Brisbane 2032: Stadium plans change. GETTY IMAGES

Brisbane Olympic Games organisers are moving away from their original plans for the 2032 Summer Games, rejecting the idea of a new stadium to replace the existing Gabba. They have the backing of Athletics Australia and others to upgrade other existing structures instead.

Brisbane Olympic organisers have scrapped plans to demolish and rebuild an iconic cricket ground as the centrepiece of the 2032 Games. They also rejected a review panel's recommendation to build a new stadium in the city's parklands when Australia hosts the Games for the third time in its history. Queensland Premier Steven Miles announced on Monday that he would instead prefer to upgrade an existing rugby stadium near Brisbane's CBD to host the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympics, which will be held in Australia's third-largest city from Friday 23 July to 8 August 2032. 

Miles called for an independent review of Olympic planning in January amid growing opposition after the cost of rebuilding the Gabba stadium tripled. Former Brisbane mayor Graham Quirk led a 60-day review which handed its findings to Miles' state government on Monday, two days after the state election. 

The review made 30 recommendations, the most significant of which was to build a new 55,000-seat stadium in Victoria Park at a cost of A$3.4 billion ($2.23 billion) instead of repurposing the Gabba, contradicting the original plan.

Queensland Premier Steven Miles. GETTY IMAGES
Queensland Premier Steven Miles. GETTY IMAGES

It also doesn't seem to be an option for the Queensland Premier either, who said that while he had said he would follow the recommendations of the Quirk Review, he could not support them because of budgetary concerns: "I commissioned that review because I had heard from Queenslanders that A$2.7 billion for the Gabba was too much, so I know that A$3.4 billion for Victoria Park is too much for Queenslanders, so I'm ruling that option out." 

In this controversial landscape, Miles is leaning towards the option of upgrading Suncorp Stadium, which is within walking distance of several train stations and the city, making it ideal for hosting the Olympic ceremonies. There are also plans to upgrade another existing stadium in the city's south to host athletics. The stadium, now known as the Queensland Sports and Athletics Centre (QSAC), was the main venue for the 1982 Commonwealth Games. 

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported that the total cost of renovating the two stadiums would be A$1 billion ($66 million). Organisers have yet to decide where to build an indoor stadium to host swimming during the Games, although the idea is to keep it as an indoor venue and concert hall after the Games.

The Gabba has hosted many major events including cricket, baseball, rugby league, rugby union and Olympic football. THE GABBA
The Gabba has hosted many major events including cricket, baseball, rugby league, rugby union and Olympic football. THE GABBA

Quirk previously told the ABC that the cost of building a new stadium on the council-owned former golf course would be "probably marginally higher" than the A$3 billion ($2 billion) it would cost to completely rebuild the Gabba, but "with better operational efficiencies and outcomes that would deliver a truly world-class venue". 

"If you did a complete rebuild of the Gabba, you still wouldn't end up with a top tier one stadium because of the space constraints and that's why we end up with Victoria Park," he told ABC radio on Monday. "This is about building what is needed and building a legacy for the people of Queensland." The debate over the plan to demolish and rebuild the existing stadium in the suburb of Woolloongabba, originally built in 1895 and last refurbished in 2005, has been ongoing since the plan was confirmed in November last year.

Australian Olympic Committee president Ian Chesterman said last month that he did not like the idea of rebuilding an ageing stadium as one of the main venues for the 2032 Games. International Olympic Committee vice-president John Coates was also not in favour of rebuilding the Gabba. Speaking to local media during a visit to Australia, he said: "We have suggested to the Review Board that we abandon the Gabba and look for another site for athletics. Coates suggested that the opening ceremony could be held at the 52,000-seat Suncorp Stadium, formerly known as Lang Park, and athletics at the 48,000-seat QSAC facilities under the IOC's "New Norm" concept, which aims to avoid cost increases for host cities.

The Miles government appears to be following this advice, despite Quirk's review stating that transport and logistics issues meant that "QSAC Stadium does not represent value for money".

Athletics Australia supports the position of the Queensland Government, led by Miles and State Development and Infrastructure Minister Grace Grace, according to a press release signed by Athletics Australia President Jane Flemming and Queensland Athletics President Yvonne Papadimos. 

"These important decisions on location and infrastructure priorities must deliver a lasting legacy from the Brisbane 2032 Games that supports the growth and longevity of athletics in the future," the statement said.

While athletics is at the heart of the Games programme, the athletics track is often built as a temporary track, placed in a main football or cricket stadium and removed after the Games, which does not benefit athletics.

A picture of the Queensland Sports and Athletics Centre. QSAC
A picture of the Queensland Sports and Athletics Centre. QSAC

They therefore support the redevelopment of QSAC to become a hub for hundreds of thousands of athletics participants, from school children to elite athletes, but as an elite centre that is up to date. The redevelopment of QSAC will not only make athletics more accessible to all, it will also help to attract more world-class and global athletics events to Australia, providing a significant legacy for the sport and the city.

The proposal to upgrade QSAC is not only the best outcome for the athletics community, but also for Queensland from an economic perspective as it would cost less than other plans under consideration. "It is in line with the IOC's 'New Norm' reforms, which support building infrastructure for the Games for a city, rather than rebuilding a city for the Games," demonstrating the body's strong support in this regard.