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Swim Issue On Coates Tail Of Doping

Mar 6, 2013  - Craig Lord

Reports that came out in Australia when the Australian Olympic Committee opened its new HQ in Sydney, have John Coates talking about jail for doping offences (in pro sport) in the same breath as the Stilnox saga and the fear of parents 

John Coates, head of Australia's Olympic Committee, fears that the Stilnox and bad-bahaviour scandal surrounding the men's 4x100m free relay in the lead-up to London 2012 could see parents bypass the pool when decoding which sport to guide their offspring to Down Under.

An advocate for prison sentences for doping cheats, Coates has been clear that a recent Australian Crime Commission report that revealed drug-taking and match-fixing is a case apart and one that belongs to the workld of professional sport.

However, with a nod to swimming's problems and an inquiry conclusion that a "toxic" environment had been allowed to develop in Australia's Olympic swimming team was a serious matter.

"The biggest worry I have, because of swimming behavioural problems, is that the public doesn't think as highly of our Olympic teams," Coates told reporters Down Under. "The last thing we want is for the mums and dads not to think of our Olympians as role models. We are trying to create greater participation in sport through our team. 'Is that what happens when I send my little girl to the team or my little Johnny to the team?' That's what scares me."

Speaking after the opening of new AOC offices overlooking Sydney Opera House, Coates told Reuters that swimming's woes might affect the ability to attract sponsorship to Olympic sports.

"Our sponsors know that we take a very strong stand on doping, our sponsors know that during the Games we have a total ban on illicit drugs. But certainly some of the behaviour aspects of the swimmers is going to cause some problems. We are looking at it and we need to sort it out," he added in an attempt to note the difference between two of the hottest issues in Australian sport.

He believed that "the unwashed public out there" lumped Stilnox and banned substances together in their mind and went on to bundle mixed thoughts himself when saying: "I bet you there's a lot of people in England and places that are salivating. Our friendly rivals … the rest of the world is not naive enough to think things are not happening in their own countries."

The trouble with such treatment of very different themes is that Coates has ended up being quoted on two issues as if with one breath, Reuters following up reference to Stilnox and swimmers with this line: Coates took his advocacy for criminal sanctions for those who use and supply banned substances, as well as the right to compel witnesses to testify about drug use, to a senate hearing in Canberra last week.

"I'm confident that ASADA (Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority) will get these extra powers. There's precedent ... if the integrity of the financial markets is being protected, the integrity of sport should be protected," he said.

"The question mark for me is whether they will take our point and go further than just civil penalties ... I would like them to go to potentially to criminal penalties."

Followed by this return to swimming: It was not just the behaviour of some of the swimmers in London that was a disappointment to Australia with the team finishing 10th in the medals table after targeting a place in the top five.

"I think it's been a bit of wake up to the sports," he said. "A lot of the sports have sat back and had a good think about how they could improve and perhaps that hasn't happened to much since the Sydney Olympics. We were in a bit of a comfort zone for too long."