Australian PM backs challenger in first Australian Olympic Committee election in 27 years

2017-04-21 06:15:57 GMT2017-04-21 14:15:57(Beijing Time) Xinhua English

CANBERRA, April 21 (Xinhua) -- Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's government has flagged its support for challenger Danni Roche in a bitter Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) election.

An anonymous government source told News Limited on Friday that Turnbull preferred 1996 Olympic hockey gold medalist Roche over incumbent AOC President John Coates.

The source said the government was "fully aware" that the re-appointment of John Wylie, an enemy of Coates, as chairman of the Australian Sports Commission (ASC) in March would spark a challenge to Coates' position.

None of Turnbull's cabinet ministers opposed the reappointment despite being made aware it would trigger a challenge.

Coates was voted in as President of the AOC in 1990, a position he has held since without facing a single leadership challenge.

Despite Turnbull's reluctance to intervene in the AOC election, the government held fears that, if re-elected, Coates would engineer a handover to Mark Arbib, a former senator who represented the now-Opposition Australian Labor Party (ALP).

"John Wylie's appointment was totally on merit and because he has done an excellent job," the source told News Limited on Friday.

"But everyone was well aware that it would likely bring on a challenge to Coates. That's now up to them to sort out," the source continued.

The feud between Coates and Wylie escalated in February when the two engaged in a public, verbal altercation at an athletics event in Melbourne.

Roche announced her challenge to Coates in March, saying that Coates 27-year presidency had grown stale.

Turnbull's support for Roche came as it was revealed that the AOC paid 4.8 million U.S. dollars in commissions to sponsorship agencies in the lead up to the 2016 Rio Olympics, almost a third of the 14.9 million U.S. dollars that was spent on the team.

The 94 delegates with votes will cast their ballots on May 6.