Jones apology to Coates

3 October 2007

2GB radio host Alan Jones has broadcast an apology to AOC President John Coates for comments he made on his program on August 8th 2007.

A transcript of Mr Jones’ apology appears below.


Some of my listeners might recall that I was broadcasting from Beijing back in August to mark the countdown to the next Olympics. There was one year to go, and I have to say that I found Beijing a fascinating place and the whole experience very interesting.

They were undertaking a great deal of work to have the facilities ready, and they're doing an enormous amount to try to deal with environmental issues, which was part of the promise to the Olympic movement when they were granted the games.

While I was in Beijing, John Coates was also there representing the Australian Olympic Committee at a meeting of the heads of missions of all the Olympic organisations.

John Coates is a man who's largely synonymous with Australian Olympic teams and has been involved with rowing and the Olympics, generally, for most of his life.

He's been president of the AOC since 1990 and can take some justifiable pride in being one of the people most responsible for getting the Olympic Games to Sydney and helping to make it the best Olympics ever.

John Coates and I have had our differences over the years, and it's fair to say that we are not close chums. However, while I was in Beijing, John Coates gave a media interview which was subsequently widely reported, and I think he was done an injustice.

As a consequence of a wire service report of that media interview, there were reports that John Coates had said, he would be keeping Australia's Olympic athletes away from Beijing until the last moment, and I quote: Hoping to avoid any filthy air and food problems in the Chinese capital.

Now, I saw that report - it went everywhere - and I was one of the people who read this and criticised John Coates for being ungracious to our Chinese hosts.

I've since had an opportunity to listen to that media interview of John Coates in full. I've been assured by John Coates's people he did not give any different interviews that would have justified the wire service comments, and in those circumstances, I think the media owe John Coates an apology. He was badly misreported.

For my part, I'm more than happy to apologise to him because what he was saying to the media made a lot of sense. You see, John Coates's concerns were largely twofold. The first is the issue of pollution and people are just going to have to cope with that. The Chinese Government is doing an enormous amount to cut emissions.

There is a haze that is not necessarily all pollution. But in a place like that, you get dust storms that can blow for thousands of miles. There's even talk that some events may need to be delayed for the sake of the health and well-being of the athletes.

Nobody really expects that to happen, but if there's a genuine problem at the time, then the athletes have to come first, rather than the commercial interests of those covering the Olympic Games. I don't think anyone can argue with the general proposition, and it's just a question of how you approach the problem.

But let it be said that John Coates never made the embarrassing comment attributed to him about filthy air.

The second issue is food problems in the Chinese capital. Let me assure you that my staff and I ate very well while we were in Beijing, and I'm quite careful about what I eat.

However, John Coates has a valid point. When you hear what he said in context, he's concerned about athletes eating outside the village, and I can understand that concern.

It's all very well for a handful of athletes who might be earning a million dollars a year to be outside the village, because they're probably staying in excellent accommodation and being very well looked after in terms of food. But a lot of people we send to an Olympic Games are complete amateurs, with very limited or no funds at all. You can imagine what it's like where these people might, naturally, want to explore Beijing or visit the Great Wall or do some things outside the village to fill in some time before their events are on.

If they eat from a roadside store, because it's cheap and develop some stomach upset just before they compete in their event, that would be fairly tragic.

The Olympics are not just the biggest thing to happen to some of these athletes in four years, but maybe the only chance in their entire lifetime that they'll get to be at an Olympics.

I think John Coates is not only trying to protect these people from themselves, but is trying to protect the investments that we all make when we contribute to sending an Olympic team away. We all want them to have the chance to perform at their best.

Although I don't see eye to eye with him on all issues, John Coates has immense experience in dealing with our Olympic teams, and I've got no doubt that he was putting interests and aspirations of the Australian Olympic team first in raising these issues.

On another issue, I mentioned that John Coates hadn't disclosed his salary as head of the Olympic movement. It seems I was wrong about that, because I now understand that these details are publicly available in the annual reports of the AOC and on its website. It is remarkable what you can find on the internet these days.

So just to recap, I think John Coates was unfairly treated in those reports that seem to have started with a wire service report that was then picked up all over the place. And I think it's only fair that someone puts that record straight.

I may catch up with him on air as we get closer to the Olympics to get a few insights as to how our team is shaping and what our prospects might be.


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