Opinion article

Brisbane 2032: A New Norm

What legacies can we expect from the 2032 Brisbane Games? And more critically, how can we ensure our plans are realised?

We are hearing the term ‘legacy’ a lot in the wake of both the Brisbane 2032 announcement and the successful bids of global sporting events being awarded to Australia. What is legacy? Legacy is the return on investment of hosting a mega event, including tangible and intangible impacts, planned and unplanned. Tangible economic impacts forecast for the Brisbane 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games include: the bringing forward of planned infrastructure to the host region; the development of local technology ecosystems as a key economic segment, including an innovation precincts strategy recently released by the Queensland Government; an influx of tourism and trade investment; and a boost to employment across several sectors. In a report undertaken by KPMG on the estimated economic and social impacts over the 20-year period from 2022 to 2042, quantifiable impacts amounted to $8.1 billion for Queensland and $17.61 billion for Australia. Employment uplift according to this report is estimated at 122,000 full time equivalent (FTE) job years nationally, and 91,600 FTE job years in Queensland. 

The alignment of local, state and federal governments around a long-term common mission provides a rare opportunity to optimise both policy and resourcing for maximum impact and legacy. Social impacts are less tangible, but equally critical, and include climate-positive outcomes, diversity and inclusion, greater collaboration between the private and public sectors, volunteerism, youth engagement, enhanced health through activity and resident benefits such as community pride, connectedness and wellbeing. The successful bid announcement lends global prestige to destination Australia and Brisbane and a chance to showcase the oldest indigenous culture in the world, our friendly and innovative society, natural beauty and position us as an attractive destination in which to invest and visit.

The New Norm International Olympic Committee governance under which Brisbane 2032 is directed enables the longest runway for planning and optimising these identified opportunities ever experienced by a host region. It enables time to de-risk unplanned outcomes or negative legacies associated with the Games previously documented by host cities. For example, infrastructure across the 32 venues is 84 per cent existing or being upgraded, with new venues including athlete villages across three regional hubs in Brisbane, the Sunshine Coast and Coast, and two broadcast and media centres, all of which represents accelerated development required to meet the demands of a growing population. With time on our side, we can listen, learn, engage and govern these Games strategically, and start with a mindset of ‘10 + 10’ – with the real planning and outcomes pertaining to 2042 and beyond.

While previous impact reports have revealed some unplanned and negative legacies, the 2032 Games are modelled under a new approach of dispersed regional positive benefits, beyond the host city, limiting special purpose infrastructure expense in favour of upgrades to and use of existing venues. With rising construction costs and supply issues in the current economic climate, the mindset for 2032 is frugal innovation, and tight fiscal governance aligned with the New Norm. These approaches help to buffer risk that was more probable in prior Games, premised upon hosting by a single city rather than region, and the building of expensive, new special-purpose infrastructure not aligned with urban masterplans and without contracted legacy outcomes associated with sustainability, inclusion and the New Norm.

While past reports evaluating Games’ legacies have revealed mixed results, the 2032 Games can be distinguished by the New Norm of governance under which they are directed. The ten-year runway provides new opportunities to more accurately baseline, track and evaluate legacy longitudinally. Some of the shortfalls in mega-event evaluation have included short timeframes of legacy measurement which have often been confined to a narrow window during or post event, whereas broader legacy is defined as commencing pre-bid and endures well after the events are delivered. Moreover, reported studies on legacy have also typically canvassed a limited sample of stakeholders, resulting in underestimation of impacts for more diverse stakeholder groups such as non-host regions, youth, indigenous communities, athletes, the elderly and small-medium businesses.

The decade-long green and gold runway ahead also provides the potential for synergistic legacies to emerge from the multiplier effects associated with the scheduled portfolio of mega events in Australia. More accurate and sophisticated measures of social impact legacies like sustainability, social inclusion, community pride, soft power and valuable social and economic ecosystems are also needed. In short, we can’t evaluate what we can’t measure, and we see these measures as key to revealing the true value of mega-events. This will help us to answer questions in 2033 and 2042 like: have we become more diverse and inclusive in sport and as a society since hosting Brisbane 2032? Are we a more sustainable society after delivering a climate positive Games? Are we a more connected, active and well society after the Games? Is our destination more trusted and attractive for investment, tourism and lifestyle as a result of the Games? These causal connections require tracking and reporting, to ensure we fully capture the true legacy ahead.

Of course, we will learn from previous Games and our host partners globally. Many of the legacy learnings are revealed 10- and 20-years post event. For example, the 1996 Atlanta Games generating a profit and becoming the host to 17 fortune 500 corporate headquarters is largely attributable to airport upgrades associated with the 1996 Olympic Games. Barcelona transforming into a business convention city through enhancement of its sport, beach and convention facilities associated with the 1992 Games is another legacy that was realised well beyond Games time. Sydney and London are beacons in legacy for the gentrification of low socio-economic suburbs and conversion to economically viable precincts, in addition to the upskilling of the population through volunteerism and micro-volunteerism programs. And Tokyo will be forever remembered for its legacy of global unity and collaboration and the application of technology and coordination to adapt and deliver in the face of a global pandemic crisis. The knowledge transfer from these Olympics and Paralympics is valuable for informing our 2032 legacy.

If we are to fully realise our legacy potential for the 2032 Games, we will need to ensure there is robust fiscal and decision-making governance, capturing and coordination of economic and social legacy across stakeholders and community. For example, many organisations have already commenced their Games readiness, by examining their carbon ratings, supply chain transparency, ESG status and diversity profiles, in addition to planning some of their own legacy programs, such as workplace wellbeing and volunteering programs linked to diminishing turnover, enhancing productivity and attracting talent. The challenge will be to integrate these micro legacies into the overall Games legacy evaluation.

I’ve witnessed the power of sport to transform communities economically and socially. I am confident our community’s optimism, creativity and cultural appreciation of sport can be the foundations of an enduring legacy for the Brisbane 2032 for Oceania, our nation, state, city and communities. 

CEDA's Legacy Led: Brisbane 2032 event was held at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre on 11 August, 2022.

About the authors

Sarah Kelly

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Dr Sarah Kelly is an Associate Professor in Law and Marketing at the University of Queensland, an experienced commercial lawyer and non-executive director across sport, tourism, technology, and professional services sectors.