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Government asks IOC to explain Kokoda comments.

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The Hon. Andrew Thomson MP

Minister for Sport & Tourism

Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Sydney 2000 Olympics




May 29, 1998


The Federal Government is asking for clarification of apparent differences between two of Australia’s most senior Olympic officials about whether the Torch Relay will touch on the Kokoda Trail.


Sports Minister Andrew Thomson has written to seek clarification from Australia’s International Olympic Committee representative, Kevan Gosper, about comments attributed to him in today’s Sydney Morning Herald .


Mr Gosper is quoted as saying it was now “unacceptable” for the Olympic torch to be carried over part of the Kokoda Trail, citing security concerns and an unwillingness to offend some groups.


This is despite a security assessment by the NSW Olympic Security Command Centre who, as recently as April, gave the green light to “limited involvement” with the Kokoda Trail.


A joint recognisance mission supported the option of flying the torch, by helicopter, to Ower’ s Corner and having it run a short distance along the Trail.


Mr Gosper’ s comments also contradict a statement by Australian Olympic Committee member and SOCOG board member in charge of the Torch Relay, Phil Coles, on April 7.


Mr Coles told Radio 2BL:


“We are going to take the torch to a place called Ower’s Corner which is a very significant part of the Kokoda Trail, and return back into Port Moresby...I had a meeting with the Papua New Guinea people on Monday morning and they said that’s OK, that we can take it up to Ower’s Corner by helicopter and run it back".


Mr Thomson said Mr Coles had informed his office on April 6 that the Kokoda Trail visit would go ahead.


“I’d find it puzzling if the IOC is going to over-rule SOCOG on a matter that means a lot to many Australians and I’m asking Mr Gosper to verify the accuracy of the report,” Mr Thomson said.


“The Prime Minister has expressed a view that this should happen and the Federal Government is paying $3.5m to underwrite the cost of taking the Olympic torch through the Oceania region.”


Mr Thomson said he would find it hard to believe that Japan would be offended if Australia and PNG wanted to commemorate a significant conflict in the history of both nations.


“Japan has been represented at numerous ceremonies marking the loss of lives from both sides on the Kokoda Trail with no impact on our diplomatic relations,” he said.


“Our relationship is mature enough to withstand us symbolically recognising a conflict that did much to define Australia as a nation.”


Mr Thomson said significant numbers of returned servicemen and women had written to the Federal Government regarding the proposed visit to the Kokoda Trail.





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