Olympic Games: Sydney removes Coles from relay duties

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PHIL COLES, the International Olympic Committee member, was yesterday stripped of his duties organising the 100-day Olympic Torch relay, which will set the 2000 Games in motion, by the Sydney organising committee.

Coles, a 67-year-old former Olympic kayaker, narrowly escaped expulsion from the IOC last month for having accepted free holidays in Salt Lake City. He now faces a further inquiry over allegations that he received gold and diamond jewellery from someone connected with Athens' failed bid for the 1996 Games, allegations he denies.

As an IOC member, Coles is guaranteed a seat on the board of SOCOG, the Sydney organising committee, but Michael Knight, the SOCOG president, pushed through a motion yesterday that Coles be removed from the committee organising the relay.

"All I wanted to do was contribute to the games being a success and particularly the torch relay," Coles told Sydney's Radio 2UE. "Apparently everyone knew this was one way of hurting me and I must say they've been successful."

Knight said that as Coles had already stepped down from all Games duties while the IOC investigated him he had not been taking care of the relay for the past two months. "We need to be moving forward, we need a chairperson of that committee that's available both in New South Wales and interstate," Knight said, referring to attempts to raise public interest in the relay.

The Coles case has come as an embarrassment to the IOC, which tried to put bribery scandals behind it at a special meeting in Lausanne last month.

That meeting saw six IOC members expelled for accepting gifts or cash from Salt Lake City Olympic officials. Four other IOC members have resigned in the organisation's worst crisis.