SYDNEY (AP) An increasingly bitter Olympic election in Australia has intensified with IOC Vice President John Coates describing the campaign as malicious and designed to damage him personally.
Coates is facing his first challenge as president of the Australian Olympic Committee in 27 years, with 1996 Olympic field hockey gold medalist Danni Roche running against him in a May 6 ballot.
AOC executive board members have called a special meeting via teleconference Wednesday evening after allegations an AOC staffer had intimidated at least one former executive and that a complaint made by former chief executive Fiona de Jong had not been properly addressed.
Roche, who is campaigning on a platform of change and has offered to work without pay as AOC president, has not been hostile in the campaign but insists the complaints surfacing in the domestic media need to be formally addressed.
Coates wrote to AOC executives and national sports groups to defend his running of the organization, and Sydney's Daily Telegraph published the two-page letter on Tuesday.
''There is clearly a coordinated and sadly vindictive campaign to damage me personally, and to tarnish all that has been achieved at the AOC,'' Coates said in comments published by the newspaper. ''This campaign is as disappointing as it is unfounded.''
Coates said the pre-vote executive meeting was not a crisis meeting but more for a ''sensible discussion.''
Regarding De Jong's complaint, Coates said due process ''has been followed with urgency.''
Coates, a 66-year-old lawyer who leads the IOC's Coordination Commission for the Tokyo 2020 Games and has been president of the Court of Arbitration for Sport since 2011, was elected as AOC president in 1990 and has not faced any challenges since.
He was influential in helping Australia bid for and stage the Sydney 2000 Olympics, an event that earned global praise.
The 46-year-old Roche's nomination has been endorsed by Australia's field hockey federation and backed by a number of other Olympic sports.
Roche is a board member of the government-run Australian Sports Commission - which has had a strained relationship with the AOC after the country's lower-than-expected performance at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro - but says her decision to run against Coates was purely because she believed it was time for a change of leadership.