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australian rowers profiles and history

John D Coates AC

Sydney Rowing Club (NSW)

Born 7 May 1950

John Coates has been a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) since 2001.  He was Vice President from 2013-17 and a member of its Executive Board from 2009-2013, and again Vice President from 2020.  He was Chair of the IOC’s 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games Coordination Commission; is Chair of the IOC Legal Affairs Commission; its Olympic Agenda 2020/New Norm Steering Committee; Working Group of Future Games Elections and Delegate for Broadcast Rights negotiations in Oceania. 

He was Deputy Chair of the 2032 Olympic Candidature Leadership Group considering a proposed candidature by Brisbane/Queensland for the 2032 Olympic Games and will remain on the organising committee for those Games.  The Prime Minister was the Chair of that bid committee.

John is President of the International Council of Arbitration for Sport and Court of Arbitration for Sport (since 2011); President of the Australian Olympic Committee Inc. (since 1990) and Chair of the Australian Olympic Foundation Ltd (since 1995).  He was Chef de Mission of the Australian Olympic Teams in Beijing, Athens, Sydney, Atlanta, Barcelona and Seoul and held other senior team positions in Los Angeles, Moscow and Montreal. 

He was Vice President of the Sydney Olympic Bid, Senior Vice President of the Sydney Organising Committee for the 2000 Olympic Games (SOCOG) and Chair of the SOCOG Sports Commission.

He is a former Council Member for Oceania of the International Rowing Federation (FISA); former President of the Australian Amateur Rowing Council; former Deputy Chairman of the Australian Institute of Sport and Sports Commission; and, former Board member of the Sydney Olympic Park Authority.

John is a graduate in law (LLB) from Sydney University (1969-1972) and Chair of thoroughbred horse auctioneers, William Inglis & Son Ltd.  He served on the Board of David Jones Limited for 17 years, the last eight as Deputy Chair.  

He was awarded the Olympic Order in Gold at the Closing Ceremony of the Sydney Olympics and the FISA Medal of Honour during those Games.  

In 2006, John was appointed to Australia’s highest civilian honour as a Companion in the General Division of the Order of Australia (AC) “for service to the development of sport nationally and internationally through the Olympic movement promoting the wellbeing of youth and values of tolerance, understanding, peace and mutual respect between peoples of the world”.  

Now back to rowing.

John commenced his rowing career as a cox, but due to a hip problem, was prevented from rowing.  He became Australia’s leading sports administrator and, of course, one of the World’s leading sports administrators.  He has too many highlights to mention in the space allowed but a couple of rowing related stories will follow.

One of his first sports administration roles was at his rowing cub, Sydney where he served on the committee from the 1970-71 season, soon becoming club delegate to the NSW Rowing Association and then Secretary in 1973-74 season. He held that position until it became a professional position in 1977. In 1978 he took over the Honorary Secretary position at Rowing Australia.

In rowing, perhaps one of his best decisions was the appointment of Reinhold Batschi who was key to changing the fortunes of Australian rowing.  The results in 1975 and 1976 when he was the Australian team manager drove John to find a way to improve our results. The sport had achieved some good individual performances such as the silver medal in the Eight at Mexico and the success of the Lightweights in the 1970s.  However, these were as a result of individual work, not as a system.  John spoke to Leo Wolloner of German boatbuilder, Empacher, who recommended Batschi and Thomi Keller (FISA President) confirmed this recommendation.  A selection process took place involving John Coates, Bob Aitken and Jim Howden.  It was an appointment of genius.  The big problem was finding the funding for the position and convincing the sport to accept the revolutionary changes that would come.  John carried the burden of convincing the sport of the necessity for change.  Batschi was able to provide the ideas and Coates and John Boultbee were the instruments of the change.  The ideas were always worthwhile and therefore almost always implemented.  It was clear that the good results of the 1980s and beyond had their base in this key decision.

John Boultbee, John Coates and Reinhold Batschi at the National Championships in 1984

Another pivotal decision was withstanding the pressures of the Federal Government in 1980 for rowing to withdraw from the Olympic Games.  As Honorary Secretary of the AARC at the time, this put John under enormous pressure from many within the AOC and the Federal Government which withdrew its funding for the Australian Team.  John worked with the Seamen’s and other Maritime Unions to raise replacement funding for the rowing and water polo teams.

The great lever the Government had over the team was funding.  It is clear that from this point forward, John wanted to make sure that at least the AOC would be financially independent of Government.  He has worked hard to achieve this end and his great work in extracting $100 million from the Sydney Olympic Games Organising Committee is legendary.  This work is ably described in Harry Gordon’s book, The Time of our Lives published in 2003.  Again, he put his reputation and skill on the line to achieve this difficult and important result.

His role in gaining the 2000 Olympic Games for Sydney was pivotal and very well known. It was perhaps his crowning achievement.  His subsequent and extensive IOC work has been highly regarded. Finally, his work in gaining the hosting rights to the 2032 Games by Brisbane is regarded as critical. Whilst it was in the end a one-horse race, it would not have occurred without him.

John married fellow rowing Olympian Pauline Kahl and they successfully passed on their interest in rowing to the next Coates generation. They are divorced and John is now married to Orieta Pires.

John's impressive Olympic career will slowly reduce from 2022 with his term as AOC President scheduled to complete. He will no doubt continue to serve the Olympic movement in many ways despite his retirement from the AOC Presidency.

Key roles and awards (given the complexity of his career, it is broken up by activity/organisation)

Professional career

1973 - Solicitor, admitted 1973 (Bachelor of Laws, Sydney University 1969-1972)

1971-2001 - Greaves Wannan & Williams, Solicitors (Partner 1977-87, Consultant 1987-91, Partner 1991 to 2001) 

1987-2018 - Kemp Strang Lawyers (Partner 2001-09; Special Counsel 2009-18)

1987-to date - Numerous public company directorships and advisory boards, including David Jones Limited (Director 1995-2003, Deputy Chair 2003-12), William Inglis & Son Ltd (Chair 2007 to date)


Sydney Rowing Club

1965-1975 - Coxswain then Coach, Homebush Boys’ High and Sydney Rowing Club

1968 – Captain of Homebush High rowing squad

1971-1979 - Director (5 years Honorary Secretary)

1983 - Honorary Life Member

1998 - Order of Merit

New South Wales Rowing Association Inc. (now Rowing NSW)

1977 - Deputy Chair

1994 - Honorary Life Member

Australian Rowing Council Inc. (now Rowing Australia)

1975 - Manager, Australian Team, Nottingham World Rowing Championships

1975-1981 - Delegate to Australian Olympic Federation

1978-1982 - Honorary Secretary

1983-1988 - President

1993 - Honorary Life Member

International Rowing Federation (FISA)

1992-2014 - Council Member (Continental Representative for Oceania).


Australian Olympic Teams

1976 - Rowing Section Manager - Montreal

1980 - Administration Director - Moscow 

1984 -  Assistant General Manager - Los Angeles

1988-2008 - Chef de Mission and General Manager – Seoul 1988, Barcelona 1992, Atlanta 1996, Sydney 2000, Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008

Olympic Bids

1985-1986 - Executive Director, Brisbane 1992 Olympic Games Bid

1989-1990 - Member, Melbourne 1996 Olympic Games Bid Strategy Committee

1991-1993 - Vice President, Sydney Olympics 2000 Bid Limited

2019-Feb 2022 - Deputy Chair, Brisbane 2032 Olympic Candidature Leadership Group

NSW Olympic Council

1980-1981 - Honorary Treasurer

1981-1990 - President

1990 -  Honorary Life Member

Australian Olympic Committee Inc

1982 to date - Member, Executive

1985-1990 - Vice President

16 November 1990-30 April 2022 - President 

1997 - Honorary Life Member 

Australian Olympic Foundation Limited

1995-30 April 2022 - Chair

Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games

1993 to 2000 - Senior Vice President

1996 to 2000 - Chair, Sports Commission

International Olympic Committee (IOC)

2001 to date - Member

2002-2003 - Member, Olympic Games Study Commission

2002-2014 - Member, Juridical Commission

2005-2015 - Member, TV Rights and New Media Commission

2005-2012 - Member, Coordination Commission for the Games of the XXX Olympiad London 2012

2009-2017 - Executive Board

2013-2017 - Vice President

2010-2016 - Member, Coordination Commission for the Games of the XXXI Olympiad Rio de Janeiro 2016

2013-2022 - Chair, Coordination Commission for the Games of the XXXII Olympiad Tokyo 2020

2014-2015 - Chair, Juridical Commission (now Legal Affairs Commission)

2014-2015 - Chair, Sport and Law Commission (now Legal Affairs Commission)

2015 to date - Chair, Legal Affairs Commission

2015 to date - Delegate Member, Broadcasting rights negotiations for Oceania

2016 - Chair, Olympic Winter Games Strategic Review Working Group

2017 - IOC Vice Presidents’ Working Group – simultaneously awarding 2024 and 2028 Olympic Games and 2026 Olympic Winter Games – Candidature process

2017 to date - Chair, Olympic Agenda 202/The New Norm - Steering Committee

2020 to date - IOC Vice President and member of the Executive Board

2022 - Chair of the IOC Legal Affairs Commission

Oceania National Olympic Committees

2001 to date - Member, Executive

2005 to date - Director, Oceania Foundation

Other Sports Related Appointments

1978-1986NSW Sports House Advisory Committee (Deputy Chair, 1981-86)

1985-1987 - NSW Government -Foundation Trustee, State Sports Centre, Homebush

1985-1989 - Director, Australian Institute of Sport (Deputy Chair 1986-89)

1987-1989 - Member, Australian Sports Commission

1989-1998 - Deputy Chair, Australian Sports Commission (inc. Australian Institute of Sport)

1989-1991 - Chair, NSW Government International Sporting Events Council

1990-1991 - Chair, Organising Committee for the 1991 Congress and General Assembly of the General Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF) in Sydney

1994-1996 - Director, Australian Sports Hall of Fame Limited

1990-1993 - Member, Australia Day Council of NSW

2005-2016 - Member, Sydney Olympic Park Authority

2007-2009 - Director, Events New South Wales Pty Limited

2011 to date - Member, Board of Governors, International Masters Games Association

2020 to date - Rugby Australia 2027 World Cup Bid Advisory Board

International Council of Arbitration for Sport (ICAS) and Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS)

1994 - Member, ICAS

1995 to 2010 - Vice President, ICAS

2011 to date - President, ICAS and CAS



Andrew Guerin
January 2022

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