Melbourne – One of sport’s most enduring premierships ended on Saturday as John Coates stepped down as Australian Olympic Committee president after a 32-year reign that secured two Games for his nation and left a string of opponents trampled in his wake.
Dodgy hips prevented the 71-year-old from standing at the AOC’s annual general meeting in Sydney, and he choked up with emotion at the end of his final president’s address while thanking Australians for the chance to live his dreams.
Yet in all other ways, Coates was in control, basking in the warmth of a room filled with sports officials who have profited from his power and influence on the global stage.
Among them was International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach, who sat next to his right hand man and beamed as Coates detailed metrics from the 2020 Tokyo Games.
As Bach’s point man for Tokyo, Coates played a key role in Japan plowing ahead with the Games after their year-long postponement due to COVID-19.
“We did something together that never has been done before — and frankly, something that many people did not believe we could pull off,” Bach said to Coates.
Ian Chesterman succeeds Coates as AOC President after beating a rival candidate.
But Coates will remain a key power broker at home and abroad.
His IOC vice presidency lasts until the 2024 Paris Games, and he remains on the boards of the AOC executive and the organizing committee for the 2032 Brisbane Olympics.
Having played an indelible part in securing 2032, few in sports-mad Australia would begrudge him.
Coates effectively rewrote the IOC’s bid evaluation process, paving the way for fast-moving Brisbane to become the preferred candidate.
As Bach noted in glowing tribute, Coates is the only national Olympic committee president to bring two Games to his country, having also helped Sydney win the 2000 event.
The guest list at Coates’ final president’s dinner in Sydney on Saturday included sporting greats, business heavyweights and a former Prime Minister among a bevy of politicians.
Yet Coates’ detractors over the years could have filled plenty of tables.
Though virtually unchallenged at the AOC, lawyer Coates proved a polarizing figure and his fierce protection of his turf and perks rubbed many the wrong way.
He was embroiled in several scandals early in his presidency, and offered 100,000 Australian dollars ($70,600) in sports scholarships to African IOC delegates before the vote for Sydney.
His deal-making served himself and the AOC as well as Australia’s athletes.
He extracted some AU$88 million from the government after the Sydney Games to bolster a fund to support Olympic athletes and cover AOC costs, which included his generous “consulting fees.”
The fund has grown to AU$180 million despite distributions of more than AU$130 million to athletes over the past 20 years.
Coates’ determination to protect the AOC’s independence and his role at the head of it has led to clashes — fewer more bitter than his 2017 feud with John Wylie, a former head of the government’s sports funding agency.
Allegations of bullying at the AOC in the same year sparked a cultural review which found leadership problems.
But Coates weathered the storm and easily fought off a 2017 challenge for his presidency to serve another five years.
The AOC evolved in that period, placing more emphasis on women, diversity and indigenous athletes, but Coates remained steadfast in his ways, working the angles on the global stage to deliver Tokyo and land Brisbane, his final legacy to Australia.
He signed off on Saturday with a familiar call to protect the AOC’s “independence” from political meddling.
“It is our independent pursuit of Olympic ideals which makes it possible for us to do what we do, so well,” he said. “To help Australians chase their dreams.”
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