AOC president Ian Chesterman. AOC

In the Australian Olympic Committee’s annual meeting on Saturday, AOC president Ian Chesterman expressed full confidence in his swimmers’ focus in Paris 2024, while announcing three major initiatives aimed at supporting Indigenous athletes with an eye towards Brisbanne 2032.

Distraction, disruption, anxiety… With the Paris 2024 Games now less than a hundred days away, the pressure mounts for every athlete, federation and National Olympic Committee; and recent news regarding alleged doping from China’s swimming team before the previous Olympics has only stressed the Australian team, one of the sport’s superpowers. 

As per reports by The New York Times and German broadcaster ARD that surfaced two weeks ago, nearly half the Chinese Swimming Team was able to compete in the Tokyo Games despite previously testing positive for a banned substance. Accusations of a possible cover-up by local officials and lack of intervention from the World Anti-Doping agency followed and the outrage persists, with numerous national agencies, federations and athlete-led pressure groups leading the charge against WADA, the global governing body on such matters.

Yet, Chesterman is convinced that Australia's swimmers will not be distracted if any of the Chinese swimmers who tested positive for prescription heart drug heart drug trimetazidine, known as TMZ, competed again in Paris. "Our swimmers are an incredible group of athletes who are so focused on performing well in Paris, that will be their focus. They won't spend too much time worrying about this," Chesterman said to the Australian Associated Press. "But I do think it's a good opportunity through this review to make sure everybody goes into the Games confident that the system is working as it should."'

The “review” the AOC president referenced was the independent investigation that WADA recently announced, intended to further determine how it handled the 23 positive tests from the swimmers in 2021, when the Chinese Anti-Doping Agency (CHINADA) alleged they were due to group contamination at a hotel where the team was staying at during a meet. The global governing body accepted China's assertion at the time and has not redefined its position since, but Chesterman welcomed the news that it would further review the cases’ handling.

As with past Olympics, potential security issues remain one of the top concerns for officials, due to the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war and Israel’s incessant bombing of Gaza after the Hamas terrorist attacks. Despite the multiple threats, the AOC’s Chief Executive Officer, Matt Carroll, expressed full confidence in the French security forces to protect athletes and said Australian Olympians and their families had been briefed on security issues, including potential delays caused by any protests or disruptions, according to AAP. "To make sure families and friends aren't anxious because that anxiety can often affect the performances of athletes and we don't want that to happen," Carroll said.

Regarding political stances and freedom of expression, Carroll clarified that the estimated 460 Australian athletes competing in the French capital would be free to express their opinions outside of the medal podium and field of play, as allowed by the protocols of the Athletes Commission. "Our athletes understand and respect that," he said.

The AOC, which reported a AU$4 million (€2,5 million) surplus, also announced a new athlete funding scheme in addition to its Medal Incentive Funding, an Indigenous Athlete Performance Grants program and a fund to support initiatives to grow the number of Olympic Indigenous athletes through to Brisbane 2032 and beyond.

"We're hoping that at least 10 athletes will take advantage of that and hopefully a whole lot more if they get to be in the team in Paris," Chesterman said. "I think it will really give them a bit of last-minute support and, if that money is not all spent, it can help them come out of Paris to start their preparation for 2028." The creation of an Australian Olympic Indigenous Athlete Fund is designed to generate between AU$500,000 and AU$1 million (€305,000-€610,000) a year.

Besides swimming, which has raked in plenty medals for the country in the past, Chesterman forecasted that the Aussies could become an Olympic superpower right through the Brisbanne Olympics and all the way to the 2040s, but stopped just short of betting on a number. "We just want each athlete to have their best day on the right day. We know if they do that we will win lots of medals," the AOC president said, while stressing that he didn’t feel the need to build a new stadium for the 2032 Games.