AOC president Coates lashes out at de Jong as battle comes to head

Embattled Australian Olympic Committee president John Coates has taken a swipe at the organisation’s former chief executive Fiona de Jong, as the battle for the top job comes to a head.


Coates, who is being challenged for the AOC presidency for the first time in 27 years, used one of his last public appearances before the Saturday committee vote to lash out at de Jong on ABC’s 7.30 program, suggesting she was incompetent in the role.

“I sent her to Harvard. We gave her every opportunity,” he said on Thursday night.

“She came back, she didn’t step up and I took back these responsibilities.”

He said he took on more responsibilities as a result.

“I’ve been the president, I’ve been an executive president, and I’ve been an executive president because I did haven’t faith in the CEOs underneath me. I gave the last one every opportunity to step up, it didn’t happen.

“I took back marketing responsibility, communications responsibilities.”

De Jong left the AOC in December before alleging last month that she was threatened by the AOC media manager and Coates’ ally Mike Tancred.

Tancred subsequently stood down, pending an independent investigation into the alleged incident.

While de Jong is not vying for the AOC presidency, her allegations of bullying have clouded the election race.

She has maintained the decision to go public with the allegations was unrelated to the election.

“I stand to lose or gain nothing by who is the future president of the AOC. I’m not standing for a role on the board. I’m unemployed and have no ongoing role in the AOC movement. I’m certainly after this unlikely to,” she told 7.30.

On Friday, de Jong said she would allow the athletes and other sports administrators she worked with to comment on her performance.

“The people who are best placed to judge my performance are those athletes and sports administrators I’ve worked with for the past decade,” she said.

In his 7.30 interview, Coates revealed he would allow newly-appointed CEO Matt Carroll to truly run the AOC.

“I have got full faith in him being able to step up and do these things and enable me to step back into a more traditional role,” Coates said.

“The executive will be able to determine how they want to use me outside of my AOC responsibilities.”

Coates said he would be prepared to accept less than his current annual AOC salary of more than $700,000 should he be re-elected on Saturday.

“I don’t want to continue to be running the shop here at the AOC,” he said.

“I think I can play a greater role internationally than I’ve been doing and very happy now that I’ve got a CEO who is capable of running the show to hand far more over.”

Coates will be challenged for the AOC presidency by Olympian Danni Roche.

Roche, an Olympic hockey gold medallist, is running for the position on a platform of change in the organisation. Her platform includes smoothing the currently strained relations between the AOC and the Australian Sports Commission.

The next AOC meeting will be in Sydney on Saturday, when a secret ballot of 94 votes will determine whether or not Coates’ long reign continues. It is expected to be a tight contest.

However, Coates remains optimistic that he has the numbers to be re-elected and is adamant there “isn’t anyone out there at the moment” who will make an appropriate successor.

“I’m in a position to help a range of people by taking them to international meetings, giving them that exposure, giving them that experience, so that Australia is in a position to have a new president in 2020,” he said.

Coates again rejected allegations that he allowed a bullying culture at the AOC and apologised further for referring to the organisation as a “sheltered workshop” in an email to staff.

Meanwhile the AOC athletes commission has committed its two votes to Coates on Saturday.

The commission issued a statement on Thursday night saying the decision was not a unanimous one but that the incumbent would be supported.

“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 statement read.

Among other things the commission said it supported was a review of the president’s remuneration, an independent review of workplace culture at the AOC and a remediation of the relationship between the AOC and Swimming Australia.

AAP, with Fairfax Media