The International Canoe Federation has paid tribute to three-time Olympian and former International Olympic Committee member Phil Coles, who has died in Sydney aged 91.

ICF President Thomas Konietzko said Australia’s Coles was not only a tremendous canoe athlete, but he was also passionate about the Olympic movement and had made a strong contribution to the success of numerous Olympic Games.

Coles competed at the 1960, 64 and 68 Olympics in canoe sprint, and upon retirement took up several important administrative roles. He served on the IOC from 1982 to 2011, and played an important role in having the 2000 Olympics awarded to his hometown of Sydney.

“Phil Coles was a tremendous ambassador for our sport, first as an athlete, and then as a fierce advocate for canoeing at a global level,” Mr Konietzko said.

“For many people, competing at three Olympic Games would be satisfying enough. But our sport was very fortunate that Phil wanted to continue to help promote canoeing for many years after he put his kayak in the shed.

“We were very fortunate to have Phil visit us at our canoe sprint venue in Tokyo in 2021, the same venue where he competed as captain of the Australian K4 1000 metre crew in 1964. It was a very emotional occasion.”

During his visit to the Tokyo Olympic venue in 2021 he took four Olympic pins, one for each of his team, and threw them into the lake where they competed in 1964. He said it was his way of commemorating the Olympic spirit which he had devoted much of his life to.

In a colourful Olympic career, Coles played an integral role in ensuring Australian athletes competed at the 1980 Moscow Olympics, against the expressed wishes of the Australian Government at the time.

IOC President Thomas Bach made mention of the role Phil Coles played in 1980 in a tribute to the Australian.

“He was key to getting an Australian Olympic Team to the Olympic Games Moscow 1980 against all requests for a boycott,” Mr Bach said.

“It made him proud for the rest of his life to have led these athletes into the Olympic Stadium.

“His love for the Olympic Games was at the centre of his life. Personally, I have lost a wonderful friend with whom I shared so many moments of our Olympic lives. I will never forget this heartwarming friendliness and his sense of humour.”

Paddle Australia President, Andrea McQuitty, said Coles passing will be felt deeply across the paddling community.

“Phil’s contribution to our paddling community was enormous, as both a respected athlete and sports administrator,” she said.

“Long after his days representing Australia, he continued to support our sport both here and abroad. His passion for the Olympic movement and lifetime commitment to advocate for all sports internationally, made him a true leader and one’s who presence will be greatly missed.

“It was an honour to have Phil cheering on our team at the recent Tokyo Olympic Games, the same venue he captained our men’s K4 crew at in 1964. On behalf of the our whole community I pass on my condolences to Phil’s family and friends. We will all miss him.” 

Canoe Sprint