Australian Olympic Committee president John Coates has angrily hit back at suggestions he in any way demeaned Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk at a press conference in Tokyo on Wednesday night.
After Brisbane was announced as host city for the 2032 Olympics, Mr Coates told Ms Palaszczuk she – and other members of the bid delegation including Lord Mayor Adrian Schrinner and Federal Sports Minister Richard Colbeck – would be going to the opening ceremony in Japan.
The AOC president’s directive came after Ms Palaszczuk emphatically said she would not attend the opening ceremony because of the pandemic, and would instead watch it from her hotel room.
“You are going to the opening ceremony,” Mr Coates told Ms Palaszczuk. “There will be an opening and a closing ceremony in 2032 and all of you, everyone there, has got to understand the traditional parts of that, what’s involved in an opening ceremony.
“None of you are staying home and going to be sitting in your room.”
The Premier simply said “I don’t want to offend anybody” as she declined to outright accept or decline Mr Coates’ instruction.
Many on social media said the exchange was “awkward” while others went further and slammed Coates for behaving like a bully.
But the AOC boss wasn’t backing down.
“My comments regarding the Premier and the Opening Ceremony have been completely misinterpreted by people who weren’t in the room,” he said in a statement on Thursday.
“Absolutely I believe the Premier should come to the Opening Ceremony and she has accepted.
“I am thrilled about that. Attending the Opening Ceremony has always been her choice.
“My view has always been all three levels of government should come to the Opening Ceremony.
“The Premier and I have a long standing and very successful relationship. We both know the spirit of my remarks and I have no indication that she was offended in any way.
“Those in doubt should ask her.”
‘This is disgusting’: Social media savages Coates
While some thought the exchange was cringe-worthy, many were furious at how Mr Coates spoke to Ms Palaszczuk.
Journalist Natalie Forrest tweeted: “Wow … who the hell does John Coates think he is?”
TV reporter and presenter Mary Gearin wrote: “Wow indeed. What an extraordinary way for John Coates to talk to a Premier. Actually, anyone in the time of Covid.”
Journalist Ellen Fanning added: “Watch how John Coates speaks to Qld Premier @AnnastaciaMP … at a press conference on an international stage, turns mike on, arms folded, repeatedly insists she go to the Opening Ceremony despite the Covid risk rather than ‘hiding in your room’. Quite extraordinary.”
James Maasdorp called it “painfully awful” while TV personality Julia Zemiro said: “A man continues telling … ordering … Premier Palaszczuk what to do & pestering … humiliating … her on a world stage.”
Even Australian celebrity Magda Szubanski weighed in. “John Coates’ behaviour is waaaay past awkward and a loooong way into thuggish,” she tweeted.
Triple J’s Shalailah Medhora said: “Can you imagine John Coates talking to a male Premier this way? It’s beyond belligerent.”
Former Swimming Australia CEO Leigh Russell was outraged. “This is disgusting. And yet another example of how women are treated in sport,” she wrote on Twitter.
“#AnastasiaPalaszczuk in an impossible situation. Her constituents – don’t go – why should you have all the fun when we are in a pandemic? Bully boys of sport – you’re not in the club unless you come drink expensive wine with us….after all, that’s what sport is about, right?”
Journalist Jen Browning said the exchange was “super awks” and Marty Silk wrote: “Pretty disrespectful way to speak to a thrice-elected Australian political leader.”
Premier has no issue with Coates
Ms Palaszczuk said her relationship with Mr Coates was all rosy when grilled about the exchange and her opening ceremony plans on ABC Breakfast.
Lisa Millar: Premier, we’ve been playing some footage this morning from a press conference overnight where John Coates was pretty insistent about you turning up at the opening ceremony. It’s a bit tricky to work out what’s going on when you’ve got masks on and we don’t know what’s happening behind those masks. You didn’t look happy about the exchange. What was it all about?
Palaszczuk: Look, I think that this is … So now what’s happened Lisa is that we’ve actually been awarded the Games.
LM: But I’m talking about the exchange with John Coates.
Palaszczuk: I’ve known John for years. So what’s happened now is that the Lord Mayor and the Federal minister and I are expected to go. So I will leave that to John Coates and Thomas Bach. But let me make it clear — I am not going to offend anyone now that we’ve just been awarded the Games.
LM: Why weren’t you going to the opening ceremony in the first place?
Palaszczuk: In the first place? That was before we were even awarded the Games.
LM: Yeah, but you were there in Tokyo. It just seemed all very odd and then this press conference where John Coates seems to be laying down the law.
Palaszczuk: No, I think that you’re just… I think that you’re just talking semantics here. Honestly – there wasn’t even an invitation that had been issued. So my understanding is that now John Coates has said that there is an expectation by both himself as the head of the AOC and the Vice-President of the International Olympic Committee and Thomas Bach the president.
LM: So all is good with John Coates?
Palaszczuk: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. He’s fantastic. If we didn’t have John Coates, this would not have happened. John Coates has been the driving force behind us securing the Olympics. He has been able to get all levels of government to work together for us to have this bid and his engagement with the business community, his networks are absolutely phenomenal. And look, I’m going to give credit where credit is due. It’s great for him that he was with Sydney and now he’s ushered in this opportunity for Brisbane and Queensland. I’m a very, very proud Queenslander.
Mr Coates told Channel 7’s Sunrise he “overruled” Ms Palaszczuk after she initially said she would not be among the 1000 or so VIPs to attend the opening ceremony, which – like most of the events – will be closed to the public because of Covid-19 restrictions in the Japanese capital.
“Yes I did do that (overrule the Premier) in a press conference last night,” Mr Coates said on Thursday. “I’m not sure how she responded to being told, ‘You are going’.
“There will still be an opening and closing ceremony in 2032 with the traditional parts. It’s very important that all the players in this understand that it’s a very big expenditure by an organising committee, a lot of thought has to go into it – the parade of nations, all the traditional parts.
“Anyway, I’ve convinced them that they will all three be there. It’s not a problem.”