How Eddie took over two Melbourne Olympic venues

Cameron Voss  |  Wednesday 27th May 2020

As the feud between Eddie McGuire and everyone else (so it seems) continues, we look at how he orchestrated the takeover of two Melbourne 1956 Olympic venues for his Collingwood Football Club.

This saw athletics shunted from its prime location at Olympic Park, over to Albert Park, and replaced by a training ground for the Magpies (the VIS was also moved on from Collingwood HQ) – all this during an 8-year span when McGuire was on the Athletics Australia board.

Many called this out as a major conflict of interest – both at the time and now again in the past few days, including Tamsyn Manou (nee Lewis), after the Collingwood President called out Geelong counterpart Colin Carter’s move from the AFL to the Cats was the biggest conflict of interest he’d seen. You be the judge.

It’s a rags to riches story for the Magpies, transitioning from a struggling club at its Victoria Park home ground in Abbotsford, to a powerhouse at its current training and administration base in the Melbourne sports precinct – a short walk from its home ground, the MCG.

The club’s indoor training and administration facility, now commercially known as the Holden Centre, was the Melbourne Olympic Pool, and later known as the Melbourne Sports and Entertainment Centre (also The Glasshouse). While its training ground, Olympic Park Oval, is situated on the former site of Olympic Park Stadium – another former 1956 Olympic venue and Melbourne’s primary athletics venue.

The former Olympic Pool became Melbourne’s largest indoor sports and entertainment venue in 1983, hosting major concerts and sport, including packed crowds of almost 8,000 for NBL during its ‘80s & ’90s boom. The opening of Rod Laver Arena in 1988 saw use of venue begin to diminish and it received a $20 million refurbishment in 2002 to become the new home of Collingwood Football Club and the Victorian Institute of Sport – thus ending its life as a proper sports venue.

Holden Centre

During this period, the Magpies trained on Gosch's Paddock (an oval at the eastern end of the park where the Melbourne Demons now train). Following the demolition of Olympic Park No. 2 in 2001, a new training ground was built for the Pies – Edwin Flack Field.

That ground opened in 2004 and soon after, Eddie McGuire joined the Athletics Australia board, in 2005.

During this period, there was plenty of discussion surrounding a new much-needed world-class rectangular stadium for Melbourne and various sites had been proposed, including a new 40,000-capacity stadium to replace the existing Olympic Park facility.

Eventually, it would be decided a new 30,000-capacity stadium would be built adjacent to Olympic Park – on the site of Collingwood’s then-training oval.

McGuire revealed in recent days he had a contract in place, which no doubt helped him with negotiations with then-Premier Steve Bracks.

“I had a contract that said Collingwood’s ground could be no further from where that was, so it was either going to be built across the road at the Tennis Centre or on the athletics track” McGuire explained.

Edwin Flack Field existed for just three years and AAMI Park opened on the site in 2010. Eddie got his way and secured the Olympic Park Stadium site for the AFL club’s new training oval – conveniently located adjacent to the Holden Centre.

Eddie had reportedly first made a play for Olympic Park in 2008, and the following year, there were claims that Collingwood had secretly lobbied for the site and Athletics Victoria were kept in the dark about a potential move.

The stadium hosted its final event in April 2011, with Tamsyn Lewis winning the final race at the historic venue. Athletics then moved to a redeveloped Lakeside Stadium at Albert Park, along with the Victorian Institute of Sport, who had been based at the Holden Centre with the Magpies. Melbourne’s rectangular codes had also by this stage moved in to the new AAMI Park.

Olympic Park was soon demolished and Collingwood’s brand-new training ground, Olympic Park Oval, opened on the site in 2013.

In September that same year, Eddie McGuire resigned from the Athletics Australia board, citing he had insufficient time due to his business interests.

Conflict of interest? You be the judge. Either way, there’s no doubting the Collingwood President has worked the best possible outcome for the AFL club.

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