Griffith University and the Commonwealth Games – a life-long partnership
Griffith University’s emergence as a significant player in the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games (GC2018) is the rekindling of a partnership that dates back almost to the birth of the university.
In 1982, when Matilda winked and the world focus was on the XII Commonwealth Games in Brisbane, Griffith University’s Nathan campus was the Games Village. In 2018, for the XXI Games on the Gold Coast, Griffith University will again be a central figure of this four-yearly sporting spectacular, this time as a major sponsorship partner. And the Games Village will be nestled beside the Gold Coast campus.
How things have changed across 36 years. In 1982 Griffith University was an inquisitive, precocious child, having just celebrated its seventh birthday. When the first starter’s gun fires in 2018 the university will be 43 – a mature, revered, worldly adult. The contributions offered by the university at these two Games also reflect that growth. In 1982 buildings were constructed at the university to house athletes and officials for the Games. Those buildings then became accommodation houses and teaching facilities for a quickly expanding university. A legacy that remains today.
In 2018 the university offers what is now its international calling card – expert knowledge and experience. These attributes will help set the bar for GC2018 at a height never before attempted. The legacy of that will be a university, a community and a city that has expert knowledge, experience and confidence to achieve almost anything.
Griffith University has a strong sporting pulse. Many within the university believe this traces back to a bold decision made just over a year after the university first opened its doors (1975), to offer its Nathan campus as the hub for 1982 Commonwealth Games.
That decision not only implanted a DNA that would forever align the university with sport at all levels, it also created a special relationship between Griffith and the Commonwealth Games. As Griffith grew in student numbers, campuses (now five) and international prominence the link with the Commonwealth Games remained as current Griffith students or alumni wore the green and gold in pools, tracks or velodromes across the globe.
However time, tide and the Games rolled on ‘after Griffith’ – Edinburgh (1986), Auckland (’90), Victoria (’94), Kuala Lumpur (’98), Manchester (’02), Melbourne (’06), Delhi (’10) and Glasgow (’14) – and the ‘Friendly Games’ of ’82 and the unique hospitality of the Nathan village became an ever-more-distant memory. But the Commonwealth Games flame was never extinguished at Griffith University. From as early as Queensland Premier Anna Bligh’s announcement in 2008 that the Gold Coast would bid for the 2018 Games there was an emerging drum roll from within Griffith – ‘We have done this before – we can do it again’.
In November, 2011, when the Gold Coast was named 2018 host, Griffith University was already on the starter’s blocks to be an integral part of the city’s biggest ever event.
In early 2012 Vice Chancellor Prof Ian O’Connor marshalled a summit of the university’s hierarchy to investigate and enact an action plan for Griffith’s involvement in GC2018. Not only would the university’s Gold Coast campus be close to the geographical epicentre of the 2018 Games, Griffith would also be part of the beating heart of the Games. Since then Griffith personnel have played numerous pivotal roles within the Games preparation. Prof O’Connor himself is a member of the Embracing 2018 Advisory Committee (the Queensland Government's legacy committee for the 2018 Commonwealth Games).
Recently retired Pro Vice Chancellor (International) Chris Madden was the initial pivotal Games figure within Griffith as Strategic Advisor for the 2018 Commonwealth Games.
The university’s Prof Kristine Toohey, who brought with her a wealth of knowledge and experience from the Sydney 2000 Olympics when she joined Griffith 10 years ago, is a member of The Embracing 2018 Reference Group – which is looking at whether the Games legacy planning is actually happening. Pro Vice Chancellor (Arts, Education, Law) Prof Paul Mazerolle chairs a Commonwealth Games arts and cultural committee.
Across the university, in almost every department, Griffith staff and students are becoming increasingly engaged in the Games. None more so than the Griffith Sports College’s manager Duncan Free – a four-time Olympic rower as well as 1996 Atlanta Olympic gold medallist.
Not only is Free overseeing a college that is practically assisting its students to be on the starting blocks of Gold Coast 2018, he is also the face of the university’s welcoming hand to other Commonwealth countries who may need assistance in preparing for the Games.
Both Madden, Free, internationally acclaimed researcher Prof David Thiel, Prof Peter Milburn (School of Allied Health Services) and Mark Brown (Adjunct Associate Professor in the Centre of Musculoskeletal Research at Griffith University and the university’s Sports Medicine Adviser for the 2018 Commonwealth Games) were part of a Griffith delegation to the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games.
Griffith University boasted 11 then-current students competing at Glasgow – swimmers Brittany Elmslie, Cameron McEvoy, Edward McKendry, Emma McKeon, Taylor McKeown, Leiston Pickett and Chris Wright as well as Kelsey Cottrell (bowls), Ashleigh Gentle (triathlon) and track and field’s Hannah Joye and Linda Leverton.
As GC2018 Games Village takes shape it is impossible to escape the similarities to the lead-in to the 1982 Games. This time around 1200 permanent apartments will be built to house Games athletes and officials.
No doubt, in the future, some of these apartments will be home for students at Griffith, just like those built all those years ago at the Nathan campus. To best understand where Griffith University and the Gold Coast are right now in relation to 2018, it is worthwhile to flick back through the pages of history and reflect on the decision made almost 40 years ago when a fledging university boldly boasted their credentials to be home for the 1982 Games Village.
Back then, as today, it was the university’s Vice Chancellor who plotted a Games course. At a New Year's Eve function at the University in 1976, foundation Vice Chancellor, Professor F J (John) Willett, broached the subject of a Games Village at the Nathan campus to State and Commonwealth Government Ministers.
Just six months before, Brisbane had been declared Host City for the 1982 Commonwealth Games. Author Noel Quirke in his ‘Preparing For The Future – A History of Griffith University 1971-1996’ – outlined Prof Willett’s strategic manoeuvre:
Willett persuaded the politicians that locating the Games Village at Griffith would fulfil a need for student accommodation at Griffith and for students at the Technical and Further Education College at Mt Gravatt. It would also provide staff accommodation for the Queen Elizabeth I1 Jubilee (QEII) Hospital, which was then in the process of construction opposite the University.
As a result of the discussions that took place that evening, plans were developed and put to the State Government. In his submission to the Universities Commission in 1977 for the 1978-80 triennium, the Vice-Chancellor had floated the possibility that Griffith might be able to come to a suitable arrangement to provide accommodation for the Games and simultaneously benefit the University down the track.
Agreement was reached in September 1978 that the State Government would provide $10 million plus 27.5 per cent of the cost of a Games Village, 27.5 per cent would be received from the Commonwealth, five per cent from the Commonwealth Games Foundation, and the University was granted approval by the State Government to raise a debenture issue to fund the remaining 40 per cent of the cost. The University contribution was to be repaid from subsequent rental income.
Griffith's traditional relationship with senior State Government figures helped enormously in this venture. Sir Gordon Chalk, State Treasurer, Sir Allan Sewell, Auditor-General, and Sir Leo Hielscher, who became Under Treasurer, had been involved with the creation of the University from its earliest days. The Village was completed in 1980 and the agreement with the State Government provided for its use by students and staff of Griffith and by staff, including nurses, from the QEll Hospital and the nearby TAFE College, until vacated in August 1982 for the Games.
Other University areas were also designated for Games use. Australian Environmental Studies provided a press centre, a firearms store and a typing pool, while a science lecture theatre became a police muster room. The total cost of the project was $7 million.
A major hitch, however, was an underestimation by the Commonwealth Games organisation about the numbers of athletes and officials expected. The original estimates of 1650 athletes and officials blew out to 1800 and then to 2500. Although additional residences at the Mt Gravatt CAE were made available, even this would be insufficient for athletes and officials. University officials saw that there would be an urgent need for another building. They estimated that it would cost $2 million.
In July 1981 the Games Foundation and the University jointly approached the Commonwealth Government seeking funds for a building which would serve as Games accommodation in the first instance and then could be converted to house Griffith's new School of Social and Industrial Administration (SIA). Approval was eventually gained from the Commonwealth to fast-track the construction of an extra building at Griffith. This building was completed just a few weeks before the Games were scheduled to start.
The Commonwealth Games athletes and officials took up residency at the Games Village on Monday, 20 September 1982. The 2107 athletes and officials had every facility necessary and plenty of entertainment, ranging from first-release movies in the University cinema, to open-air artists, discos and bars. The Commonwealth Games of 1982, dubbed the ‘Friendly’ Games by the media, were completed successfully with minimal disruption to the University. Griffith gained residences which it might never otherwise have received and a building for the SIA much sooner than it would otherwise have done. The balance sheet definitely favoured Griffith. A less tangible benefit was that Griffith's name became known throughout Australia and the world.