The Roar
The Roar


To bid or not to bid: The Olympic question

Emer new author
Roar Rookie
22nd June, 2015
The AOC's John Coates does not believe Melbourne would be suitable for an Olympic bid due to competing competitions. (Image: ABC)
Emer new author
Roar Rookie
22nd June, 2015
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Brisbane and Melbourne risk wasting millions in state and federal funding if they are successful in bidding for upcoming Olympics.

Both cities are seriously considering bidding for the 2028 and 2032 games respectively, with some calls for Australia to even look into hosting a ‘multi-city’ event.

Although it is highly unlikely that both cities would stage the event in succession, one successful bid could bring about great wastage and fall victim to financial mismanagement, a regular ramification of staging global events, according to urban planners and economists.

Can an Australian city successfully host the Olympics again?

John Coates was one of the figures behind Sydney’s successful 1993 bid to host the 2000 games. Coates is now the head of the Australian Olympic Committee, as well as the vice president of the Lausanne-based International Olympic Committee.

“I just don’t see any potential for Melbourne hosting the Games following the IOC’s determination since Sydney 2000 that the summer Games be held during the period of July 15 to August 31 unless an exception is granted by the executive board and for which proposed dates and rationale must be provided,” Coates said.

In an email, Coates said that the AOC is far more inclined to back a bid by Brisbane given its temperate climate during the northern summer athletic season.

While the 1956 Melbourne Olympics were held in November and December, IOC protocol calls for no major events to be held during the games to avoid clashing and overcrowding. Being an events-heavy city, this poses a great challenge for Melbourne.


“The NRL and AFL grand finals and the Sydney and Melbourne Racing Carnivals during the September-November period would therefore likely rule out later dates for hosting the Games in those cities unless they can be changed,” he wrote.

IOC president Thomas Bach met with prime minister Tony Abbott last month to back an Australian bid in the near future. In a press conference held at Sydney Olympic Park on April 29, Bach said that he agreed with the views of former IOC head Juan Antonio Samaranch that Sydney held “the best games ever”. He added that the 2000 Games “set a benchmark” for future cities and that Australians should be “proud” of the event they staged.

“I’m sure that Australians are ready to host the world again,” Bach added, without expressing whether he supported a bid from Brisbane or Melbourne.

Neither Melbourne’s lord mayor Robert Doyle or Brisbane’s lord mayor Graham Quirk met with Bach and Quirk did not return any requests for interviews or comment. Speaking on behalf of Robert Doyle, his assistant, Ann Dougan, said that Doyle believes “Melbourne should bid for the 2032 Olympics” adding that he is “confident that it would be a success” if there is public support behind it.

If Brisbane and Melbourne were to overcome the time and meteorological challenges posed by the IOC there is still the looming problem of expenditure. It is almost impossible to estimate which sectors of the community would be hit the hardest by the reallocation of funds to improve and modernise sporting infrastructure, build a new, modern athletes village and provide security for such a major event.

Liam Lenten, a senior lecturer in microeconomics at La Trobe University, has researched the effects on cities after hosting large global events. He said that there is always a “trade off” in terms of alternative spending options and decisions have to be made in terms of whether or not these funds should be going towards hosting global events or be invested in projects like schools, roads and the health care system.

“Our big beef with bidding committees is that they always talk about the economic windfall that you receive as hosts and it never ends up being that way. It basically costs you to host the Olympics so it’s really a matter of are we willing to pay for the right to host it,” he said.


Even major events cities like London have built brand new sporting stadiums and developed new public areas to ensure that the Olympics are etched into the collective memory. Kim Dovey is an architecture and urban design professor at the University of Melbourne. He said that if a bid is to be successful, Melbourne should “feature Melbourne as a city” and avoid spending large sums of money on new infrastructure in an attempt to stop us from looking like a nation “desperate” to be on the world stage.

“It opens the city up to the global gaze and so there’s a lot of introspection about how we want to appear to the world and that has both good and bad effects I think. It has the effect of making us strut too hard like the kid in the back of the class saying ‘hey miss pick me please’ and you don’t really want that,” he said.

From a city planning perspective Olympics can prove to be incredibly costly. The Canadian city of Montreal took 30 years to pay back the $2.7 billion USD debt it accrued from the 1976 games. Even Barcelona, often viewed as the most successful games in terms of urban regeneration, left Spanish taxpayers with $6.1 billion USD debt and parts of the country crumbling after public funds poured in the Catalonian capital instead of poorer regions.

Melbourne’s unsuccessful bid for the 1996 games alone cost $21 million AUD and Sydney’s Olympics, while difficult to calculate, are estimated to have cost more than $3 billion AUD.

“There have been a few economic studies that say there have been marginal benefits but on the whole the majority of studies said that there are no identifiable benefits,” said Richard Tomlinson, chair of Urban Planning at the University of Melbourne.

Tomlinson has extensively studied the cost benefits of Olympics and major events on cities and strongly believes that the arguments for economic growth and job creation are overstated.

Tomlinson said that Melbourne currently has a strong construction sector and if more building and infrastructure development were to occur it would still not deliver on the job creation promise. Instead it would just be “moving people from one job to another” and merely “shifting the labour force from here to there” as opposed to new job growth.


This argument is supported by prominent Australian sports historian, Richard Cashman. Cashman founded and was the director of the Centre for Olympic Studies at the University of New South Wales in the lead up to the Sydney Olympics in 1996. It has since moved to the University of Technology, Sydney where he is now an adjunct professor.

He said that even 15 years on there are still “ongoing” costs for Sydney after hosting the games due to the costs of maintaining both the parklands and facilities in the Homebush area which were regenerated specifically for the event. The Sydney Olympic Park Authority, of which John Coates is a member, still receives funding from the NSW government 15 years after the games.

Tourism to Sydney and the rest of Australia was expected to increase rapidly after 2000, due in part to an increased global gaze and ongoing media coverage but it “didn’t really work” according to Cashman.

In fact, the years following the Sydney Olympics were “really bad for tourism” due in part to poor planning and a series of major geopolitical events. Holistically, there was “no great tourism impact for Sydney”.

“There was 9/11 the year following and the SARS epidemic and there were various disincentives to tourism,” he said.

With the exception of Barcelona in 1992, the Olympics do not act as major tourism draws. While it is impossible to predict events which can disrupt tourism, it is important to recognise that in solidarity, Olympic Games do not attract tourists to cities.

“The Olympic games itself doesn’t necessarily bring in tourism, in fact sometimes it discourages people to come because they think there’ll be too many crowds and too many problems with security and issues like that,” Cashman said.


Although some argue that the Games increase participation in sports and physical activity at a grassroots level, this is in fact unfounded as investment flows into the training of elite athletes as opposed to community sports teams and sporting facilities.

In the six years leading up to Sydney, the Australian Institute of Sport was allocated $135 million to ensure that Australia finished in the top five countries in the final medal count. Australia ended up in fourth place on the medal table and continued to have success in Athens and Beijing but there was no significant increase in local sports participation.

“People talk that they have this great trickle down factor when people see these great athletes performing and they want to go out and play, perform and participate but that doesn’t last,” Cashman said.

These sentiments have done little to quell the spirits of Games advocates like Kate Roffey. Roffey is the CEO of the Committee for Melbourne, which describes itself as “an apolitical, not-for-profit, member network” and has publicly endorsed the idea of Melbourne bidding for the games as she believes that Melbourne “is one of the best cities in the world” and would be a better choice than Brisbane to host such a large scale event.

“If Australia is going to bid, it’s an absolute no-brainer that Melbourne should be the city that bids,” she said.

She added that Melbourne is the most well equipped city in terms of infrastructure, with existing frameworks for sporting facilities, ticketing, hotels and public transport all in place and ready to be used for a major event. Conversely, a Brisbane-hosted Games could lead to “enormous” construction bills to be footed by the federal government for sporting infrastructure.

“I don’t have any interest in sending the Australian economy broke to host the Olympics,” she said. “It’s not about saying that Brisbane shouldn’t host, it’s about actually sensibly putting it where it brings the best return to the city and I can assure you that the IOC want Australia to host again.”


The proposed idea of a multi-city Olympics where the games are held between Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney “won’t work” according to Roffey as the “collective, festival” feel of the Olympics would be lost, leading to a “collection of World Cups” as opposed to a united celebration, the cornerstone of the event.

There is a great deal to take into consideration when calculating whether an Olympics bid will deliver benefits for either Brisbane or Melbourne in the long run. Richard Cashman believes that both cities need to have a very concise city plan in place to ensure that the public doesn’t lose out.