Australian Olympic Committee president John Coates has insisted that Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk attend the Tokyo 2020 opening ceremony, in an awkward exchange just hours after Queensland won the hosting rights for the 2032 Games.
Palaszczuk had previously said she would not attend the ceremony, in the face of growing domestic concern about her international trip.
But at a press conference on Wednesday night, Coates – also vice president of the International Olympic Committee – issued a stern rebuke with Palaszczuk sitting next to him.
“You are going to the opening ceremony,” Coates said. “I am still the deputy chair of the candidature leadership group [for the 2032 bid]. So far as I understand, there will be an opening and a closing ceremony in 2032, and all of you have got to get along there and understand the tradition parts of that, what’s involved in an opening ceremony.
“None of you are staying behind hiding in your rooms, alright?”
Palaszczuk sought to laugh off Coates’ comments, saying “I don’t want to offend anybody”.
But Coates doubled down. “You’ve never been to the opening ceremony of an Olympic Games have you? You don’t know the protocols. I think it’s a very important lesson for everyone here. The opening ceremonies cost in the order of $75-100m – it’s a major exercise for any organising committee, it puts the stamp on the Games, it’s very important to the broadcasters that follow.
“I think, it’s my very strong recommendation that the premier, lord mayor and minister be there and understand it.”
Palaszczuk sought to further downplay the incident on Thursday morning. She says she will now attend the event, alongside Brisbane lord mayor Adrian Schrinner and federal sports minister Richard Colbeck.
“I’ve known John for years,” she told the ABC. “So what’s happened now is that the lord mayor and the federal minister and I are expected to go. So I will leave that to John Coates and Thomas Bach.
“But let me make it clear – I am not going to offend anyone now that we’ve just been awarded the Games.”
Palaszczuk said there was no issue between her and Coates despite the press conference exchange, and said he had been “fantastic” in his role in bringing the 2032 Games to Queensland.
“If we didn’t have John Coates, this would not have happened,” he said. “John Coates has been the driving force behind us securing the Olympics.”
Public reaction to the exchange in Australia was less forgiving of the IOC vice president.
The former chief executive officer of Swimming Australia, Leigh Russell, said the exchange was “disgusting” and “yet another example of how women are treated in sport”.
Former federal MP Tony Windsor said on Twitter that Coates was “an embarrassment to our country”.
Palaszczuk’s trip to Tokyo has generated much controversy in Australia. She has been one of the premiers to support a major cut to the travel caps that are preventing Australians stranded abroad from returning home. A petition calling on the federal government to deny Palaszczuk a travel exemption garnered 120,000 signatures.
A spokesperson for the AOC declined to comment further when approached by Guardian Australia, saying that Coates had been “accurately quoted”.
Coates is a major powerbroker in the world of international sport, with the New York Times recently describing him as the second most powerful figure in the Olympic movement, behind only IOC president Thomas Bach.
Additional reporting by Ben Smee