After 27 years in charge of the AOC, John Coates faces a leadership challenge which lays bare a struggle for control over the movement’s future direction

When comedian John Clarke died this month, the most frequent tribute clips came from his ABC television series The Games. In the lead-up to Sydney’s 2000 Olympics, Clarke parodied the organisers with vicious precision. It worked because the likes of John Coates and Kevan Gosper were so readily mocked, with their propensity to public gaffes and the often amateurish appearance of their organisations. For Olympics previous, Australian authorities seemingly only had to arrange a stack of bad tracksuits and clip-on koalas. Now they were building the biggest show on earth. It felt like asking Rooty Hill RSL to run the Opera House.

Skip to the present day, and the scenes could have fuelled Clarke for another season. At the centre remains Coates, as he has since 1990, but a vote for the Australian Olympic Committee presidency this Wednesday could see challenger Danielle Roche bring him down. The contest has become intense. At first it brings to mind that Henry Kissinger misattribution about the bitterness of fights for no real power: congratulations, you’re the lord of slalom canoe events in all the land. But at stake is prestige, authority, and very real money.

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