Coates champions the women's cause on and off the arena
11 September 2015
SYDNEY 2000: As we celebrate the 15th anniversary of the Sydney 2000 Olympics the advancement of women in the Olympic Movement remains a priority for the President of the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC), John Coates.
Since the Sydney Games he has initiated rapid change on and off the arena, pushing for more women in management, around the board table, coaching and as senior officials on national teams as well as striving for gender equality for the athletes.
Prior to the Sydney Olympics he was instrumental in convincing the IOC to include more events for women. He fought for the inclusion of Women’s Water Polo for the first time. The Aussie girls repaid his support by winning the gold medal and a member of that Team, Simone Hankin, said "without the support of John Coates and the AOC we would have missed our chance to compete at the Olympics”.
Coates also campaigned for women to compete in Modern Pentathlon and Weightlifting in Sydney.
Women were also granted equal participation with men in Triathlon, Taekwondo, Synchronised Diving, Trampolining, the Hammer Throw and Pole Vault.
Female athlete numbers were also increased in Football and Indoor Volleyball to match that of their male counterparts.
Kevan Gosper, who is Australia’s longest serving IOC member, and a former IOC Vice President, recognises the contribution John Coates has made on behalf of women.
Gosper says “John was the driving force behind the selection of Cathy Freeman to light the Cauldron and John was also instrumental in a dramatic increase in the number of women's sports participating at the Sydney Games".
Coates also played a part in the selection of Australia's female "greats" to run the final lap of the Torch Relay in the Stadium including Raelene Boyle, Betty Cuthbert, Dawn Fraser, Shirley Strickland, Shane Gould, and Debbie Flintoff King.
"At the time we had a powerful supporter in President Samaranch who was also concerned about the ratio of men to women at the Olympics" Coates said.
At what Juan Antonio Samaranch proclaimed as “the best Games ever” Michael Knight and John Coates were responsible for the selection of Cathy Freeman to light the flame. For Coates it was fitting that they chose a woman and someone who is indigenous. He saw that event on 15 September 2000 as a great act of reconciliation for the Australian people.
“Cathy Freeman’s appearance on the world stage when she lit the cauldron at the Sydney 2000 Olympics signified Australia’s greatest act of reconciliation. 15 years on she continues to give so much to indigenous Australia and Australia itself ” Coates said.
A decade and a half later Kitty Chiller will lead the 2016 Australian Olympic Team to the Rio Games, the first time a woman has held the role of Chef de Mission.
Chiller, a member of the 2000 Australian Olympic Team in Modern Pentathlon, will head up a Team likely to number as many as 470 athletes and another 300 officials.
Also in 2016, Alisa Camplin will lead the Australian Team to the Winter Youth Olympic Games in Lillehammer, Norway, as the Chef de Mission. Alisa is a gold medallist in Aerial Skiing in Salt Lake City in 2002 and a bronze medallist in the same event at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino.
Her first taste of running an Australian Team came in 2012 when she was Chef de Mission at the first Winter Youth Olympic Games in Innsbruck.
Alisa has also been appointed Deputy Chef de Mission of the 2018 Australian Winter Olympic Team to compete in PyeongChang, South Korea.
In 2014, Olympic Swimming champion, Susie O’Neill, led our Team to the Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, China. Susie accepted the role as Chef de Mission after stepping aside as a member of the International Olympic Committee some years ago because of family commitments.
Her Youth Ambassador in Nanjing was the Olympic silver medallist in Canoeing, Jessica Fox.
“All of these women have been placed in charge of Olympic Teams because of their outstanding leadership qualities” Coates said .
The AOC Athlete’s Commission, is also headed by a woman. Two-time Olympic Rower, Kim Crow, a silver and bronze medallist in London in 2012, is the Chairperson. She is one of seven women on the eleven-member Commission.
Because of her role with the Athletes Commission, Crow is one of 13 members on the AOC Executive.
She is one of six females on the Executive. They are AOC Vice President, Helen Brownlee , Nicole Livingstone, Danielle Woodward, Kitty Chiller, Crow and Fiona de Jong. Prior to 2013 there were only two women on the AOC Executive. Coates who is passionate about gender equality pushed his sports to put more women forward and the result was a surge in female representation.
De Jong is the first woman to be appointed Secretary General of the AOC. Her title was recently changed to Chief Executive Officer (CEO) at the last Annual General Meeting. She had spent the ten years prior as the AOC Director of Sport which Coates felt was “the ideal preparation for her to assume the role of CEO”.
On the floor of the AOC offices in Sydney the number of women in key positions is growing. Jane Fernandez has joined the AOC as General Manager – Sport after her most recent very successful stint with the Asian Football Cup and Sue O’Donnell has become the Chief Financial Officer – Corporate Services and Governance.
The AOC employs 27 staff of whom 80% are women.
Women comprised 46% of the 2012 Australian Olympic Team in London. They won 57% of the medals.
At the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games the Australian Team achieved gender equality for the first time in history with 20 males and 20 females wearing the green and gold.
Four years later in Sochi the tables turned altogether. Female competitors outnumbered the males in the Australian Team. The 2014 Australian Winter Olympic Team comprised 31 females and 29 males. 51.6% female. And females won 66.6% of the medals in Sochi.
At the Summer Olympics the gap is narrowing. In 1972 in Munich the Team comprised 16% of females compared to the 46% in London forty years later. “I felt up until that point the women were being disadvantaged" Coates said.
The drive continues in Rio next year. Golf and Rugby return to the Olympic Program and women will compete in both sports for the first time at the Games.