OpEd - Brisbane 2032: Humility and discipline seals Queensland’s opportunity of the century

How a regional east-coast Australian city landed world sport’s biggest prize unopposed

Olympics - 138th IOC Session - Hotel Okura, Tokyo, Japan - July 21, 2021 President of the International Olympic Committee Thomas Bach (R) bumps elbows with members of the Brisbane 2032 delegation (L-R) John Coates AC, President, Australian Olympic Committee and The Honourable Annastacia Palaszczuk MP, Premier of Queensland and Minister for Trade, after Brisbane was announced as the 2032 Summer Olympics host city during the 138th IOC Session  Pool via REUTERS/Toru Hanai
Olympics - 138th IOC Session - Hotel Okura, Tokyo, Japan - July 21, 2021 President of the International Olympic Committee Thomas Bach (R) bumps elbows with members of the Brisbane 2032 delegation (L-R) John Coates AC, President, Australian Olympic Committee and The Honourable Annastacia Palaszczuk MP, Premier of Queensland and Minister for Trade, after Brisbane was announced as the 2032 Summer Olympics host city during the 138th IOC Session Pool via REUTERS/Toru Hanai

BRISBANE, Australia - International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach changed Queenslanders lives by announcing their capital - Brisbane – will host the 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Make no mistake – this was one of the biggest and smartest victories in Olympic history.

So how did a regional east-coast Australian city with a population of just 2.3 million land world sports’ biggest prize, unopposed?

The answer is simple: through a combination of intelligence, humility and discipline.

Olympics - 138th IOC Session - Hotel Okura, Tokyo, Japan - July 21, 2021 President of the International Olympic Committee Thomas Bach (R) bumps elbows with members of the Brisbane 2032 delegation (L-R) John Coates AC, President, Australian Olympic Committee and The Honourable Annastacia Palaszczuk MP, Premier of Queensland and Minister for Trade, after Brisbane was announced as the 2032 Summer Olympics host city during the 138th IOC Session  Pool via REUTERS/Toru Hanai
Olympics - 138th IOC Session - Hotel Okura, Tokyo, Japan - July 21, 2021 President of the International Olympic Committee Thomas Bach (R) bumps elbows with members of the Brisbane 2032 delegation (L-R) John Coates AC, President, Australian Olympic Committee and The Honourable Annastacia Palaszczuk MP, Premier of Queensland and Minister for Trade, after Brisbane was announced as the 2032 Summer Olympics host city during the 138th IOC Session Pool via REUTERS/Toru Hanai

Let’s start with the obvious. This stunning opportunity was masterminded by IOC Member and Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) President John Coates and his senior AOC staff in Sydney. Coates has had a dream for many decades that Brisbane should host the Games and his deep relationships, extreme perseverance and determination have assisted Brisbane to prevail.

I know that to win the right to host an Olympic Games, the stars have to align for your bid. Sir Craig Reedie played the same role for over a decade for London 2012, having painfully seen first-hand Manchester and Birmingham fail to secure the IOC mandate.

Like Reedie, Coates played a long game and won. Like Reedie, Coates managed a complex and (at times) fractious domestic political environment to ensure his country landed the ultimate prize (again).

Coates has quietly ensured that everything Brisbane has done in the past two years has been done with humility. Sensibly, the Aussies have patiently shown the IOC how the movement will benefit from Brisbane 2032, rather than what is in it for Australia.

Australian Olympic Committee CEO Matt Carroll and his Head of Communications Strath Gordon have effectively driven their internal and external stakeholders to maintain public discipline throughout this new IOC process. No Australian has put his or her head above the parapet or celebrated early or wildly.

Indeed, such has been the sensible stealth around this bid (with key input from Craig McLatchey and John O’Neill) that most Queenslanders will be relatively unaware that the world is now watching them.

Brisbane, Australia from the air. (IOC)
Brisbane, Australia from the air. (IOC)

I work in Brisbane’s Central Business District, and I’ve been telling business leaders for months that their future strategies need to reflect the decades-long opportunity Brisbane 2032 presents. Many in this city are blissfully unaware that the IOC has now put their state firmly on the global map – for years to come.

Kudos to Queensland’s Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk (and her key aides), who understand what this prize means for the future of their ‘Sunshine State’.

“Securing the world’s biggest event is a huge coup for our state but it has never been about those few weeks of competition.

“It is about the next 10 years of accelerated investment in time for the games.

“And it is about maximizing the tourism and trade benefits that will continue to come to us in the 10 years after 2032 giving Queensland a 20-year runway of jobs, infrastructure and opportunity,” she told the world’s media in Tokyo after Brisbane was formally confirmed on Wednesday.

She noted that various arms of government and the AOC have worked harmoniously to deliver this victory.

“People often complain that governments don’t work together on common goals. The Olympic and Paralympic Games (bid) have proven that doesn’t have to be true.

“All levels of government, across different political parties, have worked together to bring us to this point. That’s gold medal-worthy in itself. Our 50/50 funding split with the federal government to deliver critical infrastructure projects - to meet the needs of our growing State as well as being Games ready - ensures a pipeline of major infrastructure will be brought forward.

“Having the deadline of 2032 gets projects off drawing boards and into our lives that much sooner,” she added.

When the veteran Olympic writer at The Australian newspaper, Wayne Smith, phoned the then Lord Mayor of Brisbane Graham Quirk in late February 2015 and suggested his city should bid for - and could win - the right to host an Olympic and Paralympic Games, he found the Lord Mayor open-minded.

“We had a conversation about Brisbane potentially bidding for a future Olympic Games. Graham made it clear he would only push forward if there was buy-in from his fellow South-East Queensland-based Council of Mayors. He thought about it for a moment and told me to write a piece confirming he would be putting the Brisbane Bid concept on the agenda for the next Council of Mayors meeting to be held the following Friday. He was firm that following Brisbane successfully hosting the G20 conference the previous November, he believed Queensland would put on a very good Olympic and Paralympic Games. I believe that Council of Mayors meeting was the first time a Brisbane bid was seriously considered by anyone remotely influential.”

For his part, Quirk recognized the long-term opportunities and had the patience to quietly start the process.

“When Wayne Smith rang, it was a timely call. In 2014, Brisbane had hosted an adjunct to the G20 World Leaders Summit, called the ‘Global Café’. It was a forum for future-thinkers and key global people of influence.

“This was all about building Brisbane’s respectability, reputation and recognition as a city that wanted to contribute to a better world. After this event, the Mayors of South-East Queensland started a conversation about future event opportunities. We wanted something that would assist in addressing the growing infrastructure needs of the Region.

“We geared up and proceeded to expend several million dollars on (Olympic and Paralympic) pre-feasibility and full feasibility studies. We also set up a meeting with (former London 2012 Chairman) Lord Sebastian Coe,” Quirk added.

Fittingly, Quirk’s successor as Lord Mayor, Adrian Schrinner, finished the job by addressing the IOC in Tokyo on Wednesday and stood shoulder to shoulder with Queensland’s Premier, despite the pair coming from opposite sides of the political divide.

Olympics - 138th IOC Session - Hotel Okura, Tokyo, Japan - July 21, 2021 The Honourable Annastacia Palaszczuk MP, and President of the International Olympic Committee Thomas Bach sign the Host Agreement after Brisbane was announced as the 2032 Summer Olympics host city during the 138th IOC Session Pool via REUTERS/Toru Hanai
Olympics - 138th IOC Session - Hotel Okura, Tokyo, Japan - July 21, 2021 The Honourable Annastacia Palaszczuk MP, and President of the International Olympic Committee Thomas Bach sign the Host Agreement after Brisbane was announced as the 2032 Summer Olympics host city during the 138th IOC Session Pool via REUTERS/Toru Hanai

For her part, Palaszczuk knows that she now has the perfect post-pandemic platform to sell Brisbane and Queensland to the world over the coming 15 years.

“In world terms, Queensland is relatively unknown. But now we are Olympic hosts the world is asking to know more about our state.

“We intend to show them,” she told media.

Brisbane’s bid team, knowing that the North of Queensland with its Great Barrier Reef can be one of the world’s iconic tourism dream-destinations, cleverly wove that narrative into their final presentation to the IOC.

Palaszczuk explained: “We are spoiled with blue skies and warm days especially during games time. Events would be conducted against some of the most stunning backdrops in the world including sun-drenched beaches, clear, clean ocean waters, tropical rainforests and of course The Great Barrier Reef. Those are our venues. The Olympic story is Queensland’s story.

“We know well the triumph of sport and its ability to lift and unite us. We are seeing it in the co-operation of all levels of government and all sides of politics working together to achieve this Olympic dream.

“We saw it very recently in another Queenslander, Ash Barty, at Wimbledon.

“Dreams,’ she said ‘are possible.’ I believe her. Our First Nations people will be strongly represented in our Games activities as you would expect,” she noted.

Likewise, Australian Prime Minster Scott Morrison has played a critical supporting role at important moments, even travelling to Tokyo at the height of the pandemic to meet President Bach and provide the level of political comfort that senior IOC powerbrokers require from national leaders to move bids forward.

What I know from my London experience is that it takes a monumental effort to secure the right to host the Olympic and Paralympic Games, but it then requires a durable and world-class team of experts to deliver the event and all the local infrastructure that supports the five-ringed dream.

Palaszczuk reckons her fellow Queenslanders are up to the task.

“Now is our time. Believe it. It’s time for Queensland to shine,” she said today.

About the author: Philip Pope was the Head of Communications at the British Olympic Association from 2001-2005 during London’s 2012 bidding phase. He is the former Public Affairs Manager of Cricket Australia and the former General Manager Communications, Queensland Rugby Union. He is currently the Director of Media Services for the Curious Minds Media Agency in Brisbane.