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Olympic turmoil: Accuser questions independence of bullying review

Sport

The Australian Olympic Committee will trigger an independent review into its workplace amid claims of widespread bullying over more than a decade. 

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As the organisation’s media director Mike Tancred stood down yesterday, AOC president John Coates was directly dragged into the bullying furore.

His former chief executive Fiona de Jong released a chain of emails in which Coates told a cancer-suffering AOC staffer that she didn’t work in a “sheltered workshop”.

The use of the term upset the Australian Paralympic Committee as Coates faces the first challenge to his AOC presidency since he took the role 27 years ago.

Coates’ staunch ally Tancred stood down pending a resolution of a bullying claim against him by de Jong.

Fiona de Jong and Mike Tancred sit together at an AAP Sports Editors conference in 2015. Photo: Jane Dempster / AAP

The AOC executive held a crisis meeting last night, deciding to refer de Jong’s complaint to an independent committee of three senior counsel or retired judges.

“Further, the AOC will commission an independent review, overseen by the incoming CEO, into workplace practices to ensure the best possible environment for our staff,” the executive said in a statement.

“The AOC supports an environment free from discrimination, harassment and bullying and will not tolerate behaviours that differ from this standard.”

De Jong today questioned the independence of the review, to be overseen by the incoming chief executive, Matt Carroll.

“I would question the ability of any CEO to be truly independent and impartial in circumstances that the CEO was to become aware of an allegation against an individual to whom he or she reports. That is, any other members of the board or indeed a president,” de Jong told the ABC.

“Why can’t it just be a fully independent commission as has been the case established to hear my complaint?”

She also took aim at the AOC’s time frame in dealing with her matter.

“What the AOC hasn’t been able to do for four months, they’ve now miraculously been able to achieve in four days since my complaint became public,” de Jong said.

She previously said Tancred’s case was among a dozen instances of workplace harassment in the AOC from 2004 to last year.

De Jong quit last December and lodged a formal complaint against Tancred, saying he threatened her and her family.

“I deny all the allegations against me,” Tancred said yesterday.

De Jong detailed alleged bullying cases in a letter, accompanied by an email chain from January last year which included Coates’ response to an un-named AOC lawyer who was suffering from cancer.

In an internal email, Coates criticised the woman’s performance.

When de Jong emailed Coates to defend the woman, he replied: “(The woman) is a solicitor, hardly a junior member of staff. If she’s offended it’s probably time for her to get out in the real world. Ours is not a sheltered workshop.”

Australian Olympic Committee President John Coates with Rio Chef de Mission Kitty Chiller, speaking to the media ahead of a 2016 black tie dinner in Sydney. Photo: Dean Lewins / AAP

The use of the term was criticised by Australian Paralympic Committee chief executive Lynne Anderson.

“The tone is meant to denigrate. It comes across as denigrating,” Anderson said.

De Jong also rejected comments from Coates earlier this week that there wasn’t a bullying culture in the AOC.

“I’m not sure how many complaints are required in order for an organisation to be characterised as having a culture of bullying,” de Jong wrote.

“But, on any analysis, it is untrue for my complaint to be characterised as an isolated incident.”

Coates is being challenged for the AOC presidency by Olympic hockey gold medallist Danni Roche. A vote will be held on May 6.

-AAP

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