Coates Olympic vote

A timeline of recent events leading up to the controversial ballot to decide the next president of the Australian Olympic Committee:

1990: John Coates takes the mantle as the president of the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC).

January 21, 2016: Coates told an employee who flagged a typo in the AOC constitution she would be wise to “worry about improving her general performance in the sports department before venturing again into the area of drafting in which she has previously shown herself incapable”. Six other people were included in the email. The emails, and those from January 22, were not reported until April 2017, when they were published as part of reports about the resignation of CEO Fiona de Jong.

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January 22, 2016: Also in internal emails leaked to the media, Coates told an employee suffering from cancer to “get out in the real world” after she had taken time off for chemotherapy. He said he was not running a “sheltered workshop”. After reading Coates’ reply, the woman, a solicitor, offered to resign.

Both employees say they went to chief executive Fiona de Jong, but the incidents went unreported for more than a year.

October, 2016: Fresh off a successful stint at the Rio Olympics, de Jong learned another AOC executive was spreading rumours that de Jong had been leaking information to the press. Enraged, de Jong lodged a confidential complaint with Coates. It was returned, within minutes, with a phone call from AOC media director Mike Tancred.

De Jong alleges Tancred told her, “Fiona, withdraw the complaint or I will bury you.”

De Jong also alleges Tancred threatened de Jong’s family. She filed another complaint with Coates, this time about Tancred, but she did not hear back. Frustrated, she resigned from her $450,000-a-year post.

March 19, 2017: Adding to Coates’ mounting troubles at the AOC, former Hockeyroo Danielle Roche announced she would contest the post of the AOC president. The gold medalist became the first person to challenge Coates’ 27-year presidential reign.

April 12, 2017: Coates’ annual salary was revealed to have increased by $40,000 in the last financial year, bringing his wage to $715,000 a year. Criticism of his leadership intensified.

April 14, 2017: Two days after the arrival of his nemesis and amid rising employee discontent at the AOC, Coates headed to an athletics event in Melbourne. There, he ran into Australian Sports Commission chairman John Wylie, who had been trying to bring Coates’ $41 million AOC closer to his much-wealthier foundation for a long time.

Wylie extended a hand, but Coates shirked it, saying “I don’t shake hands with liars”. He later also described Wylie using a more colourful, four-letter word rhyming with, and likely causing, “affront”.

April 15, 2017. Former Victorian premier Jeff Kennett called for Coates to resign immediately and labeled the AOC management as “corrupt”.

April 22, 2017: De Jong still hadn’t heard back from Coates on her October 2016, complaint regarding Tancred. She starts to speak out about her experience at the AOC.

April 24, 2017: Coates sent out a letter to all sports bodies with a vote on the May 6 elections denying that the AOC had a “culture of bullying” and claimed the body’s complaint-handling processes were impartial. Meanwhile, Roche secured influential allies in her bid to topple Coates. Two female company directors with a direct involvement with the Olympics said they preferred her to Coates.

April 25, 2017: Tancred accepted that the AOC received complaints from female employees about his behaviour. De Jong stated: “There is serious room for improvement on the processes for handling these kind of complaints and it is inaccurate to characterise mine as an isolated incident which is what some have done.”

Tancred also made the comment that people attacking Coates didn’t qualify to “carry his bag”.

April 26, 2017: A day of terror for Coates. De Jong submitted a letter to the AOC’s executive committee detailing the extent of bullying inside its walls. She included redacted copies of demeaning emails written by Coates to his employees. It is revealed Tancred allegedly questioned the authenticity of a female employee who asked to take time off to heal from a staph infection. She had miscarried in the lead-up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics. She took two days off to recover and later worked tirelessly, including for longer hours.

In other emails obtained Fairfax, Coates was found telling swimwear manufacturer Speedo to “butt out”, saying the brand “are not worth the trouble” while discussing the sponsorship for Ian Thorpe’s swimming gear.

An emergency meeting was called later in the day and Coates submitted to an independent inquiry into his organisation’s work practices.

Later in the day, Tancred stood down from his $300,000 a year post as an investigation into workplace bullying at the AOC continued.

April 29, 2017. The Australian reported Coates had the public support of former Sydney Olympic officials.

“[Coates] is probably the most accomplished — and still accomplishing — national and international sports administrator and sports law administrator that Australia has ever,” Simon Balderstone said. Balderstone is a member of the board for the Sydney Olympic organising committee.

May 1, 2017. The Australian reported a group of leading women in business and sport declared the removal of Coates would give the AOC the opportunity to have good governance and independent decision-making.

John Bertrand, president of Swimming Australia, published an opinion piece in The Australian announcing the organisation’s support for Roche as the new president of the AOC.

May 2, 2017. Roche’s request to address voters at Saturday’s election is denied. Roche’s ally, Andrew Plympton, who is running for the AOC vice-presidency,  denounced Coates’ use of AOC services to win support from various sports federations.

“When Danni advised the president that she was challenging him, I would have thought convention dictates that the offices of the AOC, its personnel, its systems and connections are not to be used for election purposes,” Plympton said.

May 3, 2017. Roche vowed to challenge the six-week “blackout” period where Olympic sports are prevented from promoting, even on Twitter and through images, their athletes. The Australian reports this is a Coates’ “article of faith”.

May 4, 2017. The Herald Sun reported Coates had reached a deal with the athletes commission to adopt some of Roche’s initiatives. Contrary to Coates’ wishes, the commission suggested support for Plympton as vice-president.

The Australian reported Coates had referred to Roche as being a “puppet” of the Australian Sports Commission president, John Wylie. Former NSW premier Kristina Keneally spoke out to denounce Coates’ comments.

“Danni Roche is a highly qualified, well-educated business woman and sports administrator. She’s an Olympic gold medalist. Dare I say it, she’s nobody’s puppet and girl,” Keneally said.

The ABC reported Coates promised to bid for Brisbane to host the 2028 or 2032 Olympic Games if he were re-elected. Coates also said he will leave the running of the organisation to the executive and he will step back from running the organisation.

Coates went on to say that he had only had the responsibility because de Jong was incapable.

“I sent her to Harvard. We gave her every opportunity. She came back, she didn’t step up, and I took back the responsibilities,” Coates said.

May 5, 2017. The Australian reported deputy chairman of the Australian Sports Commission, Mark Stockwell, had resigned from his position. Stockwell was reportedly “exasperated” with the feud between chairman John Wylie and Coates and its affect on sport.

May 6, 2017. The ballot to decide the AOC president will be decided on May 6.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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