Mick Fanning, three-on-three basketball and bringing in the army…Gold Coast 2018 chief executive Mark Peters speaks to Phil Lutton about lessons learned in Glasgow.
This isn’t the first time Mark Peters has been to Glasgow. Quite the opposite. The chief executive of the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games has been a regular visitor to Clydeside but this has been his most informative stay.
Glasgow has concluded a Games that can only be judged a roaring success. Coincidentally after Usain Bolt had made his now famous quip, the weather would indeed turn ‘a bit sh*t’ for the final few days but alas, this is Scotland, where the sun shines sparingly at the best of times.
And by then, nothing was going to ruin the good vibes the city had created. After Delhi, the Commonwealth Games needed running repairs. Glasgow inflated the tyres to get the old girl rolling along once again.
Watching throughout was Peters who will be one of the key figures in shaping the Gold Coast’s Games in just under four years from now. He has taken note of what has and hasn’t worked so well in Scotland.
Much of the complaints will require on tweaks. Others, such as traffic issues and queues for venues, are largely inevitable. But overall, Peters will return to the sandy beaches of his home city comfortable the preparations are right on track.
“We’re not concerned that we’ve missed anything. That’s the positive thing. With a big event like this, you are going to have some challenges,” Peters said.
“If you go to an AFL grand final, you are going to line up to go to the toilet and you do have to wait for a bus and there aren’t going to be rows of taxis standing there in a line.
“But a lot of it’s about education that the city is still open for business. There’s a few inconveniences. Talk to the person on the street here because they’re happy. It’s been a fantastic atmosphere here and that’s what we’ll generate on the coast.”
A huge key to big events such as the Commonwealth Games – the third largest multi-sport event in the world behind the Olympics and Asian Games – revolves around convincing the locals it’s all worthwhile.
There has been some disruption already on the Gold Coast, with the construction of the light rail causing some traffic drama and occasional local grizzle. But Peters has no doubt the benefits will far outweigh the short-term gripes.
Ultimately, it will be in the arenas, in the pool, on the track and on the playing fields were the Gold Coast will be run and won. On that front, changes have already been made from the fare in Glasgow where the locals tailored the choice of sports to suit their strength.
Scottish organisers included judo and triathlon in their 17 sports, dropping tennis and archery from Delhi. The Gold Coast will retain triathlon, a sport in which Australians generally perform strongly, but will add in basketball, a sport which – barring a major meltdown – would almost certainly bring a pair of gold medals for the home nation.
The Games would be held in April, which brings a potential overlap with the NBA and NCAA seasons, meaning leading college players and NBA stars including Patty Mills may not be available. But track and field takes precedence and April fits the bill on that front.
“We’ve put the Games in April because one of the key attractions is to get the best track and field athletes. We’ve spent a lot of time talking to Caribbean athletes, which are the sprinters, and Africans, who run a lot of the long distance events,” Peters said.
“They said April is the best time because they’ve finished the indoor season and are moving into the outdoor season.
“It’s a little close to the end of NCAA basketball season and the NBA. If it was this year, Patty Mills wouldn’t have been playing for Australia. But you have to make a tough decision and the popularity of track and field, to get the superstar athletes, is one thing we look for.”
Three-on-three basketball, the hoops answer to Rugby Sevens, could also be on the schedule as the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) tinkers with its product.
“Interestingly, the International Basketball Federation want us, next to five a side, want us to put an element of three-on-three in. They see that as a much greater leveller of talent, a bit like Sevens rugby, where you see some of the non-traditional 15s rugby teams come to the fore a bit more,” Peters said.
“It wouldn’t replace five-on-five basketball but would be in addition as a gold medal sport. We’re going to work with then over the next 12 months to see if we do that or not.”
The integration of parasports into the main program provides a distinct point of difference from the Olympic Games and Peters said that element would not only feature on the Gold Coast but expand.
“We’ll have a much bigger parasport program. We’re working with the IOC and Commonwealth Games Federation to see what we do with that. We’ve got Kurt Fearnley (parasport great) on our sport tech committee. Kurt has been a great athlete and a great thinker.
“The Commonwealth Games will never get to the Paralympics but the crowds love the integration. We’re pretty excited about that.”
Peters also addressed a host of key planning issues during his interview with Fairfax Media…
It’s been a success in Glasgow, although some areas such as the main Games precinct were left well short of checkpoints, resulting in huge lines to get in and, in some cases, people missing the start of events.
But as in London, the use of armed services personal has been a success. The army, navy and air force staff have been professional and courteous, not only being efficient but providing the perfect shopfront for their various organisations.
Peters said the services could play a role on the Gold Coast but it was yet to be determined.
“We’re not sure we need it. In London, it was out of necessity. They couldn’t find enough private security people. It was the same in Glasgow. We’re working with the police to ask if we have enough private security or if we do bring in the army.
“It’s been a tremendous atmosphere. I think people have really appreciated the sacrifices people in the armed forces have made. For them to have a presence, they’ve been smiling and people have been thanking them.
“It’s not in our original planning. It’s a fall-back position if we have a change of heart or if people think it would be a great thing nationally.”
Glasgow’s accommodation options have been spread across the city and surrounding areas but Peters said the Gold Coast had a huge advantage, with many of the providers centrally located.
“The accommodation is a big bonus. Here in Glasgow, people are staying quite a distance out and are in all directions. Our accommodation is quite central and we have the light rail and buses going up and down to get people out to park and ride sites and then to venues.”
There has been no shortage of controversy in Glasgow. The Eric Hollingsworth meltdown over Sally Pearson, the Francois Edtoundi assault and a number of positive drug tests have all created strong headlines. Peters accepts there will always be unforseen issues but the key is how they are handled.
“As long as you deal with humans, there’s going to be an incident. There’s always going to be some incidents but you want to deal with them quickly and with dignity.
Glasgow’s live sites were a big hit with locals and visitors, when it wasn’t raining. The Gold Coast will replicate that feature as well as value-add around the edges with iconic events.
“Beach volleyball, it’s not eligible at the time we bid, but it is now. Surfing (and) surf lifesaving aren’t Commonwealth sports but we expect to have big carnivals on during the Games.
The Gold Coast is about fun and beaches. Why wouldn’t we have surfing and beach volleyball and surf lifesaving as part of what we do? The international surfing body is keen to do something. Let’s see what’s possible.”
The Queen may be a little fragile by 2018 but Peters is hopeful that, if fit and healthy, her Royal Highness will make the trip out. If not, it’s likely Prince William would take the baton to open the Games.
“We’ve been lucky enough to talk to some of the senior officials within Buckingham Palace. The popularity of the Royals has been quite amazing. The Queen is 92 in 2018 but we’re very hopeful she might come out.”