Gina Rinehart’s company announced as sponsor of Australian Olympic Team

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<span>Photograph: Jason Reed/Reuters</span>
Photograph: Jason Reed/Reuters

The mining magnate’s Hancock Prospecting will support athletes at upcoming Winter and Summer Olympic Games

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Gina Rinehart’s Hancock Prospecting has been announced as a sponsor for the Australian Olympic Team through to 2026.

Reaction to news of the partnership has been swift, with the Queensland Conservation Council calling for John Coates to step down as president of the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC). The council had previously written to the International Olympic Committee outlining its concerns about the games being associated with companies which contribute “to avoidable carbon emissions such as fossil fuel extraction”.

The AOC announced the partnership on Friday morning, saying it will encompass the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games, Paris 2024 Summer Olympics, and the Milan-Cortina Winter Olympics in February 2026.

The mining giant will also “support” Australian Teams to Youth Olympic Games in Gangwon 2024 and in Dakar 2026, the Pacific Games in 2023.

Related: Should Australia’s major sports stars really be defined by fossil fuel companies trying to look good?

Rinehart is quoted in the statement as saying her company was “proud” to support the Australian teams, adding that she believed athlete’s “work, dedication, focus and self-discipline” were important to “succeed in life and business”.

“We are delighted to take the next step in our long-term support of Australia’s best athletes and become an official Australian Olympic Committee partner, an organisation admirably independent of Government funding and aligned to our values at the Hancock Group,” she said.

“We are so proud to help our great Olympians who are such inspirations, through their hard work, most do not really know how hard they work, dedication, focus and self-discipline, as they endeavour to represent our country to the best of their ability.

“The traits these role models show in my view, are important for us all, if we wish to succeed in life and business.”

Rinehart said she believed there was a need for greater scrutiny of how taxpayer money was allocated.

“We believe government or sponsor funds should be used to ensure sport is at the service of the community and the athletes, and much tighter scrutiny of taxpayers and sponsors funds would assist,” she said

Dual Olympian Rhydian Cowley accused the deal of undermining “the AOC’s sustainability action plan”.

Queensland Conservation Council’s director Dave Copeman said he was “furious” at the decision and questioned how the future Olympics could be for all Australians when the interests of a “small group of donors were being promoted”.

“This is a disaster,” Copeman said. “It’s such an own goal. It shows nothing is free from being up for sale.

“There’s a real question of how much does a couple of big cheques to Swimming Australia and the AOC buy you out of a history of environmental devastation.

“How the hell did they do this? What are they thinking?”

Copeman called on Coates to step down, saying the body “either did not do their due diligence or they did it but decided it was worth the cost”.

He also questioned the “overtly political” nature of the joint statement announcing the decision, which included comments from Rinehart: “As Australia looks to hosting an Olympic Games in 10 years, it will be important for our country to be open to investment and reduce the regulatory burden that impacts development needed to help make Queensland shine and the Games a success,”. Copeman described the comments as “outrageous”.

A spokesperson for AOC said “Mr Coates has no intention of stepping down before the end of his term” and that the organisation was a signatory to the UN Sports for Climate Action Framework and the Sports Environment Alliance.

“We see no conflict between this sponsorship and the AOC’s commitment,” the AOC said. “We have set targets for ourselves as an organisation to achieve climate neutrality.

“We are committed to embracing sustainability in our day-to-day operations, measuring progress, advocating and educating with member sports.”

Rinehart has declared herself one of Australia’s biggest Olympics fan, and has contributed $10m annually.

Coates, “greatly welcomed” the partnership, saying it would deliver “significant benefits” to the Australian teams.

“This is a major commitment to Australian sport. We welcome and thank Mrs Gina Rinehart and Hancock Prospecting for this investment. On the eve of farewelling our Team to the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games, the timing is perfect.

“There is no coincidence that the strong support of Mrs Gina Rinehart for many of our athletes in Tokyo yielded excellent results. There were so many golden moments and success in the pool, our rowers had a wonderful Games, as did our beach volleyballers.”

Coates added: “The AOC is proudly independent of government. We neither receive nor seek federal funding for our day-to-day operations. We are grateful to have the support of Mrs Gina Rinehart, Hancock Prospecting and all our partners to ensure we retain that independence.”

It comes only days after Rinehart, Australia’s richest person, was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia “for distinguished service to the mining sector, to the community through philanthropic initiatives, and to sport as a patron”.

Hancock Prospecting has applied to build the equal-largest coalmine in Queensland next door the Adani coalmine in the Galilee basin.

The company was founded by Lang Hancock, who in a 1982 televised interview called for the forced sterilisation of Aboriginal people.

Rinehart has previously been criticised for warning against climate change “propaganda” in education.

In a speech last year she said she had once helped to convince students climate change was not human-induced, by organising a talk at a school by climate sceptic Lord Christopher Monckton and told students to “do their own independent research” on “which comes first – global warming, or an increase in carbon”.

She has also been an active financial supporter to climate sceptic groups and individuals. In 2018 court documents revealed the mining billionaire had paid $4.5m to the Institute of Public Affairs in 2016 and 2017. The organisation published a climate change review paper in 2017 that claimed most global heating was natural, a claim which experts rejected as “flawed” and “junk science”.

Hancock Prospecting has been contacted for comment.