In July 2021, Brisbane will find out whether it will host the 2032 Olympics. The Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) says that we are the front runners, that it is ours to lose from here. But what does it mean to a community, to win the right to host an Olympic Games?
The development of the Olympics is a 10-year process, and for Brisbane 2032, it began with a bid to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) earlier this year. If the hosting rights are awarded, an Olympic Authority will be established to deliver the stadiums and other infrastructure needed for the games over the next 10 years. In addition, the Authority will plan the major event including transportation, accommodation, security, and telecasting.
If Brisbane receives hosting rights to the 2032 Olympic Games, 4101 residents will hear the roar of the opening ceremony from our bedrooms. The two-week event will wind around our suburb with venues in South Brisbane and Roma Street parklands. We know that Woolloongabba will be the focus, right on our doorstep: the stadium will be torn down and rebuilt to host the Olympic ceremonies and athletics. A piazza across the new Woolloongabba train station is also proposed.
Does this equal a win for the local community? It depends on what we’re considering. As a resident of West End, and part of the management committee of the West End Community Association (WECA), the question I am asking is: do local communities benefit from the Olympics? Past examples provide an unclear guide. The social cost of building the infrastructure to host the Olympics is well documented – things such as property resumptions for stadiums and other infrastructure, and diverting expenditure from other social infrastructure such as hospitals, schools, and social housing. I looked for past examples of communities that had a positive experience of the pre-Olympics construction process, but found very few.
The perceived local impacts post-Olympics are less clear. A study on the 2016 Rio Olympics Games found that perception of positive impacts tended to increase, while perceived negative impacts decrease, from pre- to post-event. This change can be seen in our own community’s experience with the World Expo 1988 in South Bank, during which rental residents were evicted, many being indigenous residents, and their homes were demolished to build new infrastructure and high-rise buildings, outraging the community, and drawing protests. A 1988 news article noted that real estate prices in West End jumped 58% in one year, pushing rents higher and placing more pressure on renters. However, 30 years on, the perception that the South Bank precinct is a positive social asset is high.
So, what does this mean for a potential Brisbane 2032? Straight away, we know that residents of 4101 and inner southern Brisbane will be burdened with the negative pre-event impacts from construction, traffic disruptions, noise, and air pollution. It’s possible, however, that we may benefit from the post-event infrastructure – though the plans provided by the AOC provide little evidence that new infrastructure will have a community focus. Things such as new bike lanes, river walks, and social housing are absent. Temporary sports arenas will be torn down after the event. Granted, the Gabba will be rebuilt and continue to be an asset for the entire city. The largest changes may not even happen in 4101 or the surrounding areas; for instance, the major athletes’ village is proposed to be built in Albion.
It is also important to note that the entire construction and event program will have monumental environmental impacts. Concrete and steel for the new stadium and other infrastructure will embed significant carbon emissions into our region. Athletes, media, dignitaries, and visitors will fly from across the globe. Major transportation networks will be established to move people around the venues that are proposed to be scattered across Queensland.
If Brisbane is to host the Olympics in 2032, I would like it to realise four key ambitions. First, a major upgrade in green transport infrastructure across the 4101 peninsula, which would enable Olympics visitors to cycle or take electric scooters to venues as well as provide safe and accessible transport for residents into the future. Second, the government would need to buffer the vulnerable people from the major price increases that result from real estate speculation around mega events such as the Olympics. If nothing is done the impact will inevitably fall on those least able to carry the burden. Third, a reduction in the environmental footprint of the impacted neighbourhoods to match the expected emissions from the Olympics. This could include community solar and batteries, and green infrastructure to decarbonise our city far beyond the games. And lastly, recognition that the Olympics, wherever it is held in this city, are held on stolen land.
This point about engagement extends beyond respecting and acknowledging Australia’s First Nations: any potential benefits from Brisbane hosting the Olympics should rely on the community having a say. To date, an abysmal precedent has been set in this regard. No community groups were engaged in the bid process. The details of the bid itself are commercial-in-confidence, meaning elected Councillors are unable to provide information to the public. In March 2021, Brisbane City Councillors held a closed-door meeting – the first since the Clem7 tunnel proposals in 2007, a project which eventually went bankrupt – to see the details of the bid and vote on whether to put the city forward as a host. If we are selected to be the host city in July, we will enter in a contract that does not allow the city to cancel the Olympics if we come to the realisation that this is not for us.
So, as the 4101 community, we are being asked to have faith that the long-term benefits will outweigh the short-term pain. That we will get the infrastructure that we need, even though we have had no input into the planning and are not privy to the details of the bid. If this goes ahead, major decisions will be made over the next two years by the Authority that will significantly impact our lives pre- and post-Olympic Games. This should not be done without community input – and it certainly doesn’t have to be. But is the Authority willing to listen and what should we do, as a community, if the Authority proves to be unwilling?
WECA will be attending the Brisbane Olympic: Community Forum on 10 July 2021 from 2pm to 4pm at the Metro Community Hub, 22 Qualtrough St, Woolloongabba, QLD 4102.
Please come and provide your views on the Olympics and our community. Register for the Forum here.
Image: Shutterstock by lazyllama