There is a major trophy on offer this Saturday, and it seems little to do with sport.
The AOC presidency is ostensibly an altruistic role meant to keep our domestic Olympic machinery in shape, but it also represents a highly coveted brand capture for the big end of town.
Incumbent John Coates and challenger Danni Roche both knew sporting success in their youth, but this week they have seemed little more than figureheads for partisan establishment interests.
Variously portrayed as Melbourne versus Sydney, Liberal versus Labor, toxic versus enlightened work practices, complacency versus vigour, and sometimes spiced with gender undertones, the battle lines are dizzying in their claims to lofty backing and personal legitimacy.
One of the more tangible points of difference is the prospect of closer working ties between the AOC and the Australian Sports Commission, or “collaboration” as Roche glosses it. The enmity between Coates and Roche backer ASC boss John Wylie is well documented, and based partly on perceptions of blame over our disappointing Rio medal count.
But it is also this prospect which is most likely to undo Roche’s quest, since the IOC ‘s synonym for collaboration is likely to be “infiltration,” even “assimilation” of its Australian outpost.
The IOC’s fierce resistance to government influence is why it has countered the Roche challenge with its own scorched-earth threat to axe Coates’ various roles at the top of the Olympic tree, should he be toppled.
Those roles include the IOC vice presidency and chairmanship of CAS. Their loss could severely diminish Australia’s Olympic influence for decades.
But there are reasons closer to home to be wary of Roche’s plan. The ASC’s policy of greater funding disbursement discretion for individual sports bodies has arguably led to rapidly diminished transparency.
Swimming, for instance, the sport deemed most culpable for our reduced Rio gold haul, was able to get away with barely a page of text for its entire post Rio review.
Now a chiefly coach-run outfit, Swimming Australia Limited has little incentive to demonstrate how its upper management and pool deck operations interact.
The reduced operational oversight may be characterised as streamlining by the ASC and SAL, yet it has implications for critical areas such as expenditure equity and doping control.
Simple inquiries to SAL, for instance, about which domestic competitions are officially designated “In competition” and “out of competition” for drug testing protocols, go unanswered.
Out-of-competition drug testing protocols allow a large number of stimulants which are banned at in-competition designated meets.
There is also unrest about the recently burgeoning number of ancillary coaching and support staff positions on international teams, and the contrastingly minuscule direct financial support for Olympic swimmers.
Coates famously blasted such trends as “funding bloat” in his post Rio attack on the ASC.
If these complaints are typical of other Olympic sports, the Roche route might see further diminution of central accountability. It is no coincidence that swimming is backing Roche on Saturday.
But if Coates wins the ballot, the AOC may well attempt to restore the balance of oversight, and our Tokyo campaign should be on far better footing than the Rio effort.