In sport, winners can be losers and losers winners. So it is with the Australian Olympic Committee presidency.
John Coates won. But lost his supreme rule.
Danni Roche lost. But won real reform.
Coates was the victor in a bruising battle – the final score was 58-35, a seemingly comfortable result. Coates’ tenure continues and he’ll be AOC president for at least 30 years.
But the AOC is no longer a matter of what coach Coates says, goes. In sports parlance, the reigning champ, Coach Coates, got a mighty fright from the underdog, Roche.
In a muddied match, coach Coates – mid-game – lost his key player, media director Mike Tancred. The proven performer was felled by a surprise blow from outside the boundary from spectator Fiona de Jong, the ex-AOC chief.
Tancred took a hit for his beloved coach and went to the bench after De Jong made some some timely tackles – or untimely, depending who you support.
De Jong wasn’t even named on the teamsheets in this power play. But she earns three votes for her influence: timing was precise, delivery pinpoint. The Tancred shirtfront bruised coach Coates.
Amid the mud-slinging, challenger Roche worked at the base of the packs. She found an opening here, was blocked by staunch opponents there.
But Roche was spirited – in sport’s language of mixed metaphors she was always kicking against the wind but left nothing in the tank.
Roche fell short of an upset victory but felt, in part, a winner with her sour bout with coach Coates “a pivotal moment in Australian sport”.
“There is clearly a strong desire for change,” said Roche, adding sports now felt empowered to tackle coach Coates.
He still has the bulk of his first-choice team available – his loyal deputies (Helen Brownlee and Ian Chesterman) kept their vice-presidencies.
And pro-Coates players (Kitty Chiller, Matt Allen, Mark Arbib, Craig Carracher, Evelyn Halls) are on the executive team.
At fulltime, Coach Coates shook hands with Roche. No hard feelings. And what is said on the field, stays on the field.
“I’m not getting in to any blame. The election is over,” Coates said.
“What I might have said, what others said about me – that is over. Just move forward.”