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Bad sports and politics

  • 26 April 2017


Recent adverse coverage of sporting organisations has revealed once again what looks remarkably like widespread organisational dysfunction. It is now all too common and you don't need to be an insider to be appalled by what is happening.

Sport is such a major part of Australian life that we should all be interested in what goes on within the multi-million dollar organisations that run it, whether it be the big football codes, cricket, tennis or the various Olympic sports. The stakes are huge and the issues, including self-interest, interstate rivalries and personality conflicts are eerily familiar in public life more generally.

The recent major media stories have been further instalments in the long-running battles within the Australian Olympic Committee. Its long-serving president, John Coates (pictured), is being challenged for his $760,000 job by Danni Roche, a former Olympian with the Hockeyroos and a member of the Australian Sports Commission.

Coates and John Wylie, head of the Sports Commission, are not on speaking terms other than on those occasions when Coates' language is allegedly abusive.

The most recent story is based on allegations by a former AOC chief executive, Fiona de Jong, of a culture of workplace bullying within the organisation. De Jong, who resigned after the Rio Olympics, charges the AOC media manager, Mike Tancred, who holds a job worth $320,000, with examples of personal bullying of an appalling type. Others have supported de Jong. Tancred's job is said to rely on support from Coates.

So both their futures will be decided on 6 May when 40 sporting organisations and members of the AOC board vote on the presidency.

At the same time Netball Australia, which runs the national Super Netball competition, is in disarray. Its board has recently terminated its chair, Anne-Marie Corboy, a former senior financial services executive, after less than 12 months in the job.

This was followed by board elections in which the state associations, who control the votes, ousted Kathryn Harby-Williams, a most highly regarded former Australian netball captain. In doing so they disregarded the unanimous views of the players, represented by the Australian Netball Players Association, which, after considering industrial action, staged symbolic protests before their games.


"The battle between Coates and Roche bears all the hallmarks of the worst aspects of the in-fighting and personality politics behind Kevin Rudd versus Julia Gillard or Tony Abbott versus Malcolm Turnbull."


There are many other similar stories in sporting organisations. They could also be