Brisbane Olympics 2032: Worthy of congratulations but the victory feels hollow

One of the most stirring moments of the Sydney 2000 opening ceremony for this fortunate spectator was not the ceremony itself but the pre-show countdown.

When that count from 10 reached zero, there was a collective spine-tingling feeling of pride, if not astonishment, that billions of people had instantly tuned into the city and country - more than any its history. Sydney, as we never failed to be reminded, went on to be named the best Olympics ever, at least up to that point.

However, rather less illustriously, it was also the least-watched in the all-important US free-to-air television market since the 1968 Mexico City Games (time difference or just indifference?). Remarkably, the city received fewer tourists in the year following the event. What's more, house prices have never been the same.

That was then and this is now. On the eve of the most benighted summer Olympics since the horrors of Munich, Brisbane has been virtually gifted the 2032 Games by an International Olympic Committee desperate to lock in a willing and reliable host city.

Once hotly-contested, fewer and fewer cities around the globe have been prepared to bid for the Olympics and when their leaders have sought to unilaterally do so, their citizens have protested bitterly, opposed to the wildly escalating costs and the untold disruption that hosting a Games tends to bring.

Just the expense of providing security for a Games, a weighty target for international and home-grown terrorists, has become the equivalent of the GDP of a small sovereign state.

Hosting the Olympics feels more than ever like a genuine vanity project. Brisbane, with a population of under 3 million, will be one of the smaller cities to have been awarded the Games and it will be following heavyweight host cities in the form of Paris (2024) and Los Angeles (2028).

The latter cities were both locked in years ago by a nervous IOC sensing its Herculean franchise in sharp decline. In that light, they've endeavoured to make the Olympics more appealing and relevant to a younger audience by including pastimes like skateboarding and break-dancing.

Indeed, Brisbane's success brings to mind a comment by Rudy Giuliani, the erstwhile mayor of New York, who declared that the Olympics were reserved "for cities on the make" (even though the Big Apple went on to unsuccessfully bid for the Games).


If ever there was a city on the make it's the Queensland capital which, by its own admission, views the Olympics as a means to finally cement itself on the world map. Finally the mocking "Vegas" in "Brisvegas" would no longer be tongue-in-cheek.

But is that enough nowadays? The tourism value of an Olympics is overstated. Many would-be overseas visitors are put off by the inevitable hotel price gouging and associated costs while those tourists who do come understandably spend much of their time at the wall-to-wall events and rather less of it spending money away from the venues.

Arguably better investments are multi-week international major events such as the massive women's World Cup of football to be staged in Australia and New Zealand in 2023, or the Rugby World Cup for which Australia is bidding for the 2027 hosting rights (with the US a potentially formidable competitor).

The Rugby World Cup was staged with enormous success and distinction in 2003 with its events spread across the nation in mostly existing stadiums. With each game lasting 80 minutes there was plenty of time for affluent international visitors to stimulate the economy and spend on restaurants, bars, cafes, retail and pre-and-post Games holidays.

Something that Brisbane will discover is that the IOC is a circus which packs up its big top immediately after the Games, never to be seen again, unless, that is, a host city, decades later, returns for seconds. It's a ruthless organisation with an unshakeable "the show must go on" stance, as evidenced by its insistence that the Tokyo Olympics proceed in the midst of the worst pandemic in a century.

Host city planning committees with stars (rings?) in their eyes invariably end up digging deeper into the public coffers to please the IOC and its coterie. Sydney 2000 spent several million dollars removing an unsightly Olympic Park electricity tower that blocked the TV money shot of the city skyline for NBC, the US host broadcaster.

Congratulations Brisbane, you will no doubt deliver a decent Games in a decade's time and make the rest of us proud. But the winning of the 2032 Olympics in 2021 feels a little like a hollow victory. Perhaps Paris and Los Angeles will have helped erase the memory of Tokyo and restore some of the tarnished rings' glimmer by the time your moment comes around. But don't count on it.

Anthony Dennis covered the Sydney 2000 Olympics for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

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