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Coates must accept responsibility for broken AOC culture, says former CEO


Former Australian Olympic Committee chief executive Fiona de Jong says she can’t accept AOC president John Coates’ attempts to distance himself from cultural problems in the organisation.

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Coates yesterday insisted he wasn’t responsible for the AOC’s cultural issues after a damning independent report detailed widespread workplace problems.

Instead, Coates pointed the finger at former chief executives of the AOC, including de Jong.

“It’s convenient for the president to now blame those who have left the organisation,” de Jong said.

De Jong announced her resignation as AOC chief executive last October but was a key player in bullying claims which surfaced earlier this year.

It is simply untrue for the president to deny knowledge of or involvement in this culture

She lodged a formal complaint of bullying against AOC media director Mike Tancred.

An independent committee heard de Jong’s claim and determined Tancred’s conduct fell short of bullying because it was not repetitive.

But the committee of three former judges found Tancred’s conduct amounted to “disreputable conduct” and he was reprimanded.

Tancred remains stood down from his job pending the outcome of other bullying claims against him, to be decided by the end of the month.

Coates told reporters in Sydney yesterday it was “very important in these matters that both the complainants and Mike Tancred be given natural justice”.

“Three staff members requested an investigation of their concerns,” he said.

“There was one additional complainant, who was not an AOC employee.

“They (investigators) have completed the determinations in respect of two. They are finalising the determinations in respect to the remaining two.”

Coates added the panel will then assess the complaints “cumulatively… which has been a request by at least one of the complainants”.

“That work can’t be completed until the final determinations (of all four complaints) are completed.”

Coates said he wouldn’t quit as president despite an independent review into AOC workplace practices finding a dysfunctional culture tarred by fear, favouritism and open hostility.

“Why should I resign?” Coates told reporters in Sydney.

“There has been no confirmation of bullying.

“There has been some criticism of senior leaders – I’m the president, I’m not the senior leader that is being criticised.

“There has been no treatment of the staff by me that is objectionable.”

But de Jong said it was “disappointing and difficult to accept that the president can exclude himself from any responsibility for the culture”.

“And it is simply untrue for the president to deny knowledge of or involvement in this culture,” de Jong said.

She cited Coates’ apology for using the term ‘sheltered workshop’ when referring to a staff member suffering cancer and said Coates “personally put in place a secret $120,000 bonus pay for Mr Tancred just one month after he was advised of a complaint” about the media director.

De Jong hoped the independent review would trigger meaningful change within the AOC.

“However I also believe it will require courageous leadership… to make that happen,” she said.

The review, released publicly yesterday, found widespread disillusionment of staff with their treatment from AOC leaders.

Staffers told of senior leaders undermining each other and being openly hostile; of widespread concerns about favouritism; a lack of transparency in decision-making; and poor communication.

Many staff also held a view that some people had stayed in the organisation too long, which was a key plank in the campaign to win the AOC presidency by Olympian Danni Roche, who unsuccessfully challenged Coates for the role last May.

Coates welcomed the review by The Ethics Centre, which was commissioned following bullying claims which surfaced during the presidency campaign.

“It’s time for us to reassess whether we are fit for purpose,” he said.

Coates said the AOC was committed to acting on the 17 recommendations made by the report, including a review of the body’s governance model.

The AOC would also follow other recommendations including the development of a cultural plan and another review into internal processes to promote greater transparency.


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