- Associated Press - Thursday, May 4, 2017

Australian Olympic Committee president John Coates says he’s confident heading into Saturday’s first test of his domestic leadership in nearly 30 years, a vote that could cost him his IOC vice presidency if he loses.

Coates, who has been AOC president since 1990 and who heads the International Olympic Committee’s coordination commission for the 2020 Tokyo Games, is up for election against Danni Roche in a 93-vote secret ballot in Sydney.

A 1996 Olympic field hockey gold medalist, Roche has offered to work for free and promised to direct more funding to athletes. Her pledge came during an often acrimonious campaign which has brought up divisions within the Australian Olympic community.

Roche, who announced her candidacy on March 20, is expecting it to be a tight result.

“I think the vote will be very, very close. I think it will come down to the wire,” Roche said Friday. “It has been a very big six weeks, but a special six weeks.”

The IOC has said under current regulations, the 66-year-old Coates would lose his senior international positions if he does not retain the Australian role.

When asked in a television interview if he thinks he has enough votes at the AOC’s annual general meeting to retain his position, Coates said: “I hope so … you have to always respect the electorate and that’s what I’m continuing to do.”

Coates’ leadership has been questioned in recent weeks amid accusations of bullying within the organization. His long-time media director, Mike Tancred, stood down from his duties pending an investigation.

Tancred has denied the bullying allegations made by former AOC chief executive Fiona de Jong, but said last week he would step aside from his position until the matter was resolved.

In her published campaign platform, the 46-year-old Roche said she will forgo Coates’ yearly remuneration of 750,000 Australian dollars ($565,000) and will propose a 100,000 Australian dollars ($75,000) salary package for the president - which she would waive for the entirety of her term - to illustrate her commitment to the funding of athletes.

“When sports can’t invest in their future, the risk of losing talented athletes to another sport, or to sport altogether, is real,” she said earlier this week.

Coates has received the endorsement of the AOC athletes’ commission, which accounts for two votes on Saturday.

But its support, which it said was not unanimous, came with strong recommendations for change, including the president’s salary.

“The overwhelming response from the athlete population and alumni was that there is a desire for change,” it said in a statement. “The Athletes’ Commission supports a review of the president’s remuneration. Any remuneration should be commensurate with the role undertaken.”

Eligible voters on Saturday also include the AOC’s executive board members, two members from each of the 33 Summer Olympic sports federations and two each from the seven Australian Winter Olympic federations.

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