Leaders in Australian Sport 1980-2020

By Greg Blood

Recently Ian Hanson, swimming journalist and historian, published an article on James Taylor CBE who in 1920 was the inaugural President of the Australian Olympic Council and held the position until his death in 1944. It reminded me that in early part of 20th century Australian sport there were many long term leaders including: Richard Coombes, Harold Alderson MBE, Ernest Marks CBE,  Jim Eve MBE, Syd Grange AO, Bill Berge OBE, Sir Edgar Tanner CBE, Hugh Weir OBE, CBE , Sir Norman Brookes, Arthur Tunstall OBE and Arthur Hodson. These administrators held significant positions in Australian and international sports organisations and their commitment was for over twenty years.

I have been reflecting on those Australian sport administrators since 1980 – my time working in Australian sport – that would join this illustrious group. The list that I have prepared is based on the following criteria:

  • leading Australian sport administrator holding national positions such as President, Secretary-General, CEO or High Performance Manger
  • appointed to significant positions in international sports organisations
  • has held significant positions that cover a timespan of at least twenty years

This criteria is based on the roles held and length of service by significant pioneers listed above.

The list below does not include all the positions held by an administratorits aim is provide their significant roles and length of service. There are links to Sport Australia Hall of Fame, Wikipedia and other biographies for more detailed information of the administrator.

The list order follows Australian honours ranking – AC (Companion of Australia),  AO (Officer of the Order of Australia),  AM (Member of the Order of Australia) and OAM (Medal of the Order of Australia)

John Coates AC

Hon. Secretary (1978-1983) and President (1983-1988),  Australian Amateur Rowing Council (now Rowing Australia) ; Vice President (1985-1990) and President (1990-), Australian Olympic Committee ; Deputy Chair, Australian Institute of Sport (1986-1989) ; Deputy Chair, Australian Sports Commission (1989-1998) ; Vice President , International Olympic Committee (2013-2017) ; Vice-President (1995-2010) then President (2011-), International Council of Arbitration for Sport (ICAS) ; General Member, Sport Australia Hall of Fame

Greg Hartung AO

Inaugural General Manager, Australian Sports Commission (1984-1988) ; President , Confederation of Australian Sport (1989-1995) ; Vice President (1995-1997) and President (1997-2013), Australian Paralympic Committee; Chair, Australian Sports Commission (2008-2010) ; President, Oceania/South Pacific Paralympic Committee (2000–2006) ; Vice President International Paralympic Committee (2009-2013).

Malcolm Speed AO

Senior positions, Basketball Australia (1980-1997) including long periods as Executive Chairman of the National Basketball League and Basketball Australia. Chief Executive Officer, Australian Cricket Board (1997-2001) ; Chief Executive Officer, International Cricket Council (2001-2008) ; President, Cycling Australia (2014-2017) ; Executive Director, Coalition of Major Professional and Participation Sports (2009- ) ; General Member, Sport Australia Hall of Fame

John Boultbee AM

Secretary-General, International Rowing Federation (1989-1995)  ; Director, Australian Institute of Sport (1995-2001) ; High Performance Manager, Football Federation of Australia (2004-2013) ; High Performance Director, Volleyball Australia (2014-2020) ; inaugural Chief Executive Officer, National Sports Tribunal (2020- )

Helen Brownlee AM

President, Australian Canoe Federation (1985-1999) ; International Canoe Federation Technical Committee for Canoe Slalom (1976-1988) ; President of the Commonwealth Canoe Federation ;  Vice President, Australian Olympic Committee (2013- ) ; General Member, Sport Australia Hall of Fame

Sam Coffa AM

President, Australian Weightlifting Federation (1983-2007) ; President, Commonwealth Weightlifting Federation (1990-1994) ; Vice President, International Weightlifting Federation (1992-2009) ; President, Australian Commonwealth Games Association (1998-2018) ; General Member, Sport Australia Hall of Fame

Perry Crosswhite AM

Assistant General Manager (1984-1987) and General Manager (1988-1990) ; Australian Sports Commission ; Executive Director, Australian Olympic Committee (1991-1993) ; General Manager, Australian Commonwealth Games Federation (1995-2015) ; General Member, Sport Australia Hall of Fame

Wilma Shakespear AM

Inaugural Head Coach, Australian Institute of Sport Netball (1981-1990) ; inaugural Director, Queensland Academy of Sport (1991-2001) ; inaugural Director, English Institute of Sport (2001-2008)

Bob Elphinston OAM

General Manager, 2000 Sydney Olympics Bid (1991-1993) ; General Manager Sport, Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (1993-2000) ; Secretary-General, Australian Olympic Committee (2001-2004) ; President, International Basketball Federation ( 2006-2010) ; General Member, Sport Australia Hall of Fame

Mark Peters

President, Australian Baseball Federation (1998-2001) ;  Chair, Oceania Baseball Federation ; Executive Director, Australian Sports Commission ( 2001-2008) ; Chief Executive Officer, 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games Corporation (2010-2018)

Michael Scott

Chief Executive Officer, South Australian Dept. of Sport and Recreation (1994-1997) ; inaugural Chief Executive Officer, NSW Institute of Sport (1997-2001) ; Director, Australian Institute of Sport (2001-2005) ; National Performance Director, British Swimming (2008-2012) ; Chief Executive Officer, Rowing Australia – 2015-2017 ; Chief Executive Officer, High Performance Sport New Zealand (2017 – )

These administrators meet the criteria I set particularly the 20 year rule and high level roles in Australia and overseas . This is not to say there are other worthy contenders over the last 40 years. I should recognise administrators such as John O’Neill AO (rugby union/football), David Gallop AM (rugby league/football), Ron Finneran OAM (skiing/Paralympics), Geoff Henke AO (skiing/Olympics), Les Martyn MBE (weightlifting/Commonwealth Games), Brian Tobin AM (tennis) and Alan Whelpton AO (surf life saving). Sport Australia Hall of Fame lists General Members that could also be added. As can be seen there are only a limited number of female administrators.

In the current Australian sport system, there are administrators that may qualify for my list in the future. But my observation is that many administrators these days appear to have a limited time in leadership. This is likely to be due to increased public and media scrutiny of performance, sport politics and a desire to have multiple careers. Female leaders may face more scrutiny based on gender and recently Kate Palmer and Raelene Castle have departed their national organisations after a relatively short time in the position.

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