David Owen ©ITG

Wages and electoral politics make uneasy bedfellows.

I always think this when a new pay rise for British MPs hits the headlines, triggering inevitable public opprobrium from a nation seemingly comfortable with star footballers earning £100,000 ($128,000/€120,000) or more a week.

And I found myself thinking it again last week when, assigned to work through the latest annual report of the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC), I stumbled upon details of AOC President John Coates' compensation package.

For the record, the 66-year-old's remuneration, in the form of consulting fees, climbed to AUD$729,438 (£440,879/$552,524/€519,957), nearly AUD$12,000 (£7,250/$9,000/€8,500) of which was classified as "motor vehicle/parking", up from AUD$689,634 (£416,786/$522,351/€491,481) in 2015.

For the record too, I was surprised and felt the sum a tad excessive - which is not to say that the post does not warrant a worthwhile salary.

All well and good, but why bring electoral politics into this?

Well, as many will know, Coates is being challenged for the Presidency he has held since 1990 in a vote scheduled for May 6.

His opponent, Danielle Roche, an Olympic hockey gold medallist, has pledged, moreover, to propose introducing a provision for an annual AUD$100,000 (£59,000/$75,000/€70,000) salary package for the President, and to waive this for the entirety of her term.

This level of compensation strikes me as too little, although the proposal is preferable to calling for rules to commit all future Presidents to working for nothing.

John Coates is facing a challenge for the Presidency of the Australian Olympic Committee, with salary becoming a key issue ©Getty Images
John Coates is facing a challenge for the Presidency of the Australian Olympic Committee, with salary becoming a key issue ©Getty Images

The pity is that Presidential pay should be an election issue at all.

What is called for, surely, is a review, and possible reform, of existing AOC governance structures and guidelines for setting remuneration.

This I think, to draw from the lexicon of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, is how best to ensure that the bowl of Presidential porridge is just right.

By making it a ballot-box matter, it looks like either Coates will win and the porridge will remain, for my money, too hot, or Roche will, and it will be too cold.

It would be a nonsense for me to express a preference for one candidate or the other in the overall contest: to the best of my knowledge I have never met Roche, so have no real way to assess her capabilities.

What I will say is that Coates has struck me over 15 years as one of the abler international sports administrators, with a capacity for banging heads together and getting decisions made on difficult issues.

And if he does sometimes shoot from the lip, well, you will forgive me if, as a reporter, I find that infinitely preferable to the mealy-mouthed platitudes we are often exposed to.

What I will also say is that it has to be a healthy thing for any senior official who has been in post for as long as 27 years to be subject periodically to a robust challenge from an able rival.

Term limits? Yes, maybe.

On top people's pay in general, it is an area in which it is remarkably difficult to set hard and fast rules: if you are dealing with a rotten egg, experience suggests positions of responsibility are apt to be exploited for personal gain whether the official salary is $10 (£8/€9 a year or $10 million (£8 million/€9 million).

Lord Killanin refused to run for the IOC Presidency before an expenses account was introduced ©Getty Images
Lord Killanin refused to run for the IOC Presidency before an expenses account was introduced ©Getty Images

Nonetheless, with more money flowing into sport than ever before, I do think it is usually best for bodies to aim to pay full-time officials, whether elected or appointed, a sum comparable to what they might reasonably expect to earn from a similar role in a similar-sized organisation in other fields in the country in which they are based.

This is for two reasons:

First, while well-paid officials can be as corrupt as underpaid ones, if compensation is manifestly inadequate or non-existent, you do provide a built-in excuse for graft, or possibly a push that might propel someone who would in other circumstances be trustworthy down the slippery slope.

Second, and for me more importantly, if the role does not pay at all, or pays substantially under the odds, you will restrict your talent pool to those people who can afford to take the job.

To revert to my British MPs, in the 19th century they were unpaid, since it was assumed they would have another source of income, so the bulk of the population was de facto excluded from any such aspiration. (Half of the population was, of course, excluded anyway on gender grounds.)

As recently as the 1960s, an International Olympic Committee (IOC) member - Lord Killanin - decided not to run for the top job "until such time as the IOC allowed its President an expense account".

The situation was changed in time for the Irishman to run successfully in 1972, by which time the Movement had endured arguably at least four years too long of Killanin's predecessor Avery Brundage, who claimed it cost him $75,000 (£58,000/€70,000) a year to be IOC President, in the hot seat.

To this day, the IOC Presidency, while entitling the incumbent to substantial expense payments, is not remunerated. To my mind, this is a mistake.