In 1892, Richard Coombes, a founder of the NSW Amateur Athletics Association, together with Leonard Cuff, a founder of the New Zealand Amateur Athletics Association, organised the first Australasian track and field championships in Melbourne.
Months later, Cuff took a New Zealand track and field team to Paris where he met with Baron Pierre de Coubertin and Charles Herbert, Secretary of the England Amateur Athletic Association.
As a result of this meeting, Coubertin invited Cuff to a congress in Paris in early 1894 where the re-birth of the Olympic Games was considered. Prior to the meeting and at Herbert’s suggestion, documents were circulated to Coombes and Basil Parkinson, a founder of the Victorian Amateur Athletics Association.
Cuff informed Coubertin that he was unable to attend the congress and asked Herbert to represent the interests of Australasian sports. It was at this meeting where a decision was made to revive the Olympic Games in Athens in 1896.
Cuff was appointed to the International Olympic Committee (IOC), representing Australasia, a position he held until his resignation in 1905 whereupon Coombes was named his successor.
In the lead-up to the Games in Athens, Edwin Flack was working and studying accountancy in London. Cuff wrote to Coubertin in February 1896 advising “I do not think there is any chance of Australasia being represented at the Games in Athens”.
However, Flack had a plan to compete if he could muster adequate leave from his employer to travel and compete in Athens. With approval granted, Flack made the six-day journey by land and sea to Athens where he went on to win the 800m and 1500m events to be crowned the “Lion of Athens”.
Significantly, it marked the beginning of Australia’s unbroken representation at the Olympic Games. Along with Greece, Australia is one of only two countries to have sent athletes to every Olympic Games.
Four years later, Freddy Lane (swimming) and Stanley Rowley (athletics) represented Australia at the 1900 Paris Olympic Games where Lane won the 200m freestyle and the 200m obstacle race. Rowley returned to Australia with three bronze medals and he also made up the numbers in the Great Britain team which won gold in the 5000m team race.
Australia was represented by two athletes at the 1904 St Louis Olympic Games, where no medals were won, before 27 Australian athletes were part of the Australasia team, which also featured three New Zealanders, at the 1908 London Olympic Games.
And the rugby team, comprising all Australian players, came home with a gold medal. Schoolboy Frank Beaurepaire, who was to become a grand supporter of the Australian Olympic movement , won silver and bronze medals in the pool.
Twenty- two Australian athletes were also part of the Australasia team at the 1912 Stockholm Olympic Games which for the first time included two females, swimmers Sarah “Fanny” Durack and Mina Wylie.
Renown as somewhat rebellious, Durack earned gold in the women’s 100m freestyle, with Wylie in second place. The men’s 4x200m freestyle team of Cecil Healy, Harold Hardwick, Les Boardman and New Zealander, Malcolm Champion also won gold.
With the Olympic movement gaining momentum, Olympic councils were established in NSW, Victoria, Queensland, Tasmania, South Australia and New Zealand. The Olympic Federation of Australia and New Zealand (OFANZ) was formed in 1914 to comply with IOC regulations and allow an Australasian team to compete at the 1916 Olympics planned for Berlin.
However, New Zealand, which had been agitating since 1911 to have its Olympic independence, walked out of the meeting and no OFANZ President was elected. World War I then broke out and although the OFANZ was formed, it had no real existence.
After the war ended in November 1918, Coombes successfully argued to the IOC in the following year that Australasia should be split into Australia and New Zealand as Olympic nations.
On April 29, 1920, the federated Australian Olympic Council was formed and James “Pa” Taylor was elected President – a position he was to hold until his death in 1944.
George Shand acted as the council’s Secretary in 1920, before Ossie Merrett was voted Secretary-Treasurer in 1921, until 1925.
In 1920, the first Australia-only Olympic team competed at the Antwerp Games. Australia sent a 13-member team winning two silver medals and a bronze.
In August 1923, the Australian Olympic Council changed its name to the Australian Olympic Federation (AOF) – an identity it was to hold until June 19, 1990 when it was re-named the Australian Olympic Committee.
After it was formed, one of the Australian Olympic Council’s chief tasks was raising funds to send teams to Olympics – just as it is today.
Thirty-seven athletes comprised the Merrett-led Australian team for the 1924 Paris Olympic Games where Andrew “Boy” Charlton commenced Australia’s proud 1500m freestyle gold medal history, Richmond “Dick’ Eve captured the plain highboard diving, and Anthony “Nick” Winter was first in the hop, step and jump, now known as the triple jump.
In 1924, the Olympic Winter Games commenced with 16 participating nations. But it wasn’t until the 1936 Winter Olympics in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany that Australia was represented, albeit by a single athlete, speed skater Kenneth Kennedy.
Upon Merrett’s premature death in 1925, he was succeeded as Secretary-Treasurer by Jim Eve, brother of Dick Eve who won diving gold in Paris. Jim Eve held the position until he retired in 1947. He was later a member of the Organising Committee for the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games.
At the 1928 Amsterdam Olympic Games, rower Henry “Bobby” Pearce won Australia’s only gold medal, in the single sculls, and he successfully defended the title at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics. Other gold medals in 1932 were won by cyclist Edgar “Dunc” Gray in the 1000m time trial, and by Clare Dennis in the 200m breaststroke.
The Australian Government made contributions to send the Australian team to the 1920, 1924 and 1928 Olympic Games, but was unable to assist towards funding the Australian team to compete at Los Angeles in 1932 because of the Great Depression.
The 1936 Winter Olympics and the Olympic Games were staged in the highly politically charged environment of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany.
Controversy raged whether the Berlin Games should proceed or not. Australia agreed to send a team and came home with one bronze medal.
Inevitably, World War II broke out and the 1940 and 1944 Olympic Games, awarded first to Tokyo and then Helsinki, and London respectively, were cancelled. It wasn’t until London in 1948 that the four-year Olympic cycle resumed.
Winning the bid and hosting the Melbourne Games
When peace was finally restored across Europe and in the Pacific, the Victorian Olympic Council held its first meeting in June 1946 where it resolved that Australia, in particular Melbourne, should bid for the 1956 Olympic Games. The motion was endorsed by the AOF and was formally transmitted to the IOC on July 1, 1946.
Support for the bid was received by the Lord Mayor of Melbourne, Sir Raymond Connelly, and a former Lord Mayor, Sir Frank Beaurepaire, a three-time Olympian at the 1908, 1920 and 1924 Games. They proved to be powerful allies.
The AOF held its first full post-war meeting in April 1947 and Acting Chairman Harry Alderson was elected the new Chairman, succeeding James Taylor who had died in 1944. The meeting also appointed Edgar Tanner as Secretary-Treasurer following the retirement of Jim Eve after he had served 22 years in the role.
Melbourne Invitation Committee members Beaurepaire, Connelly and Sir Harold Luxton, Australia’s IOC member, attended the 1948 London Olympics where John Winter won gold in the high jump and Merv Wood clinched victory in the single sculls. Along with Tanner, who was the Australian team manager, they used the Games to lobby IOC members to secure the vote for Melbourne.
There was fierce competition for the 1956 Olympic Games with six cities from the United States contesting the vote – Detroit, Philadelphia, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Minneapolis – plus Buenos Aires and Mexico City.
The IOC vote was held in Rome on April 28, 1949 and Philadelphia, Chicago, San Francisco and Minneapolis were all eliminated on the first ballot. The final vote from the 41 IOC delegates came down to Melbourne and Buenos Aires.
The votes were tied at 20-all when the scrutineer, Prince Axel of Denmark, opened the final ballot paper, read it, kissed it and announced “Melbourne”. It was later reported that that vote was cast by the Philippines. It was the first time the Games were to be held in the southern hemisphere.
In October 1949, the AOF established the Melbourne Olympic Games Organising Committee.
Beaurepaire was named the Chairman and Tanner was appointed Secretary and the Committee held its first meeting on November 12, 1949. Prime Minister Robert Menzies was named President of the Games.
After four years of debate and disputes over the site for the main Olympic Stadium, the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) was finally announced as the venue in February 1953. Alternative sites were also considered, but the MCG was recognised by many as the finest sports stadium and equipped with the necessary parking and transport facilities.
Although the site for the main stadium had been settled, preparation for the Games were affected by industrial disputes, political wrangling and late changes. In 1955, IOC President, Avery Brundage, expressed his displeasure with Games planning and Philadelphia offered itself to be a replacement host.
The threats sparked new levels of co-operation and, by mid-1956, Brundage was satisfied that the Melbourne Olympics could be successfully held.
While preparations for Melbourne continued, Australia sent a team of 85 competitors to the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki and the team returned a record haul of six gold, two silver and three bronze medals.
The Games heralded the commencement of a golden era in women’s track and field with the “Lithgow Flash” Marjorie Jackson winning the 100m and 200m gold medal double, and Shirley Strickland de la Hunty winning the 80m hurdles and a bronze in the 100m behind Jackson. Only a faulty baton change in the 4x100m relay, where Winsome Cripps knee dislodged the baton from Jackson’s hand at the final exchange, denied Australia another gold medal.
Russell Mockridge won a pair of cycling gold medals in the 1000m time trial and when partnering Lionel Cox in the 2000m tandem, and John Davies topped the medal dais in the 200m breaststroke.
When the Opening Ceremony for Melbourne 1956 took place, Australia was consumed by excitement and expectation. Ron Clarke famously lit the Olympic cauldron, John Landy recited the Olympic oath on behalf of the athletes, and Merv Wood carried the Australian flag in front of a 323 strong team.
Strickland de la Hunty successfully defended her 80m hurdles gold medal and added another in the 4x100m relay. Betty Cuthbert took over Jackson’s “Golden Girl” mantle to win both the 100m and 200m and, together with her gold medal in the 4x100m relay, she became the first Australian, man or woman, to win three gold medals at a single Olympic Games. Other members of the relay team were Norma Croker and Fleur Mellor.
In the pool, Australia saw the emergence of Murray Rose and Dawn Fraser with Rose winning three gold in the 400m freestyle and 1500m freestyle plus the 4x200m freestyle relay along with squad members John Devitt, Jon Henricks, Kevin O’Halloran, Murray Garretty, Graham Hamilton and Gary Chapman.
Henricks earned a second gold medal when winning the 100m freestyle, from Devitt and Chapman. David Theile triumphed in the 100m backstroke.
Fraser won the 100m freestyle and the 4x100m freestyle relay with the other squad members Lorraine Crapp, Faith Leech, Sandra Morgan, Elizabeth Fraser and Margaret Gibson. Crapp won a second gold in the women’s 400m freestyle. Like the men’s 100m freestyle, Australia finished 1–2 –3 with Fraser, Crapp and Leech. At the velodrome, Ian Browne and Anthony Marchant combined to win the 2000m tandem.
By the end of the Games, Australia had won 35 medals, comprising 13 gold, eight silver and 14 bronze.
The Games also saw TV rights being negotiated for the first time. Wilfrid Kent Hughes, who replaced Beaurepaire as Chairman of the Organising Committee in 1951, believed the Olympic movement must safeguard the interests of future Games. The live television audience for the Melbourne Games numbered 5,000.
“Experience has shown that sporting events of all kinds are one of TV’s greatest attractions, and this year’s Olympic series is one first that raises the possibility of televising the Games to vast audiences,” said Hughes.
Hughes’ foresight has since proven to provide the IOC with its greatest source of income.
The Melbourne Olympics were an undoubtedly magnificent success and the Closing Ceremony was a particular highlight. It was a letter written by John Ian Wing, an Australian-born boy of Chinese descent, who suggested that competing athletes of all nations not march but walk freely, intermingled.
Robert Menzies later wrote in the Official Games Report: “On the first day they had all marched as competitors in their national teams, preserving their national identity, headed by their national flags.
On the last day, they went around the arena as men and women who had learned to be friends, who had broken down some of the barriers of language, of strangeness, of private prejudices.”
A special legacy was born and remains a feature of the Games today.
Through the Sixties
Australia enjoyed a post-Melbourne golden glow when the 1960 Olympic Games were held in Rome.
Fraser, Rose and Theile successfully defended their 100m freestyle, 400m freestyle and 100m backstroke gold medals respectively.
John Devitt won the 100m freestyle in controversial circumstances, Herb Elliott captured gold by the then greatest margin in history in the 1500m, John Konrads was triumphant in the 1500m freestyle.
After suffering a broken shoulder, a dislocated collarbone, and concussion after being thrown from his horse in the cross country stage of the three-day event, equestrian Bill Roycroft courageously left his hospital bed the next day against his doctors' advice to assist in clinching the three-day event team gold medal. His team-mates were Laurie Morgan, who simultaneously earned another gold in the individual category of the event, Neale Lavis, the silver medallist in the individual event, and Brian Crago.
It was the first of five Olympic campaigns for Roycroft, and the family’s deep Olympic association continued in the decades to follow with his sons Wayne, Barry and Clarke all winning Olympic team selection, along with Wayne’s wife Vicki.
Against this backdrop of eight gold, eight silver and six bronze medals, controversy stirred.
Fraser clashed with swim team officials and with team-mates, and Elliott’s eccentric coach Percy Cerutty was taken into police custody when he jumped the moat surrounding the track as Elliott dashed to the lead on the way to winning his gold medal. It was a pre-cursor for other incidents which followed the pair four years later at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.
For several Games prior, rival nations had selected coaches as official team members, but is wasn’t until the AOF’s first meeting after the Rome Olympics in 1961 that paved the way for individual coaches to be officially recognised on team staff.
Athletes’ coaches, such as Cerutty, were not officially recognised and they used a wide range of subterfuge to gain access to competition sites and the athletes’ Village. An AOF-appointed panel sought feedback from the member sports unions whether coaches and doctors should be appointed at the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games.
Hence, Tokyo 1964 Games saw a major breakthrough with the official appointment of coaches. Swim coaches, Don Talbot and Terry Gathercole, were the first-ever officially sanctioned Australian team coaches, and Howard Toyne and Barrie Towers were appointed team doctors.
Australia took a 253-member team to Tokyo – its biggest-ever team outside Melbourne 1956 – and returned with six gold, two silver and 10 bronze medals.
Betty Cuthbert had retired after Rome but opted to return and focus on the 400m and came away with a remarkable gold medal. Dawn Fraser’s 100m freestyle victory saw her become the first athlete to win the same individual event at three successive Olympic Games.
Three more gold medals were won in the pool by Kevin Berry in the 200m butterfly, Ian O’Brien in the 200m breaststroke, and Bob Windle in the 1500m freestyle. Windle’s victory saw an Australian winning the event for a third successive Games.
The 5.5 metre class sailing crew of Bill Northam, Peter O’Donnell and James “Dick’ Sargeant earned the remaining gold medal. At 59 years of age, skipper Northam, became Australia’s oldest gold medal recipient.
Despite medal successes, the Games were also remembered for contributing to a 10-year ban of Fraser by the Australian Swimming Union. Other swimmers were also banned, and Fraser’s was later reduced to four years, but the ban ended any hopes of a fourth gold medal in Mexico City in 1968.
In Tokyo, Fraser had again clashed with team management over her desire to march in the Opening Ceremony and for refusing to wear the officially supplied team swimsuit. She was also detained by police, along with hockey player Des Piper and Toyne, when souveniring an Olympic flag.
Prior to the Tokyo Olympics, Australia was shocked by the death of skier Ross Milne who died when hitting a tree during a downhill practice run prior to the Winter Olympics in Innsbruck. Devastated team-mate, Peter Brockhoff, withdrew from the event.
The IOC later questioned Milne’s experience, but team manager John Wagner vehemently disagreed saying the accident was a result of over-crowding on the practice slope, and Milne was attempting to slow down to avoid a collision on a section of the course which was “not prepared for slowing or swinging”.
Milne’s brother Malcolm later represented Australia at the 1968 Grenoble and 1972 Sapporo Winter Olympics.
In the lead-up to the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games, the importance of sports medicine began to emerge. It had been slow progress to this point.
In 1965, Toyne had begun to consider the challenges athletes would face when competing at high altitude. The Mexico City Olympics were to be held at over 7,000 feet above sea level. The AOF were unconvinced, with two senior delegates, Bill Berge Phillips and Hugh Weir, dismissing the effects as “nonsense”. Regardless, Toyne powered on and conducted athletic research 6,000 feet above sea level at Falls Creek in Victoria where many athletes, including middle-distance runner Ralph Doubell, participated.
The selection of Australian teams had, for decades, been a topic of controversy with AOF sports delegates pressing the claims of their own sport. A special committee reported to the AOF that the teams that attended Rome and Tokyo were too large and too many athletes were not up to world standard.
The committee reported “the inclusion of a promising competitor in the team for the purpose of gaining international experience cannot be justified”.
This resulted in the AOF agreeing to limit the size of the Mexico City team to 180 athletes and officials, which instigated a verbal brawl with the Australian Swimming Union who wanted to include a men’s water polo team. The issue was only settled after the IOC backed the AOF’s decision.
Australia won five gold medals with Mike Wenden capturing the 100m and 200m freestyle double, Lyn McClements added a third swimming gold in the 100m butterfly, while Doubell and Maureen Caird triumphed on the track in the 800m and 80m hurdles respectively.
The Games were also remembered by Ron Clarke dramatically collapsing after finishing the 10,000m, and Peter Norman winning the silver medal in the 200m where two black Americans, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, controversially saluted the crowd with a clenched black-gloved fist, signifying black strength and unity, when the US anthem was played after the medal presentation.
When Norman died in 2006, Smith and Carlos led the pallbearers at his funeral in Melbourne in acknowledgment and gratitude for his showing solidarity with them on the podium at Mexico City.
In 2018, Norman was awarded the AOC’s Order of Merit, and a bronze statue depicting him on the Mexico City podium was unveiled at the Albert Park athletics track in Melbourne.
Terrorism, boycotts and bids
The 1972 Munich Olympic Games will forever be tainted by the senseless massacre of 11 Israeli athletes and a coach by Palestinian terrorists after they attacked the Athletes Village. Thankfully, the 173 athletes in the Australian contingent were all unharmed. Later, IOC President, Avery Brundage, declared “The Games must go on”, and they did but with a heavy pall.
Shane Gould emerged as one of Australia’s greatest-ever Olympians when winning the gold medals in the 200m freestyle, 400m freestyle and 200m individual medley, silver in the 800m freestyle and bronze in the 100m freestyle. Her total of five individual medals was one better than the four gold medals won by USA’s Mark Spitz.
Three more gold medals were won were won in the pool by Gail Neall in the 400m individual medley, Beverley Whitfield in the 200m breaststroke and Brad Cooper in the 400m freestyle. Initially, Cooper had finished runner-up to USA’s Rick DeMont but eventually received the gold medal when DeMont, was disqualified after testing positive to an asthma tablet which contained ephedrine.
Australia’s two other gold medals were won in sailing with the Dragon class crew of John Cuneo, Tom Anderson, and John Shaw successful, while David Forbes and John Anderson, Tom’s twin brother, combined perfectly to capture victory in the Star class.
The Games also saw the emergence of East Germany as a medal-winning heavyweight. History now shows a state-sponsored illegal doping program largely contributed to its success. A notable victim of this doping regime was Raelene Boyle, who was second in the 100m and 200m sprints behind Renate Stecher.
Australia ended the Games with 17 medals – eight gold, seven silver and two bronze.
The 1970’s also saw sweeping changes within the AOF.
In 1973, Sir Harold Alderson retired and was replaced by Sir Edgar Tanner as President, while Julius “Judy” Patching was elected Secretary-Treasurer.
Alderson’s 29-year term as President was the longest in Australian Olympic history, until it was surpassed this year by John Coates, while Patching proved to be arguably the best-ever AOC Secretary-Treasurer and enjoyed strong relationships with all athletes. He was also the team Chef de Mission at Mexico City 1968 and Munich 1972.
In 1974, Lewis Luxton resigned as an IOC member and was replaced by three-time fencing Olympian, David McKenzie. In the following year, Australia’s other IOC member, Hugh Weir, who was made an AOF Life Member five months earlier, passed away. Kevan Gosper eventually took on the IOC vacancy in 1977.
Tanner’s Presidency lasted four years but he was beaten in a ballot by Syd Grange in 1977. Tanner had given 30 years’ service to the AOF.
With a new guard at the helm of the AOF, more significant changes were on the horizon.
Australia competed at the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games and, for the first time in 40 years, failed to claim a gold medal. The team returned with one silver and four bronze medals despite 22 nations boycotting the Games in protest against the New Zealand All Blacks rugby union tour of South Africa.
The outcry over Australia’s declining performances led to the creation of the Federal Government-funded Australian Institute of Sport which was eventually opened on a 66-hectare site in the Canberra suburb of Bruce in 1981. The institute was first proposed to the Whitlam Government in 1973, and the poor results in Montreal underlined the need to establish the high-performance sports facility.
Moscow was to stage the 1980 Olympic Games but in December 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan to shore up the newly-established pro-Soviet regime in Kabul. Nearly 100,000 Soviet soldiers took control of major cities and highways.
US President, Jimmy Carter, had urged the US Olympic Committee to boycott the upcoming Olympic Games if the Soviet Union did not withdraw its troops. Australian Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser, also believed the best way to express opposition to the Soviet invasion was by not sending an Australian team to Moscow.
The IOC voted unanimously that the Games would proceed, but strong public pressure was placed on the AOF and Australian athletes not to attend.
After months of lobbying, threats and hostile debate, the 11-member AOF executive met on May 23, 1980 to make a final decision whether or not to send a team.
With the voting tied at five-all, the deciding vote was down to Lewis Luxton, who had retained his AOF executive membership because of his honorary IOC membership. Luxton had intended to vote in favour of Australia not attending the Games but changed his mind after Prime Minister Fraser phoned him earlier in the morning and applied pressure.
Another factor was Melbourne’s bid for the 1988 Olympics which many believed would have been undermined had Australia agreed to a Moscow boycott.
The arguments whether to attend the Games created divisions within the Olympic movement in Australia. Even though he voted against the sending of a team to Moscow, Syd Grange, in his role as President, worked tirelessly to support the final group of athletes who opted to attend the Games and he also worked determinedly, along with Patching, to help mend the fences that had been broken as a result of the bitter debate.
Following the votes, several individual athletes and AOC member-sports federations opted not to attend the Games and Australia, under the guidance of Chef de Mission Phil Coles, was eventually represented by a team of 124 athletes who marched in the Opening Ceremony behind the Olympic flag, carried jointly by Denise Boyd and Max Metzker. Ultimately, the presence of the Australian team at the Games, highlighted the independence of the AOF.
Australia returned home with nine medals with both gold medals won in the pool – Michelle Ford in the 800m freestyle and the men’s 4x100 medley relay which was famously known for Norman May’s excited “Gold. Gold for Australia, gold” call on ABC TV as the team of Neil Brooks, Peter Evans, Mark Tonelli, and Mark Kerry claimed victory. Glen Patching had swum in the heats in place of Kerry.
The AOF had endorsed a Melbourne bid to host the 1988 Olympics but this was scuppered in 1981 when both the Federal and Victorian Governments announced they would not provide any financial support. The Australian bid was subsequently withdrawn.
Later in the year, the AOF was rocked by the mysterious death of IOC member McKenzie in Hawaii. McKenzie had established a good relationship with IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch, and many believed he could ultimately attain the IOC Presidency. Phil Coles was later named as his IOC replacement.
The 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles saw the Soviet Union and most Eastern Bloc countries refuse to attend citing that athlete safety couldn’t be guaranteed. Others believed it was in direct response to the US boycott of the Moscow Games.
The Australian team garnered four gold, eight silver and 12 bronze medals. Jon Sieben mowed down “The Albatross”, West Germany’s Michael Gross, in the 200m butterfly, Glynnis Nunn had to wait 20 minutes for the judges to determine if she won the women’s heptathlon, South Australian tuna fisherman Dean Lukin won the super heavyweight weightlifting, while Michael Turtur had a broken wrist strapped to the handlebar when he and team-mates Michael Grenda, Kevin Nichols and Dean Woods won the 4000m team pursuit in cycling.
Away from the competition arena, the period prior to and post the 1984 Los Angeles Games saw significant changes in the Australian Olympic scene.
In 1985, Grange and Patching stepped down as AOF President and Secretary-Treasurer. Gosper was elected unopposed as the new President and Coles was named the new Secretary-General.
That year also saw the Hawke Government, with John Brown the Federal Minister for Sport, establish the Australian Sports Commission, now Sport Australia, to provide a more co-ordinated approach to sport. It was Brown who, in 1987, shepherded the Olympic Insignia Act through Parliament which ensured the AOF had full marketing rights over the five Olympic rings and other Olympic insignia from unauthorised traders. The Act has ensured the ongoing financial marketing health of the AOF.
The AOF also established its Athletes Commission with four-time Olympic water polo player, Peter Montgomery, named its inaugural Chair. It commenced his long association with the AOC.
Although the 1988 Melbourne Olympic bid had failed, the AOF marched on with the aim for Australia to host another Games – this time a Brisbane bid for the 1992 Olympics. At the helm of the Brisbane bid was former Brisbane City Lord Mayor, Sallyanne Atkinson, with John Coates the Executive Director.
Brisbane faced opposition from Amsterdam, Barcelona, Birmingham, Belgrade and Paris. Ultimately, the IOC met in 1986 and awarded the Games to Barcelona with Brisbane finishing third in the ballot.
With lessons learned, the AOF opted in 1988 to lodge another Games bid – this time for the 1996 Olympics – and invited submissions from Australian cities. Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane lodged submissions and Melbourne won the Australian bid city vote 6–4 over Brisbane.
Australia ended the decade with three gold, six silver and five bronze medals at the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games.
Climbing on top of the medal dais were Duncan Armstrong in the 200m freestyle, Debbie Flintoff-King in the 400m hurdles and the women’s hockey team which overcame the rabid home crowd support to defeat South Korea 2–0 in the final.
And the winner is …
Since its establishment in 1920, the AOF Executive Committee represented state bodies and not the sports, but changes were being planned.
AOF Executive Committee members, Phil Coles and John Coates, together with IOC Director of National Olympic Committee Relations, Great Britain’s Anne Beddow, developed a strategy to reform the AOF. The IOC, via Beddow, pressed for the AOF to restructure its constitution, in line with the IOC’s own charter, and give national sports federations, rather than the states, the vote.
Kevan Gosper, the AOC President, observed; “We judged the AOF was badly structured, that it was not properly representative of the sports. It was too state-orientated, for historical reasons”.
With the AOF’s existing federated model to be replaced under the proposed changes, it was further proposed that the organisation be re-named the Australian Olympic Committee. On May 19, 1990, the AOF’s general assembly met and the new constitution was adopted, complete with the change of name.
Later, on September 18, the IOC met in Tokyo to determine the winning city for the 1996 Olympic Games.
Apart from Melbourne, the other bidding cities were Athens, Atlanta, Belgrade, Manchester and Toronto. The 1996 Games were awarded to Atlanta with Melbourne finishing fourth in the ballot.
Two months after the IOC decision, the AOC Executive met and agreed to bid again, this time for the 2000 Games. And it was decided that Sydney would be the Australian bid city.
Also, at that meeting, Gosper stepped down as President after he was appointed to a new role with the Shell company based in London. Coates was appointed President until the next general assembly in May 1991, where he was elected unopposed.
Coates then focused on the day-to-day operations of the AOC and, following a review, a new administrative structure was implemented with Olympic basketballer Perry Crosswhite named Executive Director, Craig McLatchey appointed Director of Sport, and Adrian Scarra chosen as Director of Finance and Administration. Olympic silver medal cox, Alan Grover, became Director of Marketing.
With a new-look AOC in place, it was full steam ahead for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics where Australia was represented by a team of 281 athletes which was the largest ever to leave our shores.
Australia climbed up the overall medal table to finish ninth after capturing seven gold, nine bronze and 11 bronze medals – the most medals won outside of Australia, at that point, and spread across nine sports.
Equestrian Matt Ryan picked up a pair of gold medals in the individual and, along with Andrew Hoy, Gillian Rolton and David Green, the team three-day event, Kathy Watt won the individual road race in cycling, Clint Robinson secured the K1 1000m title in canoeing, Kieren Perkins continued Australia’s dominance in the 1500m freestyle while the men’s double sculls duo of Peter Antonie and Stephen Hawkins and the “Oarsome Foursome” coxless four, comprising Andrew Cooper, Nick Green, Michael McKay and James Tomkins also earned rowing gold medals.
Australia’s excellent performances in Barcelona and the momentum of Sydney’s 2000 Olympic bid were fuelling excitement and optimism that the IOC would vote the harbour city as the first host of the Games of the new millennium. Opposing Sydney for the 2000 Games were Beijing, Berlin, Istanbul and Manchester.
Beijing was identified as Sydney’s main challenger and the Sydney bid team travelled the globe and lobbied at breakneck speed to shore up votes. Then at 4.27am Sydney time on September 23, 1993, Juan Antonio Samaranch opened the envelope in Monte Carlo and announced, “And the winner is … the winner is Sydney”. The final vote was 45–43 over Beijing. The announcement led to wild celebrations, particularly among a crowd of 50,000 Sydneysiders who watched the announcement on giant screens at Circular Quay.
While Sydney’s exhaustive bid was being undertaken, the AOC moved into the gaming business with a $6 million investment in a casino to be built in Cairns in 1995, constituted the Australian Olympic Foundation, and established a training centre for winter sports in Axams, near Innsbruck, in Austria.
Australia was first represented at the Winter Olympics in 1936 and has attended every winter edition since Oslo in 1952. However, until 1994, it had never won a medal.
But the men’s short track relay team finally secured the medal breakthrough when winning bronze at the 1994 Lillehammer Winter Olympics. And it proved this was not just a one-off when Zali Steggall captured Australia's first individual Winter Olympics medal, a bronze in slalom at Nagano 1998.
The AOC’s commitment to winter sport saw the formation of the Olympic Winter Institute of Australia (OWIA) after Nagano to enable the development of elite performances in winter sports by Australian athletes, through the provision of adequate funding, world-class sports programming and technical coaching.
Buoyed by Sydney’s 2000 Olympic Games winning bid, Australia arrived at Atlanta 1996 with high hopes and finished seventh with a then record of 41 medals, comprising nine gold, nine silver and 23 bronze medals.
Michael Diamond and Russell Mark each won gold in trap and double trap shooting respectively, the three-day event equestrian team of Phillip Dutton, Andrew Hoy, Wendy Schaeffer and Gillian Rolton was successful, as were the “Oarsome Foursome” with Drew Ginn replacing Andrew Cooper and joining Green, McKay and Tomkins as crew members. The women’s coxless pair of Megan Still and Kate Slatter won a second rowing gold, the “Woodies”, Mark Woodforde and Todd Woodbridge, earned a tennis doubles gold, and the women’s hockey team secured its second-ever gold medal.
In swimming, “Madam Butterfly”, Susie O’Neill, triumphed in the 200m butterfly while Kieren Perkins won a remarkable 1500m freestyle gold medal from lane eight when he almost didn’t qualify for the final.
With stadia and facilities being built for the Sydney Olympics and athlete performances reaching a new high, the Australian Olympic family and the Australian public were being taken forward on a unique and memorable journey.
The “Best Games Ever” and beyond
The 2000 Sydney Olympic Games promised so much and delivered so much more. As a city, Sydney was transfixed and transformed. As an Olympics, the Games were unforgettable.
The doubts and questions raised before the Games quickly dissipated when the Olympic flame finally arrived at Uluru. There, 1996 Olympic hockey gold medallist, Nova Peris-Kneebone, the first torch runner, chose to jog bare footed – a gesture to the sacred ground and to her people and to Aborigines in general – and Australia was swept away on a wave of Olympic euphoria.
The Australian team comprised 632 athletes and 374 officials and was represented in all sports. They marched behind basketball’s Andrew Gaze and watched women’s dual hockey gold medallist Rechelle Hawkes recite the athletes’ Olympic Oath and Australian water polo referee Peter Kerr recite the officials’ Olympic Oath.
Together with a crowd of 110,000, they watched Cathy Freeman light the Olympic cauldron in a truly memorable and spectacular Opening Ceremony.
By the time the Olympic flame was finally extinguished, Australia had won a record Games haul of 16 gold, 25 silver and 17 bronze medals. The team finished fourth on the medal table and earned medals across a record number of 20 sports.
The swimmers led the way with five gold medals. They were won by Susie O’Neill in the 200m freestyle, Grant Hackett in the 1500m freestyle, while Ian Thorpe ended the Games with three golds after winning the 400m freestyle and was a member of the victorious 4x100m relay team alongside Ashley Callus, Michael Klim, Chris Fydler, Todd Pearson and Adam Pine and the 4x200m freestyle relay team with Klim, Pearson, Hackett, Bill Kirby and Daniel Kowalski.
On Sydney Harbour, both men’s and women’s 470 class sailing crews of Tom King and Mark Turnbull, and Jenny Armstrong and Belinda Stowell, were successful, Kerri Pottharst and Natalie Cook rejoiced in the women’s beach volleyball, the equestrian three-day event team, comprising Andrew Hoy, Matt Ryan, Stuart Tinney and Phillip Dutton, showed its opposition a clean pair of heels, and the women’s hockey team maintained their Olympic gold medal dominance.
The women’s water polo team earned gold with an amazing last-second goal, the men’s Madison team of Brett Aitkin and Scott McGrory sprinted to victory at the velodrome, and Simon Fairweather, Lauren Burns and Michael Diamond stepped to the top of the dais in archery, taekwondo and trap shooting.
One of the most memorable gold medals at Sydney was captured by Cathy Freeman when she sent a crowd of 112,000 into raptures when sprinting clear in the women’s 400m at the Olympic Stadium.
The Games were an overwhelming success and IOC President, Juan Antonio Samaranch declared them as ‘The best Games ever”. Never had truer words been spoken.
And if the euphoria of the Sydney Games had died down, it was uplifted two years later at the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics when Steven Bradbury won Australia’s first-ever gold medal on ice or snow in amazing circumstances in the men’s 1000m short track speed skating.
Then, Alisa Camplin, with her trademark warm, wide smile, added a second gold in the freestyle skiing aerials.
These gold medals were not a one-off for the Australian winter Olympic movement, but rather a result of long-term planning and investment. The fruits of the program produced another Olympic winter gold four years later when Dale Begg-Smith won the men’s moguls at the Torino 2006 Winter Games.
The golden glow of Sydney 2000 extended to the 2004 Athens Olympic Games where a team of 482 athletes and 285 officials were led by flag bearer, sailing’s Colin Beashel.
Australia retained fourth place on the medal table winning 17 gold, 16 silver and 17 bronze medals, eight medals fewer than Sydney 2000’s total of 58 medals but one gold medal more.
The swimmers and cyclists led the charge.
The swimming team earned seven gold medals with Jodie Henry collecting three gold medals in the 100m freestyle and as a member of the 4x100m freestyle relay team, in concert with Libby Lenton, Alice Mills, Petria Thomas and Sarah Ryan, and the 4x100m medley relay team alongside Giaan Rooney, Leisel Jones, Thomas, Brooke Hanson, Jessicah Schipper and Mills.
Ian Thorpe managed the 200m and 400m freestyle double, Grant Hackett successfully defended his 1500m freestyle title and Thomas bagged a hat-trick of gold medals in the 100m butterfly and two relays.
Six gold medals were captured in cycling with Graeme Brown and Stuart O’Grady defending the Australia’s Madison crown, Ryan Bayley won the individual sprint and the Keirin, Anna Meares edged home in the 500m time trial and the men’s 4000m pursuit team of Brown, Brett Lancaster, Bradley McGee, Luke Roberts, Peter Dawson and Stephen Wooldridge executed their plans perfectly.
Sara Carrigan dominated the women’s road race. Brown and Bayley thus became the first Australian cyclists since Russell Mockridge at Helsinki 1952 to win two gold medals at the same Olympics.
Rowers Drew Ginn and James Tomkins added more gold to their collections in the men’s coxless pairs, diver Chantelle Newbery claimed the women’s 10m platform, Suzanne Balogh shot outstandingly in the women’s trap, and the men’s hockey team finally captured their long-elusive gold medal.
Away from the Olympic Games and Winter Olympics, the AOC also looked to the future. It felt it needed to develop young athletes, aged 13–19, and provide a pathway across all member sports. As a result, the AOC initiated the Australian Youth Olympic Festival (AYOF) to be held every two years – a Festival which endured until the IOC established the Youth Olympic Games.
There were also changes within the AOC with Craig McLatchey (1995–2001) and Bob Elphinston (2001–04) both serving as Secretary-General before Craig Phillips was appointed to the position in 2004. John Coates was appointed to the IOC in 2001, a role he continues today.
A year after Sydney 2000, two-time swimming Olympian and gold medallist John Devitt stepped down from the AOC after serving 10 years as a Vice-President and five years on the Executive Committee.
The entry to the new millennium was the most successful period in the history of the AOC, and the catalyst was winning the bid to host the 2000 Games and delivering a festival of sport which united Australia in a once-in-a-generation manner and showcased the country and its people to the world.
Beijing and beyond
The challenge for the AOC and the National Federations, post-Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004, was for the Australian team to retain its top-five position on the medal table at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.
Australian sport invested wisely into funding programs leading into Sydney 2000, and the athlete performance legacy continued through to Athens 2004.
But could Australia continue to defy our comparatively small population base and the reduced government funding for sport to be positioned among the world’s top five Olympic heavyweight nations on the medal table?
The answer was ‘yes’ and ‘no’.
In Beijing, Australia finished fifth on the overall medal table winning 46 medals comprising 14 gold, 15 silver and 17 bronze medals behind host nation China, USA, Russia and Great Britain. However, on the gold medal count, Australia was eclipsed by Germany, which won 16 gold medals and 41 medals overall, and was placed sixth.
Australia’s team of 436 athletes was led by six-time Olympic rower James Tomkins, who carried the Australian flag in the Opening Ceremony.
Stephanie Rice became one of Australia’s most celebrated Olympians when completing a hat-trick of gold medals in the 200m and 400m individual medleys and in the 4x200m freestyle relay team with Bronte Barratt, Kylie Palmer, Linda MacKenzie, Felicity Galvez, Angie Bainbridge, Melanie Schlanger and Lara Davenport.
Rice’s triple-treat represented half of the six gold medals won in the pool with the remaining three earned by Libby Trickett in the 100m butterfly, Leisel Jones in the 100m breaststroke and the women’s 4x100m medley relay team of which Trickett and Jones were team members along with Emily Seebohm, Jessicah Schipper, Tarnee White, Galvez and Shayne Reese.
Australia again captured the 470 class sailing double once again through Malcolm Page and Nathan Wilmot in the men’s, and Elise Rechichi and Tessa Parkinson in the women’s, Emma Snowsill dominated the women’s triathlon and Ken Wallace stormed home to win the K1 500m – two days after winning bronze in the K1 1000m.
Australia enjoyed success at the rowing regatta with Scott Brennan and David Crawshay stroking to victory in the men’s double sculls, while Drew Ginn collected a third Olympic gold medal when winning the men’s coxless pairs with Duncan Free.
And the Games finished on a high when Steve Hooker won the men’s pole vault and Matthew Mitcham produced the highest-scoring dive in Olympic history to move to the top of the podium in the 10m platform and deny China a clean sweep of diving gold.
The Games were the last for John Coates as Chef de Mission. Coates had guided the Australian team for a record six successive Games, and he stepped aside for dual rowing gold medallist Nick Green for the 2012 Olympics in London. Coates’ tally of six Games as Chef de Mission equalled the total of Winter Olympics as Chef de Mission by Geoff Henke (1976–1994).
In 2009, Coates was voted to a four–year term on the IOC Executive and, in 2013, appointed to a four–year term as an IOC Vice-President.
The 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics brought more double gold joy for Australia and a record medal haul of three medals. Torah Bright carried the Australian flag at the Opening Ceremony and Australia’s hopes in the women’s halfpipe snowboarding event. And she performed superbly to capture the gold medal.
She was joined on the gold medal dais by Lydia Lassila who won the women’s aerials while Dale Begg-Smith earned a second Olympic medal – a silver in the men’s moguls.
The AOC’s responsibility also broadened beyond the Olympic Games and Winter Olympics and the domestic AYOF.
The IOC introduced the Youth Olympic Games (YOG) to bring together the world's best young athletes and Australia sent a team of 100 athletes to the inaugural YOG which were held in Singapore in 2010.
The Games proved highly successful with the team winning eight gold, 15 silver and nine bronze medals.
Two years later, the first Winter Youth Olympic Games (WYOG) were held in Innsbruck and the 13-member Australian team performed commendably winning two bronze medals.
The winter sports program was buoyed further when the $50 million Icehouse development at Docklands, in Melbourne opened in February 2010. The short track speed skating program moved to the Icehouse and commenced on-ice training activities in August 2010 and the OWIA relocated its administration headquarters to the facility in early 2011.
When the 2012 London Olympics rolled forward, Australia entered the Games with the performance objective of a top-five finish on the medal table.
With basketball’s Lauren Jackson leading the 410-strong team, Australia won a total of 35 medals, comprising eight gold, 15 silver and 12 bronze, across 13 sports and disciplines and finished in a respectable equal seventh place on the overall medal table, and equal eighth on the gold medal count.
It was on the water where Australia achieved its greatest success. The men’s 470 class sailing crew of Malcolm Page and Mathew Belcher, again won gold and, in doing so, recorded the third Olympic victory in the class since Sydney 2000.
Iain Jensen and Nathan Outteridge triumphed in the 49er class and Tom Slingsby excelled in the Laser class.
Our swimmers didn’t enjoy the same level of success of previous Games, but the women’s 4x100m freestyle relay team of Alicia Coutts, Cate Campbell, Brittany Elmslie, Melanie Schlanger, Yolane Kukla, Emily Seebohm and Libby Trickett captured gold as did the men’s K4 1000m canoe crew comprising Tate Smith, David Smith, Murray Stewart and Jacob Clear, while cyclist Anna Meares’ class shone through when powering to gold in women’s sprint.
And there was also delight at the main stadium when Sally Pearson ran the perfect race to win the 100m hurdles.
An unusual slice of Olympic history was written when Jared Tallent was presented with the 50km gold medal on June 17, 2016 – more than 1,400 days after finishing in second place in London. First across the line, Russia’s Sergey Kirdyapkin, was subsequently disqualified for doping.
Tallent was awarded his gold medal in front of family and friends and a large crowd braving the rain on the steps of Melbourne’s Old Treasury Building. In addition to his medal, Tallent received a Medal of the Order of Australia from Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove.
Changes and challenges
Throughout its 100-year life span, the AOC has continued to evolve. It proudly looks to the past, plans imaginatively to the future while safeguarding the present. Following the 2012 London Olympics, a raft of new measures were implemented over the next six years across a range of areas to reflect today’s modern society.
Internationally, Kevan Gosper, a 4x400m relay silver medallist at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics and former AOC president, stepped down as an IOC Member in 2013 having served for 36 years since appointed in 1977. He also served two terms as a Member of the IOC Executive Board (1986–1990 and 1995–1999) and two terms as an IOC Vice-President (1990–1994 and 1999–2003).
In 2014, the AOC updated its Constitution “to recognise the heritage, culture and contribution of our nation’s first people, and to give practical support to indigenous reconciliation through sport.”
The role of women within the Australian Olympic movement also took an exciting new direction.
Olympian, Kitty Chiller, was named the first-ever female Chef de Mission for the 2016 Rio Olympics, and fellow Olympians Susie O’Neill, Alisa Camplin and Evelyn Halls were appointed Chefs de Mission of the 2014 YOG, 2016 WYOG and the 2018 YOG.
At AOC headquarters, Fiona de Jong assumed the reins as Secretary-General replacing Craig Phillips, who gave the AOC 23 years of service. Prior to her appointment, de Jong spent 10 years as the AOC’s Director of Sport.
While these initiatives were being implemented, the AOC was also working full steam ahead towards the 2014 Sochi and 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, and the 2016 Rio and 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.
Sochi 2014 saw Australia represented by a record 60 athletes. While no gold medals were won, the team equalled its best-ever medal haul of three medals, comprising two silver and a bronze.
The 2018 Winter team also collected two silver and a bronze at PyeongChang, South Korea and marked the seventh successive Winter Olympics where Australia has medalled. At the end of these Games, Australia had won 15 medals in Olympic Winter Games history – five gold, five silver and five bronze.
August 2015 marked the start of a new era of the Olympic movement in Australia with a refreshed AOC brand. For the first time in 60 years, the AOC modernised its brand following extensive research with athletes, fans and stakeholders. While the catalyst for change was the introduction of new national emblem guidelines by the IOC, the AOC achieved alignment between its institutional, team and commercial emblems to create one vision, one team, one identity.
The 2016 Rio Olympic Games were challenging in many respects and AOC President John Coates described them as “the toughest assignment for an Australian Team since the political upheaval that plagued the Moscow Games in 1980.”
Four-time Olympian and gold medallist, Anna Meares, carried the Australian flag in front of 422 athletes competing in 26 sports. For the first time ever, there were more female (51%) than male (49%) team members.
Australia won eight gold, 11 silver and 10 bronze for a total of 29 medals across 12 sports and 13 disciplines. The team finished equal ninth on the gold medal scoreboard and eighth on the overall medal table.
Swimming returned as Australia’s primary source of gold medals with Kyle Chalmers winning the blue ribbon men’s 100m freestyle, Mack Horton was successful in the men’s 400m freestyle, and the women’s 4x100m freestyle relay team of Emma McKeon, Brittany Elmslie, Bronte Campbell, Cate Campbell and Maddy Wilson broke the world record when claiming victory.
Australia triumphed again in the Laser class in sailing, this time with Tom Burton, Kim Brennan stroked to gold in the single sculls, and Catherine Skinner survived a shoot-off to scrape through to the women’s trap shooting semi-finals before winning the final.
Rugby Sevens was introduced to the Olympic Games program for the first time and an outstanding Australian side upset New Zealand in the gold medal final, and history was created when Chloe Esposito snared Australia’s first-ever Modern Pentathlon gold medal.
Esposito’s victory was a special milestone as it was the 150th gold medal won by Australia in Olympic competition.
Towards the end of 2016, AOC Vice-President Peter Montgomery announced his retirement from the AOC ending an illustrious contribution to the Australian Olympic movement dating back to his first of four Games as a water polo team member at Munich 1972.
Montgomery became an AOF Executive Board Member in 1990 and, in 2001, became Vice President. From 1988 to 1999 he was a member of the IOC Athletes' Commission and he was also a member of the Sydney 2000 Bid Committee and the IOC Coordination Commissions for the 1988, 1992, 1994, 1998, and 2000 Olympic and Olympic Winter Games. Montgomery was the Foundation President of the World Olympians Association and was a foundation member of the International Council of Arbitration for Sport from 1995–2001.
Barbarians at the gate
Planning for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games swung into action in 2017 with Ian Chesterman, who had been the Australian team Chef de Mission at all six Winter Olympics since 1998, appointed Chef de Mission for his first Olympic Games.
Also In 2017, the AOC completed an organisational, cultural and governance review, and experienced sports administrator, Matt Carroll, was appointed Chief Executive Officer in May, replacing Fiona de Jong who resigned in late 2016.
Despite the growing financial health of the AOC and the implementation of ground-breaking programs and initiatives, the Presidency of John Coates was challenged for the first time in 27 years.
At the time, public allegations of a culture of bullying within the AOC were being levelled in a vindictive media campaign designed to overthrow Coates at the 2017 annual general meeting and besmirch the reputation of AOC Communications Director, Mike Tancred.
Many believe it was part of an aggressive campaign orchestrated by the Australian Sports Commission to ultimately seize control of the AOC and the Australian Olympic Foundation’s net assets of $149 million.
Established in 1996, and boosted considerably by an injection of $88.5 million from hosting the Sydney Olympics, the Foundation enables the AOC to be financially independent of party politics and government direction, and preserves its autonomy from outside influences – key fallout lessons learned as a result of the highly politicised debate leading into the vote whether to attend Moscow 1980.
Standing against Coates was Olympic hockey gold medallist, Danni Roche, who was supported by AOC Executive members Andrew Plympton, Nicole Livingstone and Danielle Woodward. Despite bitter debate and public rancour against Coates, he comfortably won the Presidential ballot 58–37.
With the battle for President resolved, the AOC appointed an Independent Committee to investigate the bullying allegations. The Committee, comprising two former High Court judges and a Supreme Court judge, months later cleared Tancred of any bullying or harassment.
Following these take-over campaigns, the Foundation Board took further steps in 2018 to protect the Fund and preserve its autonomy from outside influences.
The Board amended the Trust Deed of the Foundation to include, among other measures, the prior written consent of 75% of the Guardians, who comprise AOC Life Members, to ratify distributions from the Foundation of more than four percent at the start of each four-year cycle. Approval from the Guardians is in addition to the 75% majority of the members of the Foundation Board.
In announcing the protective measures, Coates told the AOC’s 2018 annual general meeting the Foundation’s capital and ongoing distribution is secure.
He said; “It means the AOC is able to fund its activities independent from Government and free of outside pressures of any kind. It means our values are preserved – strong and uncompromised. To those with designs on raiding the Foundation – you are well served to look elsewhere. Put simply, our Guardians on the wall cannot be defeated by any Barbarians at the gate.”
The launch of Olympics Unleashed in September 2018 marked the AOC’s largest-ever commitment towards delivering education programs based on the principles and values of Olympism to Australian school children.
The AOC’s commitment followed the IOC’s Olympic Agenda 2020 recommendation in December 2014 where the IOC, under the leadership of President Thomas Bach, advocated the worldwide introduction of Olympic values-based education in school curricula.
The aim of the program is to take Olympians, and those athletes aspiring to compete at Tokyo 2020, into schools across the country.
Through a structured face-to-face program, athletes use their personal sporting journeys to demonstrate the lifelong benefits of goal-setting, developing resilience and pursuing personal passions.
Then in 2018, the AOC also created the Cecil Healy Award for Outstanding Sportsmanship at an Olympic Games. Tragically, Healy became the only Australian Olympic medallist to die in combat – at the Somme in 1918.
Tokyo 2020, COVID-19 and the New Norm
Leading in to 2020, athlete competition quotas for Tokyo were being earned, qualification processes were underway in many sports and the countdown to Tokyo 2020 offered much excitement and anticipation for the Olympic movement.
However, the highly contagious COVID-19 virus took hold around the world and on March 24, 2020, the IOC announced the postponement of the Tokyo Olympic Games by a year.
On April 16, the IOC and Tokyo 2020 announced the establishment of a Joint Steering Committee, led by IOC Coordination Commission Chair, John Coates, and Tokyo 2020 President Mori Yoshiro, to ensure the delivery of the postponed Games.
While the postponement was a disappointment to many athletes and presents a significant challenge to the IOC, Tokyo 2020, and the Japanese Government, the spirit of the Olympics and of Olympism will rise once again and unite the world in a manner which only the Olympics can achieve.
The AOC is well placed to withstand the impact of the postponed Games. Revised preparations by National Federations are underway, AOC staff are recalibrating team arrangements and team sponsors remain committed to the Tokyo Games.
Significantly, the AOC, through the Foundation, has a financial war-chest to weather the COVID-19 storm, just as it did during the 2008 global financial crisis. The Foundation’s net assets at 31 December, 2019 were $171,415 million with underlying cash holdings across the portfolio at 15.6%.
It is because of the Foundation’s assets and the AOC’s independence from Government and outsiders that has enabled the AOC to select all athletes who qualify under their sport’s qualification system and nominated by their National Federation. As a result, Australia has fielded one of the biggest teams at each Games since Atlanta 1996.
When the Tokyo Olympic Games are held in 2021, the manner in which they will be presented represents how future Olympics will be hosted. The use of existing venues and facilities, without compromising the Olympic experience for athletes, is part of the IOC’s New Norm approach to remove hundreds of millions of dollars from the cost of hosting Olympic Games.
The New Norm was a key, unanimously approved recommendation from the IOC’s Olympic Games Delivery Executive Steering Committee, chaired by Coates that reimages how Olympic Games are to be delivered.
IOC Thomas Bach told the AOC annual general meeting in 2019 that bidding for a Games was previously like applying for a franchise. “We asked potential hosts how they would change their cities in order to adapt them to the Olympic Games. Now we ask them how we can adapt the Games to best fit the long-term needs of their city or region.”
The New Norm has seen Queensland offer to host the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2032. Following the Queensland Government’s decision on December 9, 2019 to formally support a 2032 candidature to host the Games in south east Queensland, work is underway, together with the AOC, to finalise Queensland’s vision and plans for the Games.
The AOC believes Queensland is well-positioned to make a compelling case and is further convinced sport in Queensland, and across Australia more broadly, will be super-charged if the state is successful in convincing the IOC to stage the Games in Australia for a third time.
However, the hosting of an Olympic Games offers much more.
It is often stated that the character of Australia and of Australians is best reflected through our love for sport. We work hard to achieve, and we like to celebrate success.
The Olympics is a special part of our national identity and a key feature of our rich sporting tapestry. Its unique spirit is an intoxicating brew and its elixir binds us together whenever the Australian flag is hoisted, and when men and women wearing green and gold enter the field of play.
We are glued by the theatre and drama of Olympic competition, mesmerised by the speed, power and artistry of athletes, and we are inspired by their ambition and success. We cheer and rejoice when our athletes climb the podium, and we feel their pain when disappointment arises.
The Olympics is an on-going journey with no finish line in sight, and the AOC will continue to uphold the IOC’s values and ideals and promote its goal to contribute to building a peaceful and better world by educating youth through sport practised without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding, solidarity and fair play.