Planning has started to position Cairns as an elite athlete training hub, a hotbed of sporting talent, and must-visit tourist destination ahead of the 2032 Olympic Games.

Already, preliminary football (soccer) matches have been scheduled for the city, but Advance Cairns believes there are much wider opportunities and is leading a united push for the region to make the most of them.

The advocacy organisation invited five time Olympian and Sydney beach volleyball gold medallist Natalie Cook to address the business community this morning, where the focus shifted from a need for a rectangular stadium in Cairns to a high-performance training centre for all sports.


Ms Cook now works with the Queensland Olympic Committee and the Queensland Institute of Sport.

“You have it all here, it’s beautiful – the Skyrail, the train, the waterfalls, the climate – we love the climate in Cairns,” she said.

“The people here are so warm and loving and friendly.

“Sell all that.

“Build the narrative and then take it to market.”

Also speaking at the breakfast was Tokyo Olympian Cedric Dubler, who won hearts when he selflessly pushed teammate Ashley Moloney in the final decathlon event, the 1500 metres – which led to Moloney winning a bronze medal.

Dubler was among the athletes training in Cairns in the lead-up to the games, where he suffered a hamstring injury.

“We don’t want big stadiums, we want a track that is the right distance – which it is – and there’s not much more we need,” he said.

“Potentially a gym for the athletes to come in, to help the development of young athletes as well, and a recovery centre was probably the only thing that was missing for me to do ice baths and saunas and stuff like that.

“You’ve already got the environment here, the climate as well.

“No one wants to go to the AIS because it’s cold down there and who wants to visit Canberra?”

Ms Cook has suggested that Cairns could becoming a training hub for the entire Oceania region.

“The AOC was given help (Federal Government funding) for our Oceania friends to bring them here to be vaccinated and take part in training camps ahead of Tokyo,” she said.

“You could be the Oceania Olympic Committee hub training centre.

“Maybe there’s money internationally to help build facilities as well.”

Unearthing young sporting talent

Jesse O’Hara, the Manager of the Cairns Academy of Sport, is also backing a high-performance training facility, complete with a recovery centre.

He’s also been charged with unearthing local sporting talent and is travelling as far as the Torres Strait to provide children opportunities for high-level training as well as education.

Natalie Cook said there’s a reason that regions are being targeted, with non-city kids more likely to excel.


“There’s the resilience factor but also it's because there’s not as many distractions as there are in the city,” she said.

“Time on task and time outside doing ‘the thing’ is where the success comes from.

“The passion from the regions and the time on task is what it’s all about and it’s why we’re coming to build support around the regions.

“Currently, we are not accessing our best talent.”

Leaving a legacy

Advance Cairns has set four pillars to focus on in the lead-up to the games.

They include infrastructure, education and research, strategic partnerships and tourism and events, with Indigenous engagement and leaving a legacy integral to each point.

John O’Sullivan, the Director of Tourism Tropical North Queensland, CEO of Experience Co and former member of the Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games, is urging the entire community to get onboard.

“This is a great opportunity for Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef to take back that leadership as one of Australia’s – if not Australia’s – most iconic part of the tourism world,” he said.

“It is the most exciting opportunity that the region’s had for some time.

“Grasp it with both hands and take advantage of it.”


Main points

  • A high performance athlete training centre has become the focus for Cairns ahead of the Brisbane Games
  • Previously, the main priority was for a new rectangular stadium
  • Scouts are already on the lookout to unearth local children with sporting talent
There's a disproportionate number of Olympians that come from the regions.
Natalie Cook
Gold medallist and five time Olympian