London calling for Australian Olympic chief and Sydney graduate

24 July 2012

John Coates: "To become an Olympian or Paralympian is a considerable honour - one that will remain with you throughout your life."
John Coates: "To become an Olympian or Paralympian is a considerable honour - one that will remain with you throughout your life."

More than 30 students, graduates or other members of the University of Sydney community will compete at this year's Olympics and Paralympics. But as the clock counts down to London 2012, another of our graduates will play a major role in helping the games to run as smoothly as possible.

After stepping down as Australia's chef de mission at six consecutive summer Olympics, law graduate John Coates AC (LLB 1973) continues in London as President of the Australian Olympic Committee, a role he has held since 1990.

In a message to the University's 2012 Olympians, he said they were taking part in the ultimate international sporting contest.

"To become an Olympian or Paralympian is a considerable honour - one that will remain with you throughout your life," said Coates before he flew to London.

"As members of the Australian Olympic and Paralympic Teams, you inherit a splendid tradition. As students or graduates from the University of Sydney you are continuing a further and select tradition as representatives of our great University.

"Sydney Uni has always played an important role in Australia's sporting life, and it continues to nurture some of our stars of the future, both in the classroom and on the playing field."

London 2012 is the latest step in Coates's Olympic career that began as a rowing official at the 1976 games in Montreal.

"My involvement in rowing, then Olympic sports administration was fortuitous," he recalls.

As a schoolboy, he had coxed for Homebush Boys' High School's rowing squad, based out of Sydney Rowing Club where he came into contact with rowers preparing for the 1968 and 1972 Australian Olympic eights. Although he had outgrown the coxswain's seat by the time he started his degree at the University of Sydney, his legal studies and subsequent qualification as a solicitor meant he was soon identified for board membership and managerial roles in the rowing community.

"The key for me was my grounding in law," he says.

That legal background will also see Coates involved in another important role in London as President of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), which operates an ad hoc division to settle any sports-related disputes such as eligibility or doping cases that arise during the games.

Coates will oversee the administrative arrangements for CAS during the Olympics and Paralympics, to ensure disputes can be heard and resolved quickly when the eyes of the world are on London.

"For the organisers and the success of the London Games generally, I hope there are no security or transport issues," said Coates. "If that is the case I am confident they will be the tremendous success that Lord Sebastian Coe and his team at the London organising committee deserve."

Under Coates's leadership of the AOC, which selects and funds Australian teams for the summer and winter Olympics, Australia has risen to become a major Olympic power.

"For the Australian team, our objective remains to again finish in the top five in both the gold and overall medal counts. We slipped outside the top five in our benchmarking of best equivalent Olympic events last year and are facing intense competition from the host Team GB, Germany, France and Japan. But our swimmers have shown improvement this year and the cyclists, sailors and rowers are looking strong."

Follow our London 2012 Olympians on Twitter

Enquiries: Ben Wilson, 9351 6753, 0402 128 073,