‘The world is our oyster’: How the Queensland government is courting the business of sport

Queensland minister Kate Jones explains how and why the state and the city of Gold Coast - the recently announced host of next year's SportAccord convention - is striving to become a hub for international sport.

‘The world is our oyster’: How the Queensland government is courting the business of sport

The Australian city of Gold Coast has landed the right to host next year’s SportAccord World Sport and Business Summit, which will take place from 5th to 10th May at the Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre. The second-largest city in the state of Queensland will stage the annual gathering of international sports federations having successfully hosted this year’s Commonwealth Games.

News of SportAccord’s arrival - which has been secured through a partnership between Tourism and Events Queensland, Tourism Australia, Gold Coast City Council and Destination Gold Coast - comes as local authorities work to position the Gold Coast, and the entire state of Queensland, as a world-class destination for international sport. In July, SportsPro travelled to the ‘Sunshine State’ to find out how those plans are taking shape in the wake of the Commonwealth Games, the largest event in Queensland’s history.

During the trip, Kate Jones, the state’s minister for innovation, tourism industry development and the Commonwealth Games, shared her thoughts on the legacy of April’s showpiece, Queensland’s competitive advantages over other regions in Australia when it comes to staging major events, and whether a bid to host the 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games is now a logical next step.

Looking back on your experience of organising this year’s Commonwealth Games, what were the main aims and strategic objectives for the city of Gold Coast in particular and the state of Queensland in general?

As a government, about nine years ago, we pitched to have the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast, and we did that because we wanted to show the global community that the Gold Coast had come of age. It’s Australia’s sixth-largest city but it’s not a capital city, so for us it was about showcasing that this is a city that has always been strong in traditional tourism, but could absolutely grow in the global market as a place where you could host major multi-sports events.

For us, it’s now about saying very clearly that we invested hundreds of millions of dollars to upgrade or build 18 new world-class sporting facilities that are now available to the market. We have a great selection of quality accommodation because it’s always been a tourism hub, but now we have a new string to our bow, which is all about saying that we have this new world-class sporting infrastructure.

What was most heartening for me personally was the athletes who came to the Games, who had been at previous Olympic Games and international competitions, said that this was some of the best infrastructure that they had ever seen, both in regards to the village and in regards to the actual sporting facilities. From my perspective, the fact that the athletes were saying it was world-class, and that the international bodies were saying it was world-class, I think demonstrates that we will continue to be a definite choice for international sporting events.

Very clearly our government has said that we are open for business.

Besides the economic and tourism benefits of hosting major events, how is the Queensland government using the Games, and sport in general, to drive social development in the state? The Commonwealth Games Federation has been very open in saying it wants its flagship event to be used as a community-building platform. Is that a view shared here in Australia?

Absolutely. I think what we’re seeing globally is that sport, I predict over the next ten years, will play an even greater role in social cohesion in communities generally. Not only did we back the Commonwealth Games, but we are also investing heavily as a government in growing grassroots sport as well because we believe that sport does provide that social fabric.

My view is that, the discussions I’ve had with the IOC recently and as the Commonwealth Games minister when I was at SportAccord [in Bangkok in April], was the fact that sport is going to be elevated globally as a key part of social cohesion given what else is happening in the world today. For example, one of the things we did at the Commonwealth Games, which was a first, was the reconciliation action plan with First Nations people. Already the Commonwealth Games Federation are in discussions with First Nations people around the world to put that in place at every Commonwealth Games going forward.

The reconciliation that can come through sporting events is something that I think the Commonwealth Games really shines a light on and can be replicated going forward.

We are very forthright in saying that we want to be out there in the global market, saying ‘come to Queensland and we’ll look after you’.

Queensland is renowned for its year-round climate, mild winter temperatures and unique natural attractions. What is your message to major event organisers and international federations who want to bring events to Australia? Given other major cities in the country are growing their capabilities as well, what are Queensland’s competitive advantages for those organisations?

Very clearly our government has said that we are open for business. We’ve just doubled the event funding bucket that we have at the state level to make us more competitive globally and obviously within Australia. The investments that the Commonwealth Games delivered not only in sporting facilities but also other infrastructure such as public transport - AUS$1 billion worth of public transport infrastructure was brought forward because of the Commonwealth Games - make south-east Queensland much more connected and interconnected than ever before.

Our major advantage is not only our climate but the fact that we are Australia’s tourism state. We have a whole community who love having people from all different backgrounds and all different ethnicities coming to our state, and we roll out the welcome mat. We have that proud tradition of tourism, particularly on the Gold Coast and in Brisbane, so not only do we have perfect weather and friendly people, we also have a state government that is absolutely committed to attracting new major sporting events to our state.

We are very forthright in saying that we want to be out there in the global market, saying ‘come to Queensland and we’ll look after you’.

What is the ultimate ambition for the Queensland government when it comes to hosting major sporting events? Are the 2032 Olympics a realistic target?

I’ve got to be a little bit careful here so I don’t get into trouble upstairs, but I would say what is so heartening for me is, off the back of the success of the Commonwealth Games, the first thing that people said was that we should be in a position to host the Olympic Games in future. What we are seeing, as population growth happens in south-east Queensland, as we’ve seen 18 brand new, world-class sporting facilities in our region of Australia, we are now in a position to be out there in market and globally competitive for the first time.

That automatically makes people start saying, ‘well, does this end up with an Olympics?’ Who knows. But certainly we’re in a position that we were not in five years ago because we just didn’t have the sporting infrastructure or the associated transport and road infrastructure that we now have because of the Games. The world is our oyster.