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John Coates ends 32 years as Australian Olympic boss

Australian sport ushered in a new era Saturday when powerbroker John Coates stood down as president of the country’s Olympic Committee after 32 years at the helm.

Coates, 71, rose to prominence when he helped Sydney win its 2000 Games bid and is credited with shaping the Olympic movement globally in the decades since.

He told the Australian Olympic Committee’s annual meeting in Sydney those Games were among his career highlights, along with creating financial security for the AOC.

“In my 32 years as president, we’ve followed what has become known as the Bach mantra: ‘Change or be changed’,” he said.

An emotional Coates said the Olympic committee’s role was to help Australians chase their dreams.

“Today, with a full heart, I thank you for giving me the chance to live mine.”

Ian Chesterman, Chef de Mission for Australia’s 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games team, was elected as Coates’ successor.

A congenital hip dislocation meant Coates was unlikely to become an elite sportsman—although he was a capable schoolboy rowing cox—but his love of sport saw him excel as an administrator.

He twice masterminded successful Olympic bids—Sydney 2000 and Brisbane 2032 — and was known to be as competitive as the athletes he represented.

He courted scandal by revealing the Ugandan and Kenyan Olympic committees were offered AUS$48,000 ($33,900) before the 2000 Olympics host-city vote—but only if Sydney won.

When the ballot was counted, Sydney beat Beijing by two votes, 45 to 43.

Coates has not always had harmonious relationships with sports bodies and politicians. 

A tense 2021 press conference with Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk—during which he ordered her to attend the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics—saw him labelled a “mansplaining dinosaur” on social media.

On the whole, though, the Olympics boss was widely respected for what he achieved for Australia.

“He has made an enormous contribution to Australian sport over decades,” said John Wylie, who as chairman of the Australian Sports Commission clashed publicly with Coates in 2017.

IOC President Thomas Bach, who travelled to Sydney for Coates’ farewell celebration, praised his long-time colleague for his contribution to sport.

“You are a champion, mate,” Bach told Coates.

Coates will remain vice-president of the International Olympic Committee until the 2024 Games in Paris and is still president of the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

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