Brisbane breaks bread and Olympic mould to secure 2032 Games

If there were any lingering doubts about whether Brisbane already had the 2032 Games in the bag, they were dispelled at 2pm on Wednesday when the Brisbane delegation sat down for an exclusive lunch hosted by IOC boss Thomas Bach.

The delegation was due to deliver its final pitch to host the Games to the floor of the IOC congress in a conference room of Tokyo’s Okura hotel in a little under two hours time.

Crowds at South Bank, Brisbane, gather to hear the IOC’s decision.Credit:Brisbane Times

Once Queensland Premier Annastasia Palaszczuk, Brisbane lord mayor Adrian Schrinner and federal Sports Minister Richard Colbeck were greeted by Bach, they knew that only Brisbane was on the IOC menu.

Seated around the table were the most influential figures in the Olympic movement: IOC president Bach, IOC vice-president John Coates, other members of the committee’s executive board and Olympic rowing champion James Tomkins, a member of the IOC’s athletes’ commission.

In truth, the host city rights for the 2032 Olympics and Paralympics have been a foregone conclusion for months. Whatever traits you might ascribe to the 102 men and women who make up the IOC, being revolutionary is not one of them.

It would have been nothing short of revolutionary had enough of them turned against the revamped host city selection process they had voted for just two years earlier – a system of opaque, closed-doors consultation from which Brisbane has emerged uncontested, in the words of Bach, as an “irresistible” proposition.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk is in Tokyo for the final pitch to the IOC.Credit:Getty

Such was the inevitability about Brisbane’s candidacy that the Tokyo organising committee accidentally issued a press release congratulating them half an hour before the IOC members were due to vote.

For the past three days, Palaszczuk and Schrinner have been quarantined inside the elegant luxury of the Okura – unable to venture out into Tokyo or, until Wednesday, meet any IOC delegates other than Coates, the Australian Olympic supremo who orchestrated the Brisbane bid process from within.

There has been no schmoozing or boozing. IOC rules banned them from approaching IOC members during the conference and even the lunch with Bach was dry after the Japanese government requested all Tokyo bars and restaurants stop serving alcohol under its state of emergency decree.

Australia’s ambassador to Japan, Jan Adams, briefed the Brisbane delegation on Monday night. She explained that within Tokyo, there was growing scepticism about the decision to hold the Games during a pandemic and frustration at so many foreigners descending on the city when COVID-19 case numbers were spiking towards a potentially dangerous fifth wave.

On Tuesday night there were some technical hiccups, when it took two hours for Coates, Palaszczuk, and Schrinner to walk through their speeches and for IT experts to ensure that Brisbane’s video presentation and a live cross to Prime Minister Scott Morrison in Canberra would be be delivered without a hitch.

The only IOC member to publicly raise a concern about the Brisbane bid was former Hungarian president Pal Schmitt, who turns 80 next year and noted that 11 years seemed a long time to hold a host city to its promises.

After successive Games in the mega cities of Tokyo, Paris and Los Angeles, Brisbane looms as a very different Olympics. Brisbane is the smallest city since Helsinki in 1952 to host an Olympics and its Games will be genuinely regional, with the venues spread across Brisbane, the Gold Coast and the Sunshine Coast.

Brisbane’s final pitch, led by Morrison, was simple and given the current situation in Tokyo, tailored for the times; Australia had successfully hosted Olympics twice before, could be trusted to deliver again and would have the backing of a sports loving population to do it.

As Morrison put it: “We know what it takes to deliver a successful Games in Australia.”

Schrinner drew a comparison between Brisbane and Barcelona, the Spanish city that knocked off Brisbane’s bid for the 1992 Olympics. He said hosting the Olympics would help make the emerging, mid-sized city a healthier, more active, smarter and more connected place.

The lord mayor described a Games setting far removed from the tight COVID-19 protocols that have quarantined the Tokyo Olympics from their own host city and emptied the Olympic venues of spectators.

“The athletes will provide the magic and we will provide the stage; the sunshine, the rivers, the beaches the forests and bushland, the wildlife and most importantly, our people.”

For Coates, the Brisbane Olympics – the “together Games,” as he dubbed them – is a personal triumph on two levels.

Having worked on Brisbane’s failed bid for the 1992 Games as an Olympic outsider and embraced the darker arts of IOC graft and gratuity to secure the 2000 Games for Sydney, he has now changed the rules of the Games to benefit Brisbane.

Whatever you think of Coates – and like the IOC, many traits have been subscribed to him over the years – Brisbane will be his glittering legacy and final project.

He has confirmed to The Age and Sydney Morning Herald that, after he steps down as AOC president next year, he will retain a place on Brisbane’s organising committee.

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