Tokyo 2020: Australia’s Olympic chief John Coates denies publicly bullying Queensland premier

Australia’s Olympic Committee president John Coates has defended his outburst in a press conference which appeared to bully the premier of Queensland into attending the Tokyo Olympics’ opening ceremony.

Coates was speaking after Queensland’s capital city, Brisbane, was awarded the rights to host the 2032 Olympic Games when he publicly ordered the state’s political head Annastacia Palaszczuk to attend the ceremony in Tokyo on Friday night, despite her reluctance to do so amid the pandemic which has forced the Japanese capital into a state of emergency.

With around 13 million people locked down in Australia due to Covid-19 outbreaks, Palaszczuk was criticised by home media for travelling to Tokyo this week as a representative of Brisbane’s bid for the 2032 Olympics. She had said she would not attend any events while in Tokyo apart from the bid team’s presentation to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) session on Wednesday, and would confine herself to her hotel.

However, her resolve crumbled in an awkward exchange with Coates as he forcefully put his point across.

“You are going to the opening ceremony,” Coates said at the media conference, which initially responded with laughter but soon fell quiet.

“I am still the deputy chair of the candidature leadership group. And so far as I understand, there will be an opening and a closing ceremony in 2032, and all of you have got to get along there and understand the traditional parts of that, what’s involved in an opening ceremony. So none of you are staying and hiding in your rooms, all right.”

Palaszczuk replied: “I don’t want to offend anybody, so…”

Coates continued: “You’ve never been to an opening ceremony have you? You don’t know the protocols, I think it’s a very important lesson for everyone here. Opening ceremonies cost in the order of $75m to $100m, it’s a major exercise for any organising committee. It’s my very strong recommendation that the premier and the lord mayor and the minister be there and understand it.”

In a statement released by the Australian Olympic Committee, Coates said that his comments had been “completely misinterpreted by people who weren’t in the room”.

“The premier and I have a long standing and very successful relationship. We both know the spirit of my remarks and I have no indication that she was offended in any way,” he added.

Coates, one of the IOC’s most powerful executives, played a key role in securing the 2032 Games. It was his plans for a new selected-city format which meant Brisbane was virtually unopposed in its run to victory in the bidding process.

Appearing on an Australian breakfast TV show on Thursday, Palaszczuk was clear about her instructions. “I’m going to do whatever John Coates tells me to do,” she said. “I am not going to offend the International Olympic Committee now that we have been awarded the Games.”

Additional reporting by PA

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.