On the recent morning after the International Olympic Committee named Brisbane as the host city of the 2032 Games, Queensland Treasurer Cameron Dick was quoted as saying the event would “transform Queensland—and the rest of the nation along with us.”
Really? A four week long event is going to “transform” a state (by 2032) of 6.5 million people, a nation of close to 30 million people, and $3.5 trillion (US$2.58 trillion) of gross domestic product? If there were a gold medal for hyperbole, Cameron Dick would be on the podium.
As an Australian—and one who was born in Brisbane and called it home for many years—I welcome the city’s successful bid, as I am sure do most Australians. But let’s be clear about what there is to welcome.
Ever since cities started bidding for the Olympics, politicians of the host cities, regions, and even nations have made grandiose claims about the economic benefits, from the preparations, the event itself, and the aftermath.
Tourism, trade, investment, local infrastructure, and sports facilities are always allegedly in line for a huge boost. The host city supposedly gains international prestige and recognition. The cost of hosting the games is claimed to be overshadowed by the benefits. There is a lasting and positive legacy, they say.
Government officials dutifully churn out ex ante cost-benefit analyses supporting all the above.
The problem is that ex post there is rarely much confirmation of these large net benefits, and in a few cases, the games have been a financial fiasco that weighed on the host for many years after.
That did happened with the Sydney games in 2000.
The Olympics, however, have entered a new era of economy (or at least premium economy) in which maximum use is made of existing facilities before anything new is built. But there has probably never been an Olympics without cost overruns, and Brisbane is unlikely to be an exception.
It is said that one benefit to Brisbane—and south-east Queensland more broadly—will be the construction of more transport infrastructure for the rapidly growing region, such as high-speed rail to the Gold and Sunshine Coasts to the south and north of Brisbane.
But such projects should always be subject to rigorous cost-benefit analysis and a four-week event—even one as big as the Olympics—is unlikely to make any significant difference to the case for or against. South-east Queensland may well need such infrastructure over the next 11 years, but not because of the Olympic Games.
The Sydney 2000 Games was widely judged to be an enormous success, but it is hard to believe the city was transformed by them. The city has developed, but it is hard to believe the path of development is much different from what would have happened without the Olympics.
We should welcome Brisbane’s opportunity to shine on the world stage not because of exaggerated claims of net economic benefits, but because the city deserves kudos for stepping forward to host the world’s biggest sporting event, with all the risks, responsibilities, and costs that it entails. Any enduring benefit to Brisbane will be icing on the cake.
Robert Carling is a senior fellow at the Centre for Independent Studies in Sydney, Australia, and a former World Bank, IMF, and federal and state Treasury economist.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.