‘Big claims that lack credibility’: Senator fires back at AOC boss over proposed Beijing Olympic boycott

Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) president John Coates has been described by independent senator for South Australia Rex Patrick as holding “an antiquated and self-serving vision of international sport” in a scathing letter sent to the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee.

Senator Patrick is one of a number of politicians and activists calling for Australia not to attend the Beijing Winter Olympics in 2022 over human rights abuses and concerns they could become unwilling participants in Chinese Communist Party propaganda.

“Mr Coates has chosen to go nuclear in response to my call for Australia to boycott the Winter Olympic Games’ scheduled to be held in Beijing in 2022,” Senator Patrick said in a letter addressed to committee chair Eric Abetz.

Senator Patrick has not only called for Australia to boycott the next Winter Olympics on human rights grounds, but has recommended changing the Foreign Relations (State and Territory Arrangements) Bill 2020 to bring the autonomous AOC under its scope.

On Friday, Mr Coates, who is also a vice-president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), delivered a 24-page submission to the committee saying why the AOC does not support Senator Patrick’s call for a boycott.

“The AOC does not support a boycott of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games,” his letter said.

“The AOC also opposes any amendment that would subject its activities to the arrangements contemplated by the Bill, as this could have serious consequences for Australia’s participation in the Olympic Movement.

“Any proposal to bring the AOC within the ambit of the Bill would fetter its autonomy under the Olympic Charter and, in the eyes of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), could jeopardise its recognition as a National Olympic Committee (NOC).

“The potential consequences for the AOC, Australian athletes, and others could be significant and detrimental and include — athletes not being able to compete at upcoming Games under the Australian flag, including the Tokyo 2020 Games and Beijing Winter Games in 2022 and destroying Brisbane’s bid to host the Olympic Games in 2032.”

Rex Patrick speaks in the Senate.Rex Patrick speaks in the Senate.
Independent South Australian senator Rex Patrick has been one of the loudest voices calling for an Australian boycott.(ABC News: Tamara Penniket)

Senator Patrick writes in his letter that Mr Coates’s assertions “are very big claims that lack credibility”.

“Notwithstanding his position as an IOC vice president, Mr Coates can’t predict what the IOC response to a boycott will be,” he said.

In reference to the autonomy of the AOC the Senator said the autonomy of many National Olympic Committees was “questionable at best”.

“In particular, no-one would seriously suggest that the Chinese Olympic Committee is independent of Government influence when its membership is comprised entirely of Chinese Government officials and Chinese Communist Party members,” he wrote.

“Like all institutions in China, the Chinese Olympic Committee is totally controlled by the Communist regime which is directly responsible for gross human rights violations (including I might add political hostage taking and arbitrary detention of Australian citizens).

“If the IOC were serious about enforcing the provisions of the Olympic Charter, China would not be a member.”

IOC writing new human rights language into host cities’ contracts

The IOC has recently added a clause in to all host city contracts that demands Organising Committees to:

“Protect and respect human rights and ensure any violation of human rights is remedied in a manner consistent with international agreements, laws and regulations applicable in the Host Country and in a manner consistent with all internationally-recognised human rights standards and principles, including the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, applicable in the Host Country.”

The first Olympic Games subject to the new human rights clause will be Paris 2024.

The contract for Beijing 2022 was signed in 2015 before the changes were made.

The IOC has also committed to creating a human rights committee after a commissioned report from former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Prince Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein and the Shift organisation.

Senator Patrick said “human rights must come ahead of sport”.

“The AOC president has a long history of jealously defending the AOC and the International Olympic Committee as institutions above and beyond political, moral influence or judgment,” Senator Patrick wrote.

“If Mr Coates’s overall position were to be accepted, one could only conclude that the Olympic Games and Australia’s participation in these events must exist in a complete moral vacuum.

“One might ask what scale of human rights violations would trigger any response from the IOC or the AOC.

“That may change with the introduction of human rights principles in the IOC’s Host City contracts for the 2024 Paris Summer Games and other Games thereafter.

“In a fast-changing world of international relations, those principles must be applied to the 2022 Beijing Games.

“Many countries fall short in respect of basic human rights, however the Chinese Communist regime’s violations are on such an enormous scale that they cannot be ignored, downplayed or whitewashed.”