Sat, May 06, 2017 - Page 16 News List

AOC to vote amid tensions

AFP, SYDNEY

Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) chief John Coates faces an unprecedented challenge to his decades-long presidency from newcomer Danni Roche today as a bitter campaign marred by bullying claims goes to a vote.

Coates, whose International Olympic Committee vice-presidency is attached to being AOC president, has held the office for 27 years.

However, in an acrimonious lead-up to the AOC annual general meeting in Sydney there have been allegations of a culture of bullying and intimidation inside the lavishly resourced body.

Australia’s 40 Olympic sports, 11 AOC executive members and two delegates from the AOC athletes’ commission are to decide whether to entrust the future of the country’s Olympic movement to Roche or keep it in the hands of long-serving incumbent.

Roche, 46, an Olympic field hockey gold medalist and board member of the federal government-backed Australian Sports Commission (ASC), has campaigned for change in the AOC, saying the administration is dictatorial and bloated.

Roche has also said that she plans to cut costs and redirect money to athletes and underfunded sports in a shake-up of AOC culture.

One bone of contention is the more than A$700,000 (US$526,000) annual salary for Coates, who is also chairman of the coordination committee of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

“I am deeply concerned about the culture at the Australian Olympic Committee,” Roche said. “On the day I announced I was standing for the role, I made a commitment to reset the philosophy and culture of the AOC. The need for change at the AOC is now clear. It needs to change, and it needs to change now.”

Coates, 66, points to his achievements as AOC president.

He secured the 2000 Olympics Games for Sydney and helped build an Australian Olympic Fund, which is now worth more than A$140 million, and keeps the AOC financially secure and free from Australian government interference.

“I have a history of having a go,” Coates said. “Someone has to go out there and fight for the sports.”

A backdrop to the acrimonious square-off between Coates and Roche is the breakdown of the relationship between the AOC and the ASC, which funds the preparation of Australia’s Olympic teams.

“They are appointed by ministers to the ASC. I’m not. The AOC is independent,” Coates said.

Allegations of bullying have been splashed across Australia’s front pages, mostly linked to Coates’ right-hand man and media chief Mike Tancred as the AOC faces increased public scrutiny.

Former AOC chief executive Fiona de Jong brought one claim, alleging Tancred issued a “highly detailed and personal threat” against her.

Tancred has denied any wrongdoing, but stepped aside while an independent commission rules on De Jong’s bullying complaint.

Roche said she expects a close result in today’s poll.

“I think the vote will be very, very close, I think it will come down to the wire,” Roche said.

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