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  • Dark Times, Bright Future for Australian Olympians


    (ATR) Australian Olympic Committee president John Coates is forecasting the brightest of futures in the gloomiest of times for the Olympic movement.

    Coates addressed the AOC’s first virtual Annual General Meeting in Sydney May 9, celebrating the AOC’s 100th Anniversary. He delivered a message of optimism and opportunity despite the specter of COVID-19.

    CEO Matt Carroll and AOC President John Coates anchor the AGM meeting in Sydney. (AOC}
    Coates, heading into what is expected to be his final year as AOC president, said he was proud to be at the helm of an organization that has paid out a total of $Aus 125 million to its athletes with the $88.5 million legacy from the Sydney Olympics in 2000. Net asset for the fund administered by the Australian Olympic Foundation, is $150.8 million.

    Matt Carroll Stays at AOC

    The AGM came at the end of a week that looked likely to see Matt Carroll quit his post as CEO of the AOC to become the savior of Rugby Australia. The bankrupt body is struggling to recruit tge right people into its senior executive and board positions.

    Carroll got a green light this week from Coates to leave and return to his beloved rugby roots. The next day he withdrew as RA continued its almost daily dose of self destruction.

    The business-like Carroll, firmly back in his AOC seat, went on to deliver his report of a cashed-up organization. Three years ago he joined the AOC as it faced some disarray in personnel and Coates was in a battle to secure a final term in office.

    Three years on and the dust is very much settled in the Olympic corridors of power and in the most difficult of times.

    Inspiration for 2021

    Coates said even in this unprecedented time that’s put the world on lockdown, including athletes training for now postponed Olympics in Tokyo, Australian athletes could well surpass Sydney for best ever results.

    The Australian team for the Tokyo Olympics should be buoyed by the fact that their funding from 2019 would all carry through until 2021.

    And with swimming golden girl Cate Campbell and dual whitewater paddling queen in Jess Fox sitting amongst 70 National Federation delegates during the meeting, triple Olympic basketballer Patty Mills served his dose of inspiration to launch the meeting.

    The San Antonio Spurs player is the first indigenous man to represent Australian basketball at an Olympic Games. Along with his uncle in South Australia and his grandfather in the Torres Strait, Mills delivered a stirring “Acknowledgement of Country” via video to start proceedings.

    Sitting in his lounge room in the US and surrounded by Australian indigenous artifacts, Mills, recalled the night when he marched into the main stadium at his first Olympics in Beijing in 2008 behind flag bearer, rowing legend James Tompkins.

    He said the opportunity to be part of the Olympic Games isn’t just about great memories or representing your country in sport it’s a responsibility. He was just 19 at the time.

    “I take it seriously. I am very honored to be one of the 52 indigenous Australian athletes to have represented Australia at the Olympic Games,” said Mills.

    “And I’m very committed to create opportunities and pathways to make those numbers rise in the future especially in the game of basketball I love my country and I love our culture. It’s not just my passion, it’s in my blood. I could not be more excited to represent the green and gold at the 2021 Olympics. So let’s go to Tokyo together. The countdown has already started.”

    Financial Security

    Coates also reflected on the AOC’s 100-year Olympic journey from Antwerp in 1920 through two home Games in 1956 and Sydney 2000. Australia is one of only two countries, with Greece, to attend every Games since 1896 in Athens.

    “Through two World Wars, one Cold War, multiple pandemics and all manner of societal upheaval,” said Coates.

    “For our people, Australians at the Olympics have been light when there was shadow. Hope when there was none. Joy when we needed it. A comfort and a constant - when we needed this as well. How many people at home and abroad have our athletes inspired?”

    “I can be confident, as we have the assuredness of distributions from the Australian Olympic Foundation, deferred sponsor income of $11.7 million with Tokyo 2020 now in 2021, and have already contracted sponsor income of $40.67 million, for total sponsor income of $52.3 million for 2021-2024,” said Coates.

    “With Tokyo 2020 costs now in the 2021-2024 Olympic cycle, the current sponsorship target increases to $72.76 million, leaving $20.4 million to secure over the next four and a half years. We have already achieved 71 percent of our sponsorship target.

    “Put very simply, in this time of some chaos, at this moment in time, we are in good order,” Coates said.

    Last year in the presence of Thomas Bach, the President of the International Olympic Committee, Coates spoke about Olympism and Independence, saying it was necessary because of the efforts of some to slowly push the AOC into the shadow of political control.

    “Efforts we resisted then and continue to resist now,” said Coates.

    “I made the point that independence preserves the best of Olympism because it means we make decisions solely in the best interests of the sports and the athletes we represent.

    “This is our true north and it is absolutely worth fighting for.

    “Because any time our course deviates, even by a degree, it is Olympism lost and with that, our very reason for being compromised.

    “I also made the point that financial independence
    John Coates presides over the first ever virtual meeting of the AOC.
    is strength - the sort of strength one relies on when a state of unpredictability is normalized – as it is now.

    “It is this financial strength which founds the optimism I speak of, even as we enter the new world of global virus economics,” said Coates.

    Brisbane Olympic Bid

    As the world struggles to come to grips with what a new norm will look like, Coates and his Olympic powerbrokers continue the pitch for the 2032 Games in Brisbane and southeastern Queensland.

    The AOC communicated its approval to the IOC in January this year and the candidature is now in what is known as the “continuous dialogue phase with the IOC Future Host Commission”.

    “While our governments take measures to combat the spread of Covid-19 and protect the health of all of us, the AOC and consultants EKS Lagardère headed by our former Secretary General, Craig McLatchey, are focusing on our Olympic and Paralympic venue master planning with International Federations and the International Paralympic Committee,” said Coates.

    Their cooperation and enthusiasm is overwhelmingly positive and the proposition is simple, says Coates.

    “Using existing and temporary community and sports venues under the guiding principles of the IOC’s new norm and bringing forward new road and rail infrastructure.

    “I have always believed in making necessity a virtue. There is already a need for jobs and growth in the Queensland economy arising from the impact of Covid-19.

    “Our partner three levels of Government recognize a potential 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games as a critical part of the State and nation’s economic recovery in the short term, quite apart from all of the long-term health, well-being, economic and sporting legacies.

    “When they tell us the moment is right to do so, we will resume and elevate dialogue with the IOC.

    “The opportunity is clear and exciting.”

    Rising to Meet the Challenge

    Coates said it was right to allow a pause to reflect positively on the response to the pandemic.

    “Australia is doing well and we at the Olympic Committee are doing well also,” said Coates.

    “As impossibly high as the Olympic mountain always is – this pandemic makes it even higher.

    “Athletes in a generation chosen by time and fate to summit a new peak. But the longer and harder the road is, the greater the moment of arrival.

    “It’s also right to take another moment to celebrate our magnificent story but just moments and no longer - for there is so much work to do.

    “Work we go about with optimism, in search of opportunity and in support of our magnificent sports and our wonderful country,” said Coates.

    The optimism is shared by Patty Mills and a team of Aussie Olympians. As history shows the Australians have a habit of rising to the occasion, no matter how high the hurdles.

    Reported in Sydney by Ian Hanson. For general comments or questions, click here.

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