Michael Pavitt

When the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) Coordination Commission concluded their visit to Gold Coast in December last year, the organisation aimed some pointed comments towards politicians.

CGF President Louise Martin told the media that political parties continue to show a united support for the Commonwealth Games in the Australian city, with the Queensland state election due to be taking place in the months building up to the Games. 

The Scot called on politicians to not "exploit the Games opportunities or issues for personal or political gain".

Fast forward a year and heading to the CGF Coordination Commission’s final press conference before the multi-sport event, it was announced on my taxi driver’s radio that the election had drawn to a close. Tim Nicholls had called incumbent Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk to concede defeat and announce he would step down as Liberal National Party leader.

Baring the use of the Gold Coast 2018 mascot Borobi in campaign material against the Labor Party’s Commonwealth Games Minister Kate Jones, it appeared the politicians had heeded Martin’s call and avoided dragging the Games into any election based discussion.

The CGF and Gold Coast 2018 would no doubt have expressed some relief the election was over, with an event neither organisation could have any influence in, moving on with little negative impact on their event.

In fact, both spent a decent chunk of the final press conference praising the politicians. CGF Coordination Commission chair Bruce Robertson praised the gelling of the Organising Committee, State and Federal Governments, noting their ability to work collaboratively had boosted preparations over the last six months. Martin and Gold Coast 2018 chairman Peter Beattie also offered thanks to Australia’s Immigration Minister Peter Dutton for his work in resolving concerns over the visa process the Games.

Having labelled the visa process as the "biggest risk" to next year’s event in October, Martin will no doubt have been pleased that within six weeks a solution had been found, with the previous system of Commonwealth Games Associations handling applications being put in place.

Another concern ticked off the list.

The CGF and Gold Coast 2018 have called on the Australian media to accredit themselves for the Games ©ITG
The CGF and Gold Coast 2018 have called on the Australian media to accredit themselves for the Games ©ITG

The pointed comments this time around were instead directed towards the Australian media. It clearly was no accident when Martin paid a "special thank you" to the press attending the conference, following a week when two news organisations had threatened to boycott the Games.

Both News Corporation and Fairfax Media claimed they would not be seeking accreditation for their journalists over news access rules. They claim restrictions would require them to observe a 30-minute delay for broadcasting content collected at news conferences, as well as having to abide to the limiting digital news bulletins to a maximum of 60 seconds a day across no more than three bulletins a day.

The dispute it something I can see from all three sides, with the restrictions in place to protect the rights of host broadcaster Channel Seven. It seems obvious that the CGF would respect a contract they signed back in 2014 with the broadcaster, which they claim goes some way to prevent that cost of the Games coming out of the public purse. 

Channel Seven would certainly want their rights protected given the money they are no doubt paying. I also founded myself nodding my head when a journalist from one of the two organisations threatening to boycott pointed out that the media landscape has evolved since the 2014 deal was struck. I think the CGF would admit themselves that is the case.

One wonders whether this is a storm in a teacup. Will both organisations, who own a heft chunk of Australia’s newspapers, really opt out of attending a home Games over the use of audio and video clips. Something, I largely gather, most people find an irritant on websites anyway.

Clearly it is not just an issue for the CGF to deal with, as News Corporation have indicated they would skip Pyeongchang 2018 for the same reason. With video and audio allowing the media organisations to attract advertising, it is something that seems increasingly likely to be an issue in the coming years and will be one to watch.

It is clearly an issue the CGF and Gold Coast 2018 could do without. Both urged media organisations to back the Games, with CGF chief executive spending a good chunk of time selling reasons why them accrediting would help their coverage. 

However, in some respects, the fact it is the biggest talking point could be seen positive thing.

There is no potential medical emergency dominating the headlines as zika did before Rio 2016, there is no will it, won’t it be ready crisis over competition venues and Australia do not have a near neighbour firing missiles into the sky in the build-up to the Games, à la North Korea before Pyeongchang 2018. You would take a media dispute, in which a resolution could well be found, over these.

Progress at the Carrara Stadium, home of athletics and Ceremonies, has been notable ©ITG
Progress at the Carrara Stadium, home of athletics and Ceremonies, has been notable ©ITG

Gold Coast 2018 have a "solid foundation" to delivering an excellent Games, according to Robertson. It is a challenge to disagree with him.

Permanent venues construction for the Games were completed some months ago, while notably progress is being made in some of the temporary facilities. In October, the Carrara Stadium had its pitch dug up as preparations to turn the AFL ground into an athletics venue began. Attending the press conference two days ago, you could have been forgiven for thinking it had always been an athletics stadium.

Unlike recent multi-sport events, ticket sales have proved strong in the build-up to competition. With around 115 days to go, organisers have nearly sold one million of the 1.2 million tickets on offer. Even scouting through the list of available sessions earlier this week, it was impressive to see the number that had been sold out. Although, I did have to do a double take when I saw tickets remained available for the men’s and women’s 100m final, which you imagine will be quickly snapped up.

Certainly, it feels organisers have everything they can control, under control. The only issue I can really foresee being a problem is something they have only a limited control over. Which is transport.

Transport, in particularly the M1, will provide concern in the build-up to the Games.

A recent opinion piece in the Gold Coast Bulletin ran with the headline "We’ve had enough of M1 gridlock farce" and warned that the "State Government has its head in the sand if it thinks the solution to easing gridlock during the Commonwealth Games is to tell people not to drive on it".

Dubbed by the author as the "artery to the Gold Coast", it is clear the M1 will key to the Games, with international visitors likely to travel on the road as they come from Brisbane to the host city.

Beattie made reference to the motorway on his way to the press conference tweeting he was "currently enjoying the M1". Having arrived at the Carrara Stadium he did try to reduce concerns people have over the motorway.

"The M1 that I came down on today, will not be the M1 when the Games are on," he said. "Firstly, you are going to have a system involving the Queensland police to ensure the dings are cleared quickly with tow trucks removing vehicles very quickly. The timing of the events do not, by and large, coincide with peak hours in terms of the use of the M1 and the addition of 13 park and rides will make a world of difference."

Transport is likely to be the biggest concern for organisers heading into the Games ©Gold Coast 2018
Transport is likely to be the biggest concern for organisers heading into the Games ©Gold Coast 2018

Certainly, local officials have made several alternations in the build-up to the Games in a bid to tackle the potential issue. New rules are in place for lorries to ensure they stick to the two left hand lanes, preventing cars from weaving across lanes to overtake, and a reduction in the speed limit are hoped to reduce the chances of any accidents being the motorway to a standstill.

Organisers believe their transport plan will help to reduce potential congestion, with a targeted drive to get around 50,000 cars off the M1 put in place. It is also hoped improvements to the rail networks will ease the burden on the motorway at Games-time. An extension to the effective tram network is being tested, before the going into operation at the start of next year. While it looks set to provide easy access between the city and Helensvale, its success at the Games probably depends on the effectiveness of the "heavy rail".

Linking between Brisbane Airport and Helensvale, the rail network has undergone upgrades in recent months, including duplicating the last remaining section of single track on the Gold Coast line. 

However, there are doubts over the number of new trains which will be ready to ferry passengers on this line. Transport Minister Jackie Trad had claimed in May that she hoped 15 of the new trains would be ready for the Commonwealth Games. Queensland Rail, though, have only been able to confirm three for the time being.

While there are concerns, it is worth pointing out that transport systems have been predicted to collapse at previous multi-sport events, such as at the London 2012 and Rio 2016. Gold Coast 2018 will also benefit from only two events - shooting and track cycling – actually taking place in Brisbane. Besides, the potential transport problems have forced officials into action to find solutions for the Games. It is something that, with a population boom expected in Gold Coast, has been viewed as necessary for the State and city to tackle.

The challenges posed by the layout by the layout of the city, should take nothing away from it looking ready to stage next year’s Games. 

The location and look of the Gold Coast is likely to gain the city major attention when the Games comes around, while it will be hard for any athlete or spectator to pick fault with venues and the preparations put in place.

Overall, the [Gold] Coast looks in the clear to stage an excellent Games in four months time.