SPORT

Olympics Boss John Coates Slams 'Not Competent' Former CEO, Then Receives Unexpected Support

Coates is a tough operator, but the gloves were really off with Leigh Sales.

04/05/2017 8:40 PM AEST | Updated 04/05/2017 8:40 PM AEST
David Gray / Reuters
He might just survive.

Embattled Australian Olympic Committee president John Coates has given a defiant performance on ABC TV's 7.30, in which he said "it's the fact" that former CEO Fiona de Jong was not competent.

Coates is up for re-election on Saturday after 27 years in the AOC's top job, and is under siege from businesswoman, sports administrator and Atlanta 1996 Olympic gold medallist Danni Roche.

The 66-year-old former lawyer has also been dogged in recent weeks by allegations of a toxic culture inside the AOC's offices. Allegations of bullying by his long-serving media chief Mike Tancred surfaced two weeks ago, and Tancred has been stood down while an investigation takes place.

Those bullying allegations came from former AOC CEO Fiona de Jong, and Coates was ruthless in his assessment of de Jong on 7.30. Among other things, he said:

"The last CEO I gave the opportunity. I sent her to Harvard. We gave her every opportunity. She came back, she didn't step up and I took back the responsibilities."

He also said:

"I've been a President and executive President, and's because I did haven't faith in the CEOs. I gave the last one every opportunity to step up, it didn't happen."

And in response to a Leigh Sales question asking it was a bold accusation to say he hadn't had a competent CEO the whole time he'd been president, he said:

"Yeah, it's, well, it's the fact."

For a man accustomed to taking diplomatic footsteps, these are uncharacteristically harsh words. But these are unusual times for Coates, whose position has never been threatened before in his 27-year tenure as president.

His fate now rests on the secret ballot on Saturday, at which 93 votes will be cast -- 80 by representatives of the bodies governing the 40 current winter and summer Olympic sports (two each) -- and another 13 by the AOC executive.

Coates would be buoyed by support he has just received from the AOC Athletes' Commission in a statement released on Thursday evening, although the support was fairly conditional, and appeared to be voiced through gritted teeth.

The first part of the statement read:

"Danni's platform has raised a number of issues that we, as an Athletes' Commission, and the broader athlete population, have passionate views on.

The overwhelming response from the athlete population and alumni was that there is a desire for change. Opinions differed as to how this change should best be achieved.

The Commission had a long and vibrant discussion, airing a range of views and sharing feedback from athletes, alumni and National Federation Athletes' Commissions.

In a non-unanimous majority decision, the Commission voted to support the re-election of John Coates."

The last bit read thus:

The Athletes' Commission supports a planned and strategic transition of John Coates out of the Presidency. Any succession plan should aim to cultivate a number of candidates who the sports can vote on at a future AGM. This succession plan should involve John Coates sharing his knowledge and mentoring the next generation of leaders within the Australian Olympic family.

So in other words, better the devil you know. And John Coates had better clean things up in what looks certain to be his final three years, should he be elected.

Meanwhile Coates' challenger Danni Roche released an impassioned blog on Thursday afternoon. It read:

"On Saturday, there is an opportunity to reset the dysfunctional relationship that currently exists between the AOC and Australia's primary sports funding body.

If elected president, my approach will be collaborative rather than confrontational, for the benefit of our sports and our athletes.

I believe the AOC can deliver more for sports and athletes by working with Australia's peak sporting bodies, while remaining fiercely independent.

This approach will extend to all Australia's peak sporting bodies including the Australian Paralympic Committee, the Australian Commonwealth Games Association, the Athletes' Commission and the Australian Institute of Sport.

We know that the prime of an elite athlete's career is so short that we can't afford to put even one athletes chance at success in jeopardy because the peak bodies can't work together.

I have proposed working group comprising Olympians from each of the AOC and ASC Boards -- supported by four rotating advisers from the National Federations -- to assist with increasing participation, supporting high performance athletes and developing a joint approach to increased funding for all Olympic sports.

I would invite the Athletes' Commission, the Australian Paralympic Committee and the Australian Commonwealth Games Association to join that working group.

Additionally, the opportunity to convene a series bi-annual of President's forums in all capital cities on a regular basis to encourage a collaborative and collegiate relationship between our National Federations and the AOC.

My commitment is to work with the Board of the Australian Olympic Committee to bring in a new era of collaboration in Australian sport, to ensure our athletes have every opportunity to reach their full potential.

As a demonstration of my commitment to the autonomy of the AOC, I have taken leave from my role on the Board of the ASC and will resign immediately should I be elected President of the AOC."

More On This Topic