The letter that sparked a civil war in the Australian Olympic movement

John Coates has been Australian Olympic Committee's president since 1990.

John Coates has been Australian Olympic Committee's president since 1990.

The ancient Greeks called the Olympics "the truce of the gods."

Any possible peace pact between the rival contestants for the position of the Australian Olympic Committee's presidency – incumbent John Coates and challenger Danni Roche - dissolved in a glance.

Roche wrote to Coates on Sunday, saying "I would be delighted to work with you on a transition plan.

To this end I would welcome the opportunity to discuss with you an Honorary President role, similar to New Zealand's, for you to continue to have a role domestically with the AOC as well as internationally."

Danni Roche is a gold medal winning Australian hockey player.

Danni Roche is a gold medal winning Australian hockey player.

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It was an offer Coates had to refuse.

His position as International Olympic Committee vice president exists only because he is AOC president, one of 15 National Olympic Committee presidents around the world whose membership of the IOC depends on their national position.

Sure, Coates could accept the position as AOC Honorary President and be allocated a privileged seat at Olympic functions within Australia but he could not fulfil the role stated by Roche in the closing remarks of her letter: "I am certain you will continue to promote the Olympic movement on the global stage, something that all Australians can be proud of."

The reality is that if Coates is sacked as AOC president, he would be required to immediately surrender his role as chairman of the Co-ordination Committee of the Tokyo Olympics to be held in just over three years time.

He would also be forced to resign his position as chair of Court of Arbitration for Sport, the world's peak sport court, as well as committee roles on the IOC's legal affairs and broadcast committees.

If Coates is characterised by his opponents as a domestic dictator who spends most of his time overseas, he heads the most democratic organisation in Australian sport.

If all eligible AOC members cast their votes for either Coates or Roche at the AGM on May 6, there will be 94 voting slips in the ballot box.

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Under AOC rules, all sports are equal.

The 33 summer Olympic sports receive two votes each, as do the seven Winter Olympic sports, meaning 80 of the 94 votes are cast by sports.

The AOC executive members and Athletes Commission members receive a vote each but, contrary to reports, AOC Life Members cannot vote, although they may attend the AGM.

While all sports are equal, some are less equal than others. Swimming must split its two votes with water polo.

Therefore, the sport which has delivered more gold medals than any other, receives the same number of votes as figure skating which must pair with speed skating.

Roche, a gold medal winning hockey player, has the support of swimming and other big funded team sports, such as basketball, while Coates can count on the votes of the seven Winter Olympic sports.

While Roche says in her letter to Coates that extending his tenure to 30 years is, "from a governance perspective too long, regardless of the skill and leadership of the individual", perhaps the canny 66 year old has been looking at the future for some time.

Swimming lost its lustre at the past two Olympics, partly because other nations caught up, while Australian figure skating is now cutting an elegant edge on the rest of the world.

Last Saturday, Australia's figure skating pair of Harley Windsor and Katya Alexandrovskaya were crowned World Junior champions in Taipei.

It is Australia's best ever international performance in figure skating in over 70 years but importantly points to a more inclusive world.

Harley is a 20 year old indigenous athlete from western Sydney and Katya is a 17 year old from Moscow who has applied for Australian citizenship and therefore qualify to represent Australia at the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea.

The athletes were teamed together by an agreement between the Australian and Russian skating coaches one year ago, owing to the mutual lack of suitable partners in each country because of their height differences.

April 6 is the closing day for nominations to the AOC, including executive positions and the vice presidency.

Coates has confided to close friends that he will retire after the Tokyo Olympics but has not hinted at a successor.

His AOC media director, Mike Tancred, has ignited a long dormant election campaign, aware of the multiple earlier approaches to significant Melbourne-based identities, such as former Victorian premier, Jeff Kennett, to oppose Coates.

Roche is very organised, having set up a website and phoned many voting members, as well as alerting journalists.

She has strong financial support and the backing of her fellow board members of the Australian Sports Commission, the federal government's funding and policy arm.

 - Sydney Morning Herald

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