Sydney’s Olympic Pools Are Beset By Controversy

Amid all the opera house and harbour bridge talk, it’s easy to forget that Sydney also boasts a lesser-known claim to fame – it has more ocean pools than any other city in the world. But that doesn’t mean they are all pristine and in working order. The city’s iconic swimming spots are being wracked by controversy and political folly.

The North Sydney Olympic pool is a case in point. Beset by council infighting, claims of pork-barrelling and a lack of transparency, heritage concerns and criticism from health organisations, the once-heralded project has blown out to more than $100m and its opening has been delayed until 2025. “This is a really good example of how not to do an infrastructure project,” says independent federal member for North Sydney, Kylea Tink. She echoes the sentiments of the city’s mayor, Zoe Baker, who has become increasingly frustrated at the project’s direction.

It’s no wonder that a group of residents has formed an action committee to take the project back into their own hands. In a bid to recoup some of the millions spent so far, they are considering charging fashion week shows, production companies and private parties for use of the facility – well beyond the usual remit of a local pool.

But that could prove to be a dangerous move, especially given the pool’s poor reputation for safety and hygiene. It is already the subject of a health warning and an investigation by the NSW government. The organisers have also been banned from running the event again until the investigations are complete.

Despite the ongoing issues, the action committee remains confident the pool will eventually open. They say the delays have been caused by a combination of factors, including unforeseen construction costs and the difficulty in sourcing an operator for the centre’s two-storey, 50m-long lap pool. They will continue to seek funding from the state government and local council.

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