Sport Olympics Rio disappointment sparks battle over Olympic sports governance

Rio disappointment sparks battle over Olympic sports governance

John Coates effectively blamed funding arrangements by the Sports Commission for the disappointing medal haul. Photo: Getty
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The public feud between Australian sports administrators that erupted over the weekend in Rio has highlighted deep rifts between the Australian Sports Commission and the local arm of the Olympic movement.

The Australian Olympic Committee’s executive chairman John Coates effectively blamed new funding arrangements introduced by the government-run Sports Commission for the disappointing haul of 29 medals – Australia’s worst performance since the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

Coates has quit his appointment to the ASC’s review of the Australian Institute of Sport, saying that he cannot support the commission’s Winning Edge funding policy that doled out $380 million of federal taxpayers’ cash to Olympic sports in the last four years.

The Australian Olympic supremo – who has ruled the AOC for 26 years – says he will now focus on his role as executive president of the AOC.

Mr Coates’ decision constitutes a direct attack on the reform agenda of ASC chairman John Wiley, who is trying to increase accountability of peak administrators by overhauling governance standards across all sports.

It’s turning into an ugly public fight, with Mr Coates coming under attack on Monday from the head of Cycling Australia Mal Speed for being paid more than $680,000 a year.

Mr Speed questioned why Mr Coates was receiving such a large pay cheque from the AOC when the chairs of most sporting peak bodies were only being reimbursed for costs.

Governance changes a potential threat to Olympic chief

The Australian Olympic Committee is a private organisation that is not subject to the sports commission’s reform program.

Cycling Australia head Mal Speed has slammed Coates’ big salary. Photo: AAP

However, if the AOC was required to fall into line with Mr Wiley’s governance benchmarks its current structure would not likely survive.

Under mandatory governance principles introduced in June 2015, the ASC requires that all peak sports bodies appoint independent directors to their boards.

Under this standard, directors of bodies such as Athletics Australia and Cycling Australia cannot be employed by their organisations, nor hold “any other material office within the organisational structure”.

Directors are also required to avoid any “material conflict of interest as a result of being a director”.

According to Professor Bob Stewart from Victoria University of Technology, most of Australia’s peak sports bodies satisfy the requirement for independent directors.

However, Mr Coates and other directors of the AOC do not qualify as independent directors according to the commission’s test because several also hold paid executive roles.

Mr Coates has collected consulting fees worth more than $7 million since 2000. Photo: AAP

“The boards of most Australian sports organisations are filled by volunteer directors who focus on the strategic goals of the sport and that means they do not intrude into the day-to-day management,” Mr Stewart said.

“Mr Coates’ role as an executive chairman contravenes the structure recommended as best practice by the sports commission.

“Mr Coates’ role seems to be a complete anachronism when compared to other presidents of national sporting bodies.”

AOC supremo’s pay ‘very generous’

As revealed in The New Daily last week, Mr Coates has collected consulting fees worth more than $7 million since 2000.

Moreover, he is the highest-paid executive on the AOC payroll and his remuneration has been increasing as Australia’s performances since the Sydney Olympics have declined.

The Australian team won only 29 medals in Rio compared to 58 in Sydney 16 years ago.

Professor Stewart questioned the size of Mr Coates’ annual pay, saying that presidents of national sports were accustomed to merely recouping expenses for performing their roles.

“Mr Coates’ remuneration seems to be very generous in light of the position he holds as president.”

The AOC states in its annual report that it considers Mr Coates an “independent director” of the board because he is not chief executive of the organisation.

According to a governance statement included in the AOC annual report, Mr Coates’ annual pay is set by three other directors who sit on a remuneration panel.

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