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AOC boss John Coates orders Annastacia Palaszczuk to attend Olympic ceremony

  • ‘You are going,’ Queensland premier told in press conference
  • Palaszczuk had previously said she would not attend
The head of the Australian Olympic Committee John Coates and the Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczu in Tokyo.
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Annastacia Palaszczuk ordered to attend Tokyo opening ceremony by AOC boss John Coates – video
in Tokyo

First published on Wed 21 Jul 2021 18.32 EDT

The Australian Olympic Committee president, John Coates, says comments he made ordering the Queensland premier to attend the Tokyo Games opening ceremony have been “completely misinterpreted”.

At a press conference just hours after Queensland won the hosting rights for the 2032 Games on Wednesday, Coates insisted that Annastacia Palaszczuk should attend Friday’s showpiece event in the Japanese capital.

Palaszczuk had previously said she would not attend the ceremony amid growing domestic concern about her international trip. But Coates – also vice president of the International Olympic Committee – issued a stern rebuke with Palaszczuk sitting next to him.

“You are going to the opening ceremony,” Coates said. “I am still the deputy chair of the candidature leadership group [for the 2032 bid]. 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 tradition parts of that, what’s involved in an opening ceremony.

“None of you are staying behind hiding in your rooms, all right?”

Coates issued a statement via the AOC on Thursday, confirming he expected Palaszczuk to attend the event, but also stating the premier understood the “spirit” of his remarks.

“My comments regarding the premier and the opening ceremony have been completely misinterpreted by people who weren’t in the room,” Coates said.

“Absolutely I believe the premier should come to the opening ceremony and she has accepted. I am thrilled about that. Attending the opening ceremony has always been her choice.”

Coates said he had a “long-standing and very successful relationship” with Palaszczuk. “We both know the spirit of my remarks and I have no indication that she was offended in any way. Those in doubt should ask her.”

The premier’s office has been contacted for comment.

At the press conference, Palaszczuk sought to laugh off Coates’ comments, saying “I don’t want to offend anybody”.

But Coates doubled down. “You’ve never been to the opening ceremony of an Olympic Games have you? You don’t know the protocols. I think it’s a very important lesson for everyone here. The opening ceremonies cost in the order of $75-100m – it’s a major exercise for any organising committee, it puts the stamp on the Games, it’s very important to the broadcasters that follow.

“I think, it’s my very strong recommendation that the premier, lord mayor and minister be there and understand it.”

Palaszczuk sought to further downplay the incident on Thursday morning. She said she would now attend the event, alongside the Brisbane lord mayor, Adrian Schrinner, and the federal sports minister, Richard Colbeck.

“I’ve known John for years,” she told the ABC.

“So what’s happened now is that the lord mayor and the federal minister and I are expected to go. So I will leave that to John Coates and Thomas Bach. But let me make it clear – I am not going to offend anyone now that we’ve just been awarded the Games.”

Palaszczuk said there was no issue between her and Coates despite the press conference exchange. She said he had been “fantastic” in his role in bringing the 2032 Games to Queensland.

“If we didn’t have John Coates, this would not have happened,” she said. “John Coates has been the driving force behind us securing the Olympics.”

Public reaction to the exchange in Australia was less forgiving of the IOC vice president.

The former chief executive officer of Swimming Australia Leigh Russell said the exchange was “disgusting” and “yet another example of how women are treated in sport”.

Former federal MP Tony Windsor said on Twitter that Coates was “an embarrassment to our country”.

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Palaszczuk’s trip to Tokyo has generated much controversy in Australia. She has been one of the premiers to support a major cut to the travel caps that are preventing Australians stranded abroad from returning home. A petition calling on the federal government to deny Palaszczuk a travel exemption garnered 120,000 signatures.

A spokesperson for the AOC declined to comment further when approached by Guardiane Australia, saying that Coates had been “accurately quoted”.

Coates is a major powerbroker in the world of international sport and is considered the second most powerful member of the IOC movement, behind only the IOC president, Thomas Bach. A rower and lawyer by background, Coates helped secure Australia’s second Olympics in Sydney two decades ago.

The Tokyo incident is not the first time the 71-year-old has courted controversy. In 2017 he refused to shake hands with the then-chair of the Australian Sports Commission John Wylie.

Coates was fighting off a challenge to his AOC presidency for the first time in 27 years from Hockeyroos gold medallist Danielle Roche. Coates triumphed but promised to retire in 2022.

It is expected he will remain involved in the 2032 organising committee in his retirement.

- Additional reporting by Ben Smee