The very real possibility Australia will never have another John Dowling Coates may not disappoint some commentators, a few sports administrators and a multitude of Victorian powerbrokers who campaigned to unseat him as president of the Australian Olympic Committee.
Coates will stand down as AOC boss in 2021 but will continue as a vice president of the International Olympic Committee, where he will lobby for a south east Queensland bid to win the 2032 Summer Olympics.
But Australian won’t have another Coates if a constitutional change proposed by the federal government-controlled Sport Australia, the formerly-named Australian Sports Commission, proceeds.
Under chair John Wylie, SA requires that directors of Australian national sporting federations have a maximum term of eight years. It is a meritorious move in that churn at the top of Olympic sports rids it of “blazer brigade” self-interest, but there are very significant unintended consequences.
According to Colin Smith, a former international-class rower and global media rights analyst, “It takes five years to be internationally exposed at Olympic Games and World Championships and another five years to get on International Federation boards.”
AOC chief executive Matt Carroll agrees, pointing out an eight-year maximum term would rule out a replacement to Coates. “ I spoke with John Wylie and (SA chief executive) Kate Palmer about this a while back. I put to them the simple question: how many summer games should a (potential) AOC President attend ? Answer: 3. Well, that's 12 years!”
If an eight-year term serving on the board of an Australian sport rules out the election of experienced officials to the AOC presidency, it means he/she will have zero chance of appointment to the international board, and certainly not its leadership.
Over the last 100 years, Australian sports leaders have been members of the IOC, with Kevan Gosper, Phil Coles, Susie O’Neill and Coates serving near simultaneously. Currently there are two, Coates and James Tomkins, with the latter stepping down as an IOC Athletes Commission member in 2020.
Australia currently has its lowest representation on international sports boards and none are presidents.
Australia has ten representatives on over 40 international federations but most have been elected though the Oceania region which usually means competing with the delegate from New Zealand.
The most prominent Australians on international boards are Tracey Gaudry (UCI), Kitty Chiller (UIPM & FIG) and Matt Dunn (FINA).
Other than the new Olympic Sports (Karate, Sport Climbing, Surfing, Skate), all of the directors or executive have been long-term members of the boards of their Australian federations and, apart from executive staff, therefore face mandatory stand-downs.
Carroll said the Swiss Olympic Committee was the only one he knew which applied fixed terms to sports under its banner.
He confirmed that the AOC provides travel grants to national federation board members attending international meetings, while Coates, in his IOC role, also assists in advocating them for election.
Coates has just returned from Japan where he is chairman of the Organising Committee for next year’s Tokyo Olympics. Of the proposed eight-year mandatory terms, he said: “It makes it unlikely our national federation presidents will be well enough known to successfully stand for election to senior positions on their International Federations.
"Australians will not be at the table when matters such as Olympic qualification rules, technical rule changes, or the attribution of World Championships or World Cups are decided.
"These matters should be left for sports to decide, not prescribed by Government. Statutory senility rules apply to our highest judicial officers but not to their terms of office. I don’t know of any Australian political parties that prescribe fixed terms of office for our politicians. RG Menzies, who also served as President of the AOF, was Prime Minister for a total of 19 years.”
Carroll offered the gentle jibe: “Perhaps we need fixed terms for politicians. Three elections and you’re out!”
As it transpires, a former politician, Senator Rod Kemp, who was Federal Minister for Sport, has been asked to review SA’s role.
Global Media’s Smith says, “There is very strong support and expectations for the Kemp Review because of Rod being an outstanding Australian Sports Minister who was a driver of reform and of Australian Sport.
“It is worrying that there appears to be no Australians coming forward and that Sports Australia governance will ensure that it is highly unlikely to change in future years.”
It is understood the Kemp Report will question the wisdom of the proposed eight-year terms.