Is Gil the one? The search begins for CEO of the Brisbane 2032 Olympic Games

There is one person being touted as the soon-to-be-named CEO of the Brisbane 2032 Olympic Games Organising Committee (OCOG): Gillon McLachlan.

Nobody knows for sure whether he even wants the job, nor if his resume as an AFL CEO ticks the boxes on the Olympic head-hunter’s checklist.

There is no clear-cut definition of what the CEO of an Olympic Games organising committee does, just one huge expectation: deliver.

The Beijing Winter Olympics end with the traditional fireworks above the Bird’s Nest Stadium in Beijing.(Getty Images: Lars Baron)

No one has ever been an organising committee CEO twice, which means learning on the job – quickly — is essential.

Indeed, few get the chance to see the role through to its conclusion: the position tends to come with its own revolving-door, with the first CEO at some point making way for the second, and even, as happened in Sydney back in 2000, for a third.

When asked about the likelihood of a single CEO lasting the decade, Brisbane OCOG President Andrew Liveris told the ABC it was ‘impossible to answer’.

“I think this is a four-year term for myself, for example. The four years will be done such that the next six years actually are done really well, so set up is important,” Liveris said.

Brisbane’s ten-year build-up is three years longer than what Sydney received. Based on history, that could mean four or five CEOs before the Games are staged in 2032.

The Federal Sports Minister Richard Colbeck told The Ticket it should be expected that some of the board members will also be “cycled through” as the phases of Games preparation shift, not to mention the changes necessitated through state and federal elections.

Compare the pair

Just how easily could McLachlan’s experience in the AFL translate to running an Olympic Games?

The AFL boss continues to be a media-favourite when it comes to talk of Brisbane 2032.

He has a good working relationship with the Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, who will carry significant influence in deciding who will get the nod. He spent enough time in Queensland’s AFL hub during COVID to almost be considered a local.

Annastacia Palaszczuk in a blue jacket outdoors at a press conference.
A good working relationship with Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk is a tick in McLachlan’s column.(AAP: Jono Searle)

The AFL involves a domestic competition in a country of 25 million that, by 2023, will have eighteen men’s and women’s teams.

The AFL knows its business, is used to negotiating its own terms, controlling the outcomes, and working with a mostly-compliant domestic media.

The annual grand final is played at the MCG – Melbourne’s sporting Mecca – in front of a sold-out crowd, involving around 50 players plus coaches, support staff, and other accredited personnel.

Staging an Olympic Games, on the other hand, is the equivalent of running 33 concurrent World Championships involving 10,500 athletes plus another 20,000 accredited personnel, from more than 200 countries – each with their own political, cultural, and social expectations.

But that’s just the beginning.

Tokyo 2020 Olympic Village on Harumi Island flanked by Japan Coast Guard ship
The Olympic village must hold tens of thousands of visiting athletes and staff, forming a city within a city.(Getty: Stanislav Kogiku/SOPA )

There is also a temporary overlay of a city within a city, complete with dedicated transport routes, medical facilities, a main press centre and a broadcast centre. 

All of this is used in a fortnight of frenzied activity before coming to an almost complete standstill for a couple of weeks, after which the Paralympic Games take place where the system repeats itself on a smaller scale.

The Olympic Games’ population will be supported by an army of volunteers (around 70,000) that out-numbers the Australian military (61,500).

There are the contractual demands made by the International Olympic Committee, the expectations of the IOC’s TOP sponsors — who spend billions of dollars a year for the privilege – plus requirements of international broadcasters who keep the games afloat.

Once you sort through all this, you begin to understand this is no clear-cut sports administrator’s job. This is one that requires a web of diplomatic skills, business know-how, political savvy, and the ability to navigate a constantly-changing global environment.

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