London: The choice of Australian flag bearer at Friday’s Olympic opening ceremony has turned into a battle of the sexes with the only woman to represent the country at five Games jokingly threatening a sit-down protest if a man again gets the role.
Beach volleyball player Natalie Cook told Australian reporters in London that the decision, to be made by chef de mission Nick Green and announced on Thursday, was a “no-brainer”.
“If there’s a male that carries the flag I will sit in protest,” said Cook, who has walked out behind a string of men since her Olympic debut at the 1996 Atlanta Games.
“I’d love the honour of leading the team out, that would be one of the highlights of my career,” she added.
“But for me as long as it’s a female. I’ve walked behind four men: Andrew Hoy, Andrew Gaze, Colin Beashel and James Tomkins.”
The last female Australian flag bearer at a Summer Olympics was four-time Olympian diver Jenny Donnet in 1992, although women have had the honour at the last two Winter Games.
Green, an Olympic rowing gold medallist who formed part of the “Oarsome foursome” coxless four at the 1992 and 1996 Games, appeared with Cook and other beach volleyball players at a news conference on Sunday and assured reporters that the comments had
been “in jest”.
The decision will still be a tough one and it will not have been made any easier by a pre-Games controversy over travel arrangements, with the men’s basketball team flying to London in business class while the women went economy.
While some other nations, such as Britain, decide the prestigious role by a vote of all their athletes, Green has the final say for Australia. He said he had both genders on his shortlist to have the honour on Friday.
While Cook is at her fifth Olympics, Australia has several other athletes with even more experience.
Equestrian competitor Hoy will be competing in his seventh Games, while cyclist Stuart O’Grady is in his sixth as are shooters Russell Mark and Michael Diamond.
“The decision potentially has the capacity to influence and affect someone’s life,” said Green. “So I’ve got to get it right.
“I’ve been thinking about it for three years, to be honest.”
Green said early indications were that around 210 Australian athletes would take part in the opening ceremony, with the rowers and swimmers likely to miss it for logistical and competition reasons.