In 1982 I was nearly 12 years old and the Commonwealth Games came to Brisbane, my hometown. I have two enduring memories. The first was watching Brett Crew qualify for the men’s 800-metre final. The second was Mr Ryan, my grade seven teacher, asking the class to write an essay about the Commonwealth Games. Best topic ever.
The Olympic Games are arguably the world’s biggest party. It’s the party you inevitably feel inclined to host. It is now game on for Brisbane 2032. And my life will be bookended by two very large multi-sport events. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Athletic performance is all about timing, and so too was the success of the Brisbane 2032 bid. Whereas there was once strong competition to host major sporting events, the queue is now much shorter. This decreased number of potential host cities for the Olympics coincided with increased scepticism – especially in Western democracies – about the benefits. Note that cities in Brazil, Russia, India, China and the Middle East hosted so many major sports events in the past decade.
Legacies can be planned and unplanned, positive and negative, as well as tangible and intangible. Politicians talk more about the positives than the negatives. What could be the legacies of Brisbane 2032? What were the legacies, we’ll ask after the event. These questions will likely have very different answers.
Determining the difference between what is promised or forecast and what is delivered is important. Consider the economic impact analysis of the 2021 America’s Cup in New Zealand, released this week. If a yacht race could ever become a train wreck, this is it. Projections of a $NZ1 billion boost to the nation’s economy became a $292 million loss.
Consider also the physical activity and sport participation legacies of the Sydney 2000 Olympics. Researchers who investigated found the evidence “elusive”. That’s academic speak for “we could not find any evidence to support the claim”. Promised legacies are anything but guaranteed.
So what are the promised legacies of Brisbane 2032? The short answer is the usual suspects: environmental improvements, a stronger economy, new and better roads and public transport, an enhanced destination image, civic and national pride. The extent to which these are achieved will be a subjective evaluation.
A new high-speed rail network linking the corners of south-east Queensland is among the infrastructure legacies promised with the Brisbane Games. But 17 days of potential traffic congestion in 2032 cannot be the justification for building that network. Its rationale should be rock-solid, Games or no Games.