April 15 - Australia's Prime Minister Julia Gillard has turned down the opportunity to attend the Olympics in London and also to take part in a major fundraising dinner on the eve of the Games.

The decision has been criticised by John Coates, the President of the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC).

"I thought London [2012] would be an absolute must for Julia, so I'm disappointed," he told Fairfax newspapers.

"It's a disappointment to us.

"It will be a disappointment to our team.

"You'll find every one of the European heads - [Angela] Merkel, [Nicolas] Sarkozy, [Vladimir] Putin - they will all be there,"

Gillard had been personally invited to attend the Opening Ceremony on July 27 by London 2012 chairman Sebastian Coe during a visit to Australia in May last year.

But a spokesman defended Gillard's decision and send Sports Minister Kate Lundy instead.

"This year, as has happened in the past, the Prime Minister will be represented by the Sports Minister," said Coates, who is attending the Association of National Olympic Committees here.

Kevin Rudd, Gillard's predecessor, had become the first Australian Prime Minister since Malcolm Fraser at Montreal in 1976 to attend an overseas Olympics when he travelled to Beijing four years ago for the Opening Ceremony.

"Rudd got it," said Coates.

"I saw him chatting away to all these people and it was a great opportunity."

Coates is also reportedly upset that Gillard will not attend a fundraising event in Melbourne, where up guests are expected to attend.

Gillard will be attending the G20 leaders meeting and the UN Sustainable Development Conference at the time of the dinner, which Coates claimed he understood.

"The only thing I've done is talk to Kate Lundy about it and say if it is irreversible I think it would be wise if you were to get the Prime Minister to put that out as a position before you read about this," he said.

Gillard's spokesman claimed that it was the AOC who were to blame for her missing the event.

"It is crucial that the Prime Minister make Australia's voice heard at international meetings like these," he said.

"What John Coates didn't mention was that we offered alternative dates to the AOC - but the AOC turned them down."

-Duncan Mackay in Moscow

Source: www.insidethegames.biz