Brisbane 2032: Demolition and rebuilding of The Gabba increasingly unlikely. GETTY IIMAGES

The Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) has accepted the review of the demolition and reconstruction project for The Gabba, and all signs point to a much more cost effective and sustainable redevelopment for the Brisbane 2032 Olympic Games.

The reconstruction of the stadium, which will host the ceremonies and athletics at Australia's third Summer Olympics, is estimated to cost A$2.7 billion (€1.64 billion) and is located in Brisbane's Woolloongabba suburb. "The Gabba was built in 1895 and is the historic home of Queensland Cricket. It was last rebuilt in 2005.

The proposed rebuild to host the Brisbane 2032 games has not been well received by all local residents and what seemed to be a done deal is now in doubt.

In response, in one of his first acts as Premier in December, Queensland Premier Steve Miles announced a pause and review of the project, with a decision to be made by mid-March 2024.

Previously, as Deputy Premier, Miles was an enthusiastic supporter of the project. "Four possible options for the Gabba were assessed and it was determined that demolition and redevelopment would deliver the best outcome and value to the city," Miles had said, also highlighting the boost the area would receive from the works.

"It will be a well-connected stadium, but more importantly it will lead to the urban regeneration we want to see... it will be one of the best parts of the city to live in."

The project involved increasing the seating capacity to 50,000 and connecting the Gabba to a metro station. It required the alteration of green spaces and even the relocation of a school, which was heavily criticised by local community groups.

AOC President Ian Chesterman said last week that he fully supported the review of the Gabba redevelopment, suggesting that it did not meet the expectations of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) due to the affordability and sustainability issues associated with building a new stadium.

The IOC's current recommendations are that stadiums for the Olympic Games (both summer and winter) should preferably use existing facilities or upgrade existing facilities. In some cases, temporary facilities should be added to avoid leaving behind huge obsolete or unused structures after the Olympic Games, as has happened at many previous Games.

Australian Olympic Committee President Ian Chesterman. AUS OLYMPIC TEAM
Australian Olympic Committee President Ian Chesterman. AUS OLYMPIC TEAM

Chesterman's comments follow those of International Olympic Committee (IOC) vice-president John Coates, who suggested the review panel should drop the idea of using the Gabba. The IOC vice-president suggested the opening ceremony should be held at the 52,000-seat Suncorp Stadium and the athletic events at the 48,000-seat Queensland Sport and Athletics Centre.

The latter stadium was used for the 1982 Commonwealth Games. The Queensland Government had proposed rebuilding the Gabba, which would take 5 years to complete. This would affect the Brisbane Lions Australian rules football team and cricket from 2025 to 2030.

Brisbane Lions, during the AFL match against the Gold Coast Suns at The Gabba. GETTY IMAGES
Brisbane Lions, during the AFL match against the Gold Coast Suns at The Gabba. GETTY IMAGES

Opponents of the rebuild say it should not go ahead because costs have risen to almost three times the original estimate. Queensland Premier Steven Miles announced the review in the hope that an independent process would lead to a more cost-effective approach. Faced with this situation, he admitted that he had failed to convince Queenslanders of the need for the project and suggested that an alternative plan to a complete rebuild might end up being a better option. 

"I don't think I've been able to convince Queenslanders, and Queenslanders have told me everywhere that they think there should be an alternative," Miles said. "We're probably going to have ... maybe more of a renovation or refurbishment than a rebuild" of the Gabba, Miles responded after unveiling his government's housing plan at a Queensland Media Club event in Brisbane.

With an election looming in October and cost-of-living pressures on residents, he has changed his mind about proceeding with the redevelopment plan for the area. "I think it's likely that we'll have... maybe more of a renovation or refurbishment than a rebuild, and that will continue to bring comfort and a place that people will want to live near."

Nathan McSweeney, playing at The Gabba on 27 December 2023. GETTY IMAGES
Nathan McSweeney, playing at The Gabba on 27 December 2023. GETTY IMAGES

Brisbane was awarded the right to host the 2032 Olympics in July 2021 under the leadership of former Labor Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk (2015-2023), who was succeeded by Miles (a former deputy minister) at the end of 2023 following Palaszczuk's resignation in December. 

When Brisbane was awarded the Games, it was under the New Norm process, a more specific bidding process designed to save host cities hundreds of millions of dollars and increase long-term sustainability. Around 80 per cent of the venues for the 2032 Games are already in place, with the redevelopment of the Gabba and a government-funded A$2.5 billion (€1.51 billion) swimming arena the only two construction projects.

We will have to wait these remaining weeks for the final decision, but the path seems to be heading towards seeking alternatives to the Gabba redevelopment.