(ATR) John Coates has always been an athletes' man – born into sport through rowing and reaching the top of the Olympic ladder in Australia, rising to prominence at the IOC – the Olympics has been his life.
Between 1988 and 2008 "Mr. Olympics" led the Australian team as its Chef de Mission on six straight and successful Olympic campaigns including the 2000 "Best Games ever" in his home town Sydney.
But the long-standing president of the Australian Olympic Committee and now chairman of the IOC’s Coordination Commission for Tokyo, was missing yesterday when AOC Executive Director Matt Carroll and Coates’ latest successor as Tokyo 2020 Australian team Chef de Mission Ian Chesterman fronted the media – a fiery crew looking to lead a charge to pull the plug on Tokyo 2020 and to protect the athletes from the curse that is Coronavirus.
Coates himself remains in isolation after flying in from Europe – leaving the next round for Tokyo survival talks in the hands of his lieutenants.
And it was clear as soon as Chesterman took the microphone that he, like Coates, is an athletes' man.
"John Coates has always put the interests of the athletes at heart no matter what (IOC) positions he holds. Always an athletes' first man…. he’s a past Chef de Mission of course," said Chesterman, himself serving his apprenticeship on Australia’s Winter Olympic teams before graduating to his first Summer duties – and it promises to be the toughest tour of duty.
"In this environment I always try and look through the eyes of the athlete," said Chesterman.
"Athletes who have worked for four years, eight years, 12 years and more in some cases and they want their Olympic moment, for many this will be their only opportunity to be at an Olympic Games.
"Our clear message from our Japanese friends is that the Games will continue.
"So if everyone is planning for the Games then we have to plan for the Games as well because that’s our obligation to the athletes.
"We know the athletes will want to be there and we need to be able to deliver them there safely and get them home safely.
"We must deliver them Coronavirus free – and we anticipate this will be a requirement for all athletes who attend the Games.
"So we are starting a conversation right now starting today with the sports to see how we can achieve this and we are looking at a number of measures towards and in conjunction with our sports.
"We’ll be looking at longer base camp options in Australia before they depart for the Games obviously with a recognition then that they will be Coronavirus free.
"We will also look at longer base camp options in Japan as well, putting more athletes in the home country earlier where they are in a controlled environment earlier and they can move into the Games Village.
"Some sports already have well established plans and it may be just a matter of extending those camps either here or in Japan. We will work with sports to come up with the best plans for them and their athletes.
"And also to emphasize there will not be one giant base camp for Australia before the Games we’ll be looking at as range of options and solutions for each of our sports.
"Athlete arrivals into the Village could be delayed so they arrive more into an adjusted time arrangement for their competition.
"We will also be looking a special charter flight arrangements potentially to take athletes into Tokyo to ensure the isolation period they have been under taking is protected on their way to the Games."
It was earlier this week that Chesterman wrote to his athletes which he says is as an important thing that they keep doing so they can hear from the Chef directly.
"I’ll be writing to them again at the end of this week when we get some of the answers back from the IOC after our conversation with president Bach to be able to tell them what’s going on," said Chesterman.
"Their well being and understanding of the situation is very important to us," said Chesterman who has spent the past three months travelling around Australia attending athlete inductions and visiting their training sessions and says he gets continual feedback that they all want to go to the Games.
"I have no doubt that athletes want to go to the Games and it would be fantastic if the Games could come off in a Coronavirus free environment.
"Anyone who is involved with the athletes – coaches and staff will be in a coronavirus free environment.
"It’s going to be hard…. I accept that. But we will work it through with the sports…we have to look after the athletes."
It’s a John Coates thing. And has been adopted by his latest successor in the toughest of times.
Written and reported by Ian Hanson in Sydney
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