Going for Gold: Countdown to the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games

Mark Peters, chief executive of the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games Corporation, explains what processes have been put in place to create a lasting economic impact in the city.

Going for Gold: Countdown to the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games

With just over a year to go until the opening ceremony of the 2018 Commonwealth Games, hosted for the first time in Australia’s Gold Coast, local organisers are confident of delivering a stellar event. Mark Peters, chief executive of the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games Corporation, explains what processes have been put in place to create a lasting economic impact in the city.  

By George Dudley 

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There is a saying in the Gold Coast: “You either live here, or you want to live here.”

It is not said with braggadocio – more with a tilt of Australian honesty – and for those that have spent time in Surfer’s Paradise or the Nerang River it is hard to disagree. The coastal city’s subtropical climate, long white beaches and unique waterway systems have long made it a major tourist destination in Queensland and, for that matter, Australia as a whole. 

Although still heavily reliant on the tourism dollar the Gold Coast is hoping to attract new commerce to the city. At the heart of the evolution is the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games (GC2018).

Needless to say, in today’s climate, an international multi-sports event is not solely a case of putting on a good show. The vast amounts of money involved mean that eyes are on the host city years out from the Games and questions of legacy are raised even before the final medals are doled out.  

Queensland’s second city was confirmed as the winning bid in 2011 and has been plotting a secure plan ever since. With 13 months to go, at the time of writing, until Australia hosts its fifth edition of the ‘Friendly Games’, Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games Corporation (GOLDOC) chief executive Mark Peters feels good about how that plan is coming together.

“We are humbly confident that we are in a good position to deliver a great Games in 2018,” says Peters. “The fact that we did an honest bid book has put us in a solid position: all of our venues will be finished 12 months before the Games – the only exception being the athletics track that we are putting into an Australian rules football ground, which is what Melbourne did with their 2006 Commonwealth Games.” 

All major sporting events are unquestionably desperate to avoid the perceived embarrassments that blighted the build-up to the Rio 2016 Olympics, the Brazilian capital suffering structural and financial issues that led many observers to question whether certain venues would be ready in time for the opening ceremony. The Rio Games did, of course, go more or less to plan for their duration but Peters believes that a thorough and transparent bid book is an effective contingency plan and, likewise, he highlights the retention of “several key people” from the original bid team.      

“When you go back to the bid book it is often a case of: ‘How real is the bid book?’” continues Peters. “Different organisations, whether it is the Olympics or the Commonwealth Games, have an evaluation commission. So on all our venues, we actually went out and did mini-tenders. 

“We began by saying, ‘This is what we want to build,’ and going on from there. We wanted to extend the Aquatic Centre, build these new facilities, and we extrapolated those costs out to 2018 because one of the big challenges when you are putting in a bid is that you are doing it seven years beforehand.

“All of our venues have actually come in under budget, which is a major issue for most of the major Games.” 

The Aquatic Centre, which was opened last year in Southport’s Broadwater Parklands, is a fully operational facility for the local community: it houses a two Olympic-size pools, a diving pool, a salt-water pool and a public gymnasium. Peters points out that “we have put a couple of concrete slabs down”, which will allow temporary seating to be constructed.  

“At Games time we can convert it into a 10,000-seat competition area for swimming and a 2,500-seat diving complex,” explains Peters. “It has been used a number of times for competitions and the swimmers regard it as a fast pool: we have had two world records and 19 meet records when we held the Pan Pacific Masters Games in 2014. It is a good pool and we are getting a lot of overseas teams starting to train in it.”    

The event has been both privately and publicly funded, although the bulk of it has been underwritten by the Queensland government to the tune of AUS$1.5 billion (US$1.1 billion), which covers the cost of venues and infrastructural developments. 

“The federal government is investing around AUS$160 million [US$122 million] in round figures, which is again mainly in infrastructure,” says Peters. “The city has put in AUS$100 million [US$77 million] in cash. Then, of course, you have the VIK [value-in-kind] that comes with that sort of commitment and our revenue targets are around AUS$250 million [US$191 million].

“The economic impact to the Gold Coast, we believe, will be between AUS$3 billion and AUS$4 billion [US$2.4 billion and US$3 billion]. Add to that the lasting road works and upgrades to the light rail that are being done in the area.”

Peters estimates that GOLDOC, at the time of writing, has achieved “about 60 per cent of our sponsorship target, which is a good outcome”. There are currently financial issues in Australia’s banking and automotive markets but with over 30 total sponsors already signed up it is certainly on track, especially in comparison with many recent Games. 

“If you look at our tier ones, we have got Longines, Star Entertainment, Griffith University, Atos, Aggreko, KPMG, Minter Allison’s,” states Peters. “It has been a really good programme but often in these worlds the last 20 per cent is the challenge and you go down to the wire. This is just the way that sponsorship works. 

“We have incredible interest and we are about to announce a couple of major sponsors in the next month that will be in that world recognition grouping.”

Legacy, a word that is sometimes sneered at by industry cynics, has become ubiquitous in the planning of international competitions, ever since Lord Sebastian Coe made it London’s 2012 Olympic bid promise. Each organising committee is desperate to leave a host city improved and avoid leaving a legacy of unused sports arenas like in Athens and Rio, following their respective Olympics. Peters argues that GOLDOC will, in fact, develop the Australian east coast city and attract new industries and residents.      

“One of the challenges in the past for the city has been that if the Australian dollar is high and tourism drops, then construction drops,” explains Peters. “We have very much been a boom and bust economy. But with us there has been a real emphasis on education we have been keen to invest in other areas that will diversify the economy. 

“We are erecting the athletes’ village right next to the Griffith University, which has 18,000 students but has ambitions to increase up to 20,000 in the next ten years. There is also a 750-bed public hospital and a major private hospital with 300 beds – our village is right next to both facilities. 

“Surrounding the village is a large area of green space. We will see a number of medical and technological companies established in the area, working with the university and the hospitals to develop a health and knowledge precinct. Those discussions are ongoing and that will cement a legacy.

“In terms of the actual village, it will become a very upmarket apartment complex after the Games and all of these industries will be there,” continues Peters. “It represents a fantastic diversification to the city. The village is often one of the great challenges because of its cost. Where we are building the majority of our facilities in Carrara we have an Australian rules football team – the Gold Coast Suns – and they have had a high-performance centre built on the back of our two indoor facilities. 

“In the arena where squash and table tennis will be played, we have built the biggest sound stage in the southern hemisphere at Movie World, so during the Games we will be running sports in it but already we have seen some major blockbuster films filmed here in the past six months. 

“It is not actually to do with sport but to do with diversification of the economy that will allow the city to prosper in the long term. There is not one facility that we haven’t got a long-term plan for and most of it is not to do with sport.”

Nevertheless, it is sport that will prove a lasting legacy to visitors and fans. Home success ultimately creates a greater noise and excitement locally – Cathy Freeman’s victory in the 400 metres at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games providing a classic Australian example.

GOLDOC has already selected a handful of Australian athletes that it hopes will – as Freeman did – become the faces of the Games: hurdler Sally Pearson, swimmer Cameron McEvoy, netball captain Laura Geitz and para-athlete Kurt Fearnley, who began his career at the Sydney Games and is rounding it off on the Gold Coast next year.

The recently opened AUS$59 million (US$45 million) velodrome is named for Queensland-born cyclist Anna Mears, although the five-time Commonwealth Games gold medallist will not compete in 2018 following her retirement late last year. Peters adds that there will be two “global superstars” added to the ambassadorial roster in the “near future”.  

GOLDOC is undeniably taking a pragmatic approach to the Games, such as limiting the number of athletes and officials to 6,600 because of the size of the athletes’ village. However, Peters is sure that sensible planning will result in a spectacular event.

“What we say is: it’s Australia’s Games in Queensland on the Gold Coast,” says Peters. “It is interesting when you look at the end of the Games and everyone wonders what the president will say about it. For us, Melbourne was ‘simply the best’ and Glasgow was the ‘best Games ever’, so we have said to Louise Martin [president of the Commonwealth Games Federation]: just say ‘it was a bloody good Games’ and everyone will understand that is what Australia does.         

“What will be unique about these Games is the location; people naturally have fun here because of the city’s variety. Australians are good at doing Games and the volunteers are usually fantastic. We will be really good and everyone will have a fantastic time, we know the athletes can’t wait to get here. 

“We can claim a lot of things but it will just be a bloody good Games.”