Thanks Mr Coates, but if anyone is going to boss around our politicians, it should be us

He might be one of the most powerful people in sports, but long-time Olympics boss John Coates needs to remember that the 2032 Games belong to us all, not just the elite, writes Madonna King

Feb 15, 2024, updated Feb 15, 2024
John Coates looks on during an Australian Olympic Committee event to celebrate One Year to Go to the Paris 2024 Olympic Games at the Qantas Campus in Sydney, Wednesday, July 26, 2023. (AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts)

John Coates looks on during an Australian Olympic Committee event to celebrate One Year to Go to the Paris 2024 Olympic Games at the Qantas Campus in Sydney, Wednesday, July 26, 2023. (AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts)

Someone needs to put Olympic heavyweight John Coates in his place.

And it would be wonderful to see Labor premier Steven Miles and Liberal Lord Mayor Adrian Schrinner join political hands to do just that.

Coates has been part of the Olympic movement since Adam met Eve, and there’s no doubt, as a sports administrator, he is mightily experienced.

But he doesn’t run Queensland. Indeed, he doesn’t even live here. He’s not registered to vote here, and he’s not entitled to boss the State’s elected leaders around like they are his personal ball boys in a tennis match.

His intervention in the review of the Games master plan – being led by former Brisbane Lord Mayor Graham Quirk – is a pointer to how he sees his role eight years out from the Games’ Opening Ceremony.

And it should be nipped in the bud before his view is seen as the presiding view; dominating other considerations which are entirely unrelated to the Games – but instrumental to the future of our State.

Coates’ homilies – on the Gabba or anything else he wants to talk about – might be the educated view of a brilliant sports administrator, or at least one who has been involved in umpteen Olympic Games.

But the job of Steven Miles and Adrian Schrinner is much broader; they work for the state’s voters and Brisbane’s ratepayers, and will be judged – come this year’s elections – on more than a two-week party in 2032.

Quirk’s 60-day review of the Games plan, including the proposed Gabba demolition and rebuild, is instrumental to how we move forward.

Coates determination – that we dump it, stage the Opening and Closing ceremonies at Suncorp Stadium and the athletics event at QE11 – is just the view of a single stakeholder.

It might even be the right decision. Certainly bringing entertainment guru Harvey Lister ’s venues -and experience – into the mix makes good sense.

But Coates’ approach to how the Games are staged, and the role he should play, is what is at issue here – not his view on any one part of it.

And we were alerted to how he saw his position early on, when in July 2021 he ordered then premier Annastacia Palaszczuk at a Brisbane 2032 press conference to attend the 2020 Summer Olympics opening ceremony – despite her declining the invitation.

“You are going to the Opening ceremony,’’ he told Palaszczuk at the press conference. “I am still the deputy chair of the candidature leadership group. So far as I understand, there will be an opening and a closing ceremony in 2032.”

And he didn’t stop there. “All of you are going to get along there and understand the traditional parts of that, what’s involved in an opening ceremony, so none of you are staying behind and hiding in your rooms, all right?”

That episode – where he thought he had the power to order the then Premier to do something counter to her wishes and admonish her publicly as if she was a naughty child – was as offensive as it was humiliating. And it was criticised widely as appalling, arrogant, condescending and patronising.

He shouldn’t try and suggest Steven Miles attend the Paris Games.

His latest entree into the Games review shows the same thuggish approach. He knows he is more likely to lock in the decision he wants – and take consideration away from others’ views – by making his comments loud, dogmatic and public.

But he needs to remember this. He is unelected to any leadership position in this state. He is not dealing with a youth crime epidemic, that swamps the Games in terms of voter priorities.

He is not responsible for finding a solution to ambulance ramping, or the shortage we have in teachers. He won’t be tied to any stuff-ups or delays in transport infrastructure. And he doesn’t have to source the funding labour needed for other projects, as big as his Games.

And his attitude might just be part of the reason the Games are “on the nose’’, as he says, in the city that will stage them in 2032.

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