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ACU’s John Fahey, champion of Sydney Olympics bid, dies aged 75

Remembered: John Fahey.

“AND the winner is … Sydney.”

Those words, declared in 1993 by Olympic Committee president Juan Antonio Samaranch, spoke volumes about the public drive and commitment displayed by John Fahey, who died on September 12, aged 75, after a battle with leukaemia.

Famously, Mr Fahey, then Premier of New South Wales jumped out of his seat and celebrated wildly with other Australian Olympic officials as Sydney was declared the host city for the 2000 Summer Games.

The whole country joined in the celebrations.

“Jumping John” Fahey, as he would be remembered from that day, played a crucial role in Sydney’s bid to host the games during his time as state premier between 1992 and 1995.

He later moved into Federal Parliament, where he served as finance minister in John Howard’s government before retiring from politics.

In 2014, Mr Fahey was appointed chancellor of the Australian Catholic University, replacing Peter Cosgrove.

He was reappointed for a further term in 2019.

“John Fahey was our chancellor, but also an Australian hero,” ACU vice-chancellor and president Professor Greg Craven said.

“As well as holding some of the highest offices in the land he will always be renowned for bringing the Olympics to Sydney.

“John was greatly loved as chancellor.

“He was profoundly committed to the idea of a Catholic university, and brought to office courage, wisdom and dignity.”

Mr Fahey was a man of great integrity and deep faith.

He was born in New Zealand in 1945 to Irish migrants Stephen and Annie Fahey, and was educated at Chevalier College in the NSW Southern Highlands and at the University of Sydney.

After graduating he practised law before entering public life as a politician, industry leader and administrator.

Even before his efforts to secure the Olympics for Sydney, “Jumping John” had already earned the admiration of the public when he leapt to disarm a protester who had threatened Prince Charles with a gun at an awards ceremony in Sydney in 1994.

In 2002, Mr Fahey was made a Companion of the Order of Australia for his work in the political arena, and for facilitation of industry growth and industrial relations reform.

Five years later he became president of the World Anti-Doping Agency, a position he held until November 2013.

In this role, Mr Fahey was a driving force behind moves to increase and enhance drug testing in sport around the world.

In 2019, Pope Francis awarded Mr Fahey the Pontifical Equestrian Order of St Gregory the Great, one of the Church’s highest awards, in recognition of his significant and distinguished service to the Catholic Church in Australia, including ACU.

His time as chancellor saw ACU’s reputation enhanced.

Much of this was due to the personal convictions that Mr Fahey had on the critical role that the university played in the life of the Church in Australia.

This was reflected in 2015 when ACU was awarded the Ex Corde Ecclesiae medal, the highest award of the International Federation of Catholic Universities.

As chancellor, Mr Fahey encouraged ACU to develop into a national university of stature.

Under his stewardship, the university underwent a long-term, sustainable expansion strategy that encompassed a rise in the numbers of both students and staff, the establishment of two new campuses, enhanced research capabilities, deepening partnerships in Australia and internationally, and greater community engagement.

Family, faith and football have always been central to Mr Fahey.

He was a lifelong fan of the Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs, played in the club’s reserve grade team and later became club patron.

His personal life has been marked by great joy and deep tragedy.

An aggressive bout of cancer threatened to fell him in 2001 but he overcame the disease with only one lung and shorter of breath, but with a renewed determination to contribute as a leader, mentor and campaigner.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said as a Catholic, rugby league player and smoker from south-west Sydney, Mr Fahey “was not your typical Liberal”.

“He broadened our outlook and connected us with an ever widening aspirational population,” Mr Morrison said.

“John described his liberalism as ‘hard head, soft heart’.”

Mr Fahey was profoundly affected by the sudden death of his daughter Tiffany, killed in a car accident in 2006.

The Faheys raised Tiffany’s two children.

He is survived by wife Colleen, children Matthew and Melanie, and grandchildren Amber and Campbell.

Mr Fahey will be honoured with a state funeral on a date to be determined and ACU will hold memorial Masses on each campus, including Brisbane, to honour him, subject to COVID restrictions.

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