Feature

Remembering 2000 - Part 2: The sad, lost legacy for football

A general view of Stadium Australia during the 2000 Olympic Games men's gold medal match Source: Getty Images

The Oxford Olympics Study in 2016 estimated the cost of the Sydney 2000 Summer Olympics as being A$6.9 billion – making it one of the most expensive things Australia has ever done.

But few would argue it was money badly spent.

The Sydney Olympics had a transformative effect on Australia. It was so successful that it began the process of changing how the nation viewed itself. 

Previously, Australia was a humble, self-deprecating roll-up-the-sleeves type of place – the kind the Opening Ceremony celebrated.

Think Hills Hoists, corrugated iron, Holdens and quarter-acre blocks. 

But having the world gush and guffaw at Australia’s natural beauty and event organising skills was a compliment we took to heart.

We weren’t just a backwater any longer: we began to believe we were as gifted as we were unique. 

Our sporting results backed that up. We won everything there was to win, collectively and individually.

Our confidence grew; our economy sparkled. Tourism numbers exploded, as did wages and house prices. And the Olympics gave us a priceless legacy of superb training facilities and modern stadiums for all matter of sporting endeavours. 

Except, of course, in football. An Olympic sport to boot. 

So how much of that $6.9 billion did football get? The sum total of investment in football facilities as a result of the Sydney Olympics was the $30 million upgrade of Hindmarsh Stadium in Adelaide. A worthy investment, but that's it. 

And such was the grudging nature of the upgrade, the tenant clubs – then Adelaide City and West Adelaide – were initially asked to help cover construction costs by way of a ticket levy.

Almost 20 times that amount was used to fund the upgrade of the Adelaide Oval some 15 years later. 

What happened elsewhere? Look away now if you’re easily offended. 

Football didn’t get anything – but other sports cannily used football to justify upgrades for their own stadiums, even if those had little or no use for football after the Olympics. 

The Gabba, which hosted seven Olympic football matches, used the round ball game as the Trojan horse to drive upgrades for its current, complete bowl configuration at a total cost of $128 million (including minor upgrades completed in 2005). It hasn’t been used for a football match since.

Maddeningly, Brisbane continues to stand out like a sore thumb as the only major Australian city without a modern, boutique rectangular venue.

The Queensland Government has keenly driven outcomes for AFL and the rugby codes but seldom for football. That must change.

The MCG remains ill-suited for football, despite hosting a memorable set of matches in 2000. Melbourne didn’t see any real progress on the rectangular stadium front until the construction of AAMI Park well over a decade later. 

Sydney simply used the Sydney Football Stadium for its football matches, already built 12 years before, but it is now demolished and awaiting re-construction in a configuration that already has its critics. 

The Olympic Stadium hosted the Gold Medal Match, and hosted a few major football events thereafter, but it was firstly re-modelled to fit AFL before becoming an over-sized rectangular venue. You need 50,000 in the house just to make it come alive. 

To host Olympic football matches, the tired Bruce Stadium was given upgrades, but the success of the ACT Brumbies and the Canberra Raiders probably papered over the cracks.

It was a stadium ill-fitting for Canberra Cosmos at the time (they died two years later) and still isn’t loved by football fans due to its shallow gradient and distance from the pitch – a remnant of being converted from an oval to a rectangular field. It’s an atmosphere-killer. 

It was flagged at the time that Canberra should look at creating a best-in-class rectangular stadium and that hasn’t changed.

The good news is that the ACT Government is about to undertake a feasibility study to assess a potential location to build a new 25,000-seat stadium. 

Ultimately, football should have been given a massive boost in this country from the 2000 Olympics – but the truth is that the Games actually helped push the sport further back in the pecking order. 

That’s such a shame, for the game has never needed better facilities for our elite players more than it does today.

We are still crying out for better stadiums and better training grounds. It should have all happened 20 years ago, just as it did for other sports.

Granted, we have seen some improvements in facilities in the decades since, but we are still lagging right around the country. 

Thankfully, football has found a way to make its voice heard when it comes to being part of the wider discussion.

But the lessons of the past are doomed to be repeated if they are not heeded, and there are few starker for football than those of the 2000 Olympics.