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Coates pays tribute to Gough Whitlam and his Sydney 2000 role

21 October 2014

AOC: Among the many triumphs Gough Whitlam had during his life, the former Prime Minister played a vital role in winning the 2000 Olympic Games bid for Sydney- an event that shaped the nation. 

Upon news of Whitlam’s passing, aged 98, Australian Olympic Committee President, John Coates, has paid tribute to the Whitlam legacy. 

“Gough was a remarkable man and he and his late wife Margaret worked tirelessly in helping Sydney win,” Coates said. 

In 1993, Sydney narrowly defeated Beijing 45-43 in the final round of International Olympic Committee (IOC) voting to win the right to host the 2000 Olympic Games. 

A few months earlier, Gough and Margaret travelled with Coates and a small delegation on the ‘African Mission’ to 13 countries in 30 days, campaigning for Sydney. 

“It was a very hectic schedule and it was far from five star accommodation as we met with Presidents, Prime Ministers as well as IOC members," Coates explained.

 “Both were in their 70’s and it was not an easy trip. We did not stay longer than two days in any place.”

Whitlam was admired by many in Africa. Only six days after becoming Prime Minister in 1972, he said that no more racially selected sports teams would be coming to Australia, or even allowed passage to New Zealand through Australia.  

During their legendary visit, the Australian delegation enjoyed a private meeting with Nelson Mandela. 

“The trip they made to Africa made all the difference and we won by two votes. The previous bids by Brisbane and Melbourne lacked key African support and the Whitlams were instrumental in Sydney gaining at least six or seven votes on that trip,” Coates said.

Gough and Margaret also hosted African IOC Members visiting Sydney ahead of the vote and were in Monte Carlo in September 1993 as part of the Sydney Bid Team when Juan Antonio Samaranch declared: “the winner is Sydney.” 

“We will forever be indebted to Gough and Margaret for the role they played in helping Sydney win and the impact that had on so many athletes and Australians,” Coates said.

Margaret Whitlam (nee Dovey) represented Australia in swimming at the Empire Games in Sydney in 1938. She was an Australian breastroke champion in 1937 and looked set to compete at the 1940 Olympic Games if they had not been cancelled because of the war.

The thoughts of the Australian Olympic Committee are with the family and friends of Gough Whitlam.

AOC

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