Every four years, for 16 days, Olympics kingpin John Coates becomes one of the most influential people in the world. The rest of the time he’s still powerful, just on a smaller scale.
Coates’ ability to continually eke out government funding for Olympic sports, despite increasing opposition, demonstrates his power. And with the 2012 London Games fast approaching, it would be remiss of us not to slot him in on this particular podium.
“In terms of the world’s major sporting events, I think the Olympics is the biggest event,” long-time sports administrator and former ICC president Malcolm Speed tells The Power Index. “And it’s important to Australia, so it follows then that John Coates is one of the most powerful figures in Australian sport.”
Perhaps the president of the Australian Olympic Committee would think he should have finished higher on this list. In an interview with The Power Index, it’s Coates’ belief in the power of the Games as a force of good that particularly shines through. But the 61-year-old former lawyer also knows the commercial value of one of the world’s biggest events.
“It’s number one,” Coates says, when asked about the position of the Olympics in world sport. “It’s clearly the biggest sport in terms of rights fees, marketing and television.
“Some would say the FIFA World Cup produces more economic benefit for the host country, because it goes longer. But most people I think would put the Olympic Games as the largest peace time global event.”
He’s probably right. The dollars associated with the Olympics are huge. And they’re getting bigger. Especially the size of the television and marketing rights, an area which Coates helps oversee in his role on the 15-member International Olympic Committee executive board.
It’s easy to see why sponsors and broadcasters are clamouring to get on board. The 2008 Beijing Olympics attracted some 4.7 billion TV viewers, according to Nielsen, making it the most-watched summer Games ever. It dominated the ratings in Australia and broke records in the all-important United States market.
“The TV rights for these games would have sold for over $US3 billion,” says Coates when asked to reel off the figures. “The marketing rights sell for another $US1 billion.”
But that’s just the start of the Olympics power story. Of course there is the enormous number of tourists who flock to the Games. And the billions in government funding deployed to get a host city up to scratch, as well as all the world leaders who attend. “One hundred and twenty heads of state will congregate in London,” says Coates.
And that’s before we even start discussing the fierce competition that is the medal tally, an area where Australia has overachieved for years. We’ve finished in the top 10 nations in the past five Summer Olympic Games, something of which Coates is clearly extremely proud. After all, he helped score the dough that funded such success.
Coates argues vehemently that a powerful Olympic team is positive for Australian sport. It’s this passion that has helped him lobby successive governments to fund elite sport, something that has annoyed the non-Olympic high-participation sports which label it too generous.
According to the 2009 Crawford Report into the administration of sport, $60 million of funding is delivered to Olympic sports by the Australian Sports Commission each year. That equates to a price tag of about $15 million per gold medal, something which the Crawford Report said showed “no evidence” of any influence on sports participation.
“It did suggest the government should look at what sports best represented the national ethos and identified only a few Olympic sports as fitting the bill,” says Coates of the Crawford Report. “We played a role in negating those arguments and point out the benefits of a strong Olympic team.”