, the committee took issue with certain aspects of the project, especially after the neighbouring state of Victoria announced that it would not be hosting the Commonwealth Games in 2026 for budgetary reasons.

The commission’s report is still only in its interim version. The final document is not expected before the end of the year. But the senators are not hesitating to suggest a complete overhaul of the project. And even, come on, to work on a possible Plan B.

It may be unwise and inappropriate for the government to insist that a redeveloped Gabba host athletics for the Games, write the senators on the commission. State governments should not use major events as an excuse to accelerate already planned urban development against the will of their citizens and local communities, and without due diligence.

Queensland’s Minister for Tourism and Sport, Stirling Hinchliffe, didn’t wait for the final report to react to the senators’ stance. “When you read the interim report carefully, you can’t help but notice the factual errors it contains, he told Brisbane’s Courier Mail. I think some of them are probably typos, or the result of rushing to publish the interim report within a certain timeframe. But I didn’t learn anything really new from this report. There is no doubt in my mind that the Gabba is the way to deliver a world-class experience, not just for the Games, but for Queensland and Brisbane for decades to come.

Another bone of contention: transport. Finger-pointed from the outset of the Olympic project as one of the hot-button issues, the question is turning into a political confrontation. The leader of the opposition, David Crisafulli, took advantage of an interview on channel 7NEWS to attack the Queensland government, accusing it of still not having been able to present a transport plan for the Brisbane 2032 Games.

Queenslanders are crying out for a transport plan,” David Crisafulli hammered. Many are also calling on the authorities to lower the cost of public transport, particularly trains and buses, in view of the sharp rise in Queensland’s population before and after the Olympic Games. According to forecasts, the population could reach 6.5 million by 2036, compared with just over 5.1 million at the time of the last census in September 2020.