Leading sports administrator Phil Coles, who played key roles in getting an Australian team to the 1980 Moscow Olympics and later securing the 2000 Games for his home town of Sydney, has died. He was 91.
Coles will also be remembered as one of 24 International Olympic Committee (IOC) members implicated in the bidding bribery scandal for the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics.
He was officially reprimanded for receiving ‘lavish hospitality’ from Salt Lake officials in return for information and lost his position on the Sydney Games organising committee as a result.
Coles (pictured carrying the flame ahead of the 2000 Olympics) played a huge role in ensuring his home town of Sydney hosted the Games
The administrator wouldn’t back down when the federal government tried to pressure the Australian Olympic Committee into having athletes boycott Moscow’s 1980 games over Russia’s invasion of Afghanistan
He acknowledged the affair left a lasting smear on his reputation.
‘I would still dearly like to have my name cleared,’ Coles said later.
‘I have all the evidence, but I’ll let it go … I’ve got heaps of evidence, but to do it (re-open the case) I’ve got to open up a whole hornet’s nest and I don’t want to damage the Olympic movement.’
After representing Australia as a canoeist at the 1960, 1964 and 1968 Olympics, Coles turned to sports administration.
In 1980, the federal government led by Malcolm Fraser pressured the Australian Olympic Federation to support a US-led boycott of the Moscow Games in retaliation for the USSR’s invasion of Afghanistan.
Coles was among those who stood firm, ensuring Australia would continue its proud record of competing at every Summer Olympics.
Coles (pictured second from right with legendary Aussie Olympian Dawn Fraser, centre) also represented his country in canoeing at the 1960, ’64 and ’68 Games
‘Phil Coles was a man who always cared about the athletes in all his different functions,’ IOC president Thomas Bach said on Saturday in a statement.
‘Their interests were always in his mind and in his heart.
‘He was key to getting an Australian Olympic Team to the Olympic Games Moscow 1980 against all requests for a boycott.
‘It made him proud for the rest of his life to have led these athletes into the Olympic Stadium.
‘His love for the Olympic Games was at the centre of his life.’
After failed bids by Brisbane for the 1992 Olympics and Melbourne for 1996, Coles paid a central role in swaying his fellow IOC members to – narrowly – choose Sydney over favourite Beijing as the 2000 host city.
The Sydney Olympics were widely regarded as among the greatest ever staged, although Coles was mostly sidelined at Games-time, his reputation having taken a battering from the Salt Lake affair.
‘It was hard work,’ Coles told News Corp in 2012 of the bid process.
‘More than 60 per cent of the IOC members had never been to Australia at the time and had we not been able to bring those people out to Sydney, we would not have won those Games.
‘That was our ace in the hole, being able to show the delegates how beautiful Sydney is.’
Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) president Ian Chesterman joined the tributes to Coles, who died on Saturday, as a man whose ‘service to Australian sport was immense’.
Australian Olympic Committee president Ian Chesterman said the passing of Coles marked a ‘sad day for the Olympic movement’
‘Phil’s passing, after a lifetime in sport, is a sad day for the Olympic movement and for many involved in the wider sports community in Australia,’ Chesterman said in a statement.
‘I was particularly pleased to see Phil at the Tokyo Olympics at the canoe events; a chance for him to return to one of his host cities of his three Olympic Games as an athlete, and one that was obviously very important to him.
‘He greatly enjoyed the opportunity to watch the current-day competitors, the athletes being at the heart of his long service to the Olympic movement.’
Coles served as an IOC member from 1982-2011.
He joined the AOC executive board in 1973 and was a foundation member of the board of the Oceania National Olympic Committees (ONOC).
He was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia in the 1983 Queen’s Birthday Honours ‘for service to sport’ and was inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame in 1993.
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