Toru Hanai / Getty Images
Australian Olympics chief John Coates faces criticism after lecturing Queensland Prime Minister Annastacia Palaszczuk and ordering her to attend the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics. Palaszczuk had previously said she would not attend Friday’s ceremony.
“I was reading questions about your participation in the opening ceremony,” Coates told Palaszczuk. “You are going to the opening ceremony,” he said then, crossing his arms as he spoke.
Coates made the remarks at a press conference where he and Palaszczuk celebrated Brisbane’s successful bid to host the 2032 Games. He said the prime minister should attend the Tokyo launch event for his own edification. , to help Queensland officials prepare for her hospitality duties.
“You will all get along there and understand the traditional parts of it, what an opening ceremony involves,” Coates said. “None of you stay behind and hide in your rooms, okay?”
Critics pour in, with manslaughter charges
Palaszczuk looked away from Coates as he spoke. When she then responded to his remarks, she simply said with a short laugh, “I don’t want to offend anyone.”
But Coates’ comments were quickly criticized as awkward and disparaging at best or even intimidating at worst. In response, he said people have misrepresented what happened.
“My comments regarding the Prime Minister and the opening ceremony were completely misinterpreted by people who were not in the room,” Coates said in a statement to NPR. “Absolutely, I believe the Prime Minister should come to the opening ceremony and she agreed. I’m delighted. Attending the opening ceremony has always been her choice.”
Those words have done little to quell critics who note that Coates took his forceful stance not in a closed-door meeting but in an international press conference that has put the world’s spotlight on Brisbane and Queensland.
If Palaszczuk is to attend an Olympic opening ceremony, some also said, she should be free to choose one that does not happen during a pandemic.
Prime Minister responds
Palaszczuk says she and two other officials are now planning to be at the ceremony on Friday.
Clips of the exchange have been shown regularly on news programs in Australia. In an interview with Australian public broadcaster ABC, Palaszczuk played down the incident. It was natural, she said, to change her position by attending the opening ceremony now that Brisbane has been chosen to become an Olympic city.
She also said that Coates played a central role in the successful offer.
“He’s fantastic. If we hadn’t had John Coates this wouldn’t have happened,” the Prime Minister said.
“I’ve known John for years,” Palaszczuk said. “So what has happened now is that the mayor [of Brisbane] and the federal minister and I are supposed to go. So I’ll leave that to John Coates and [IOC President] Thomas Bach, but let me be very clear: I am not going to offend anyone now that we have just won the Games. “
“You don’t know the protocols,” Coates said
At the joint press conference, Coates also asked the Queensland leader about her familiarity with the Olympics’ biggest single event.
“You’ve never been to an Olympic Games Opening Ceremony, have you? he said. After Palaszczuk shook his head, he added: “You don’t know the protocols. I think this is part of a very important lesson for everyone here.”
He then took a deep breath and explained that the ceremony costs tens of millions of dollars and is an important opportunity to set the tone for the Olympics.
“My very strong recommendation is that the Prime Minister, the Lord Mayor and the Minister are here and understand it,” Coates added.
Some of Coates’ critics have called his remarks quintessential mansplaining.
“John Coates is another one of those men who, even though you’ve never worked with him, you’ve worked with him,” screenwriter Anna Spargo-Ryan said from the video. “His body language and tone are so familiar it turns your stomach upside down.”
Coates is a longtime Olympic leader
Defending his remarks to Palaszczuk, Coates said in his statement: “The Prime Minister and I have a long-standing and very fruitful relationship. We both know the spirit of my remarks and I have no indication that it is. was offended in any way. “
Coates, 71, wields great power. He led the Australian Olympic Committee for about 30 years. He is also a long-time member of the International Olympic Committee, where he is currently vice-president. He played a central role in a number of Games, including the Sydney Olympics in 2000.
Coates survived a rare challenge in his leadership role in 2017, when he defeated Danni Roche in the election of AOC leader. During the campaign, she vowed to reshuffle the Australian Olympic committee – a message that resonated in part because of allegations by the organization’s former chief executive, Fiona de Jong, who said that a culture of bullying and intimidation had flourished under Coates’ leadership.