Wairarapa First

July 20th, 2018

One of the key recommendations of the Moller Report promoted the worth of amalgamation. Moller saw all sorts of value in Northland and Counties/Manukau being absorbed into Auckland, of Waikato and Bay of Plenty jumping into bed with each other. Manawatu was supposed to go somewhere else. I’ve long forgotten the details. But clearly Moller had the Super Rugby model in mind where four or five regions covered the entire country. The concept was based on Swimming New Zealand’s (SNZ) accepted policy of centralisation. High performance was centralised under a SNZ dictatorship and was doing so well – that’s a joke by the way – so why not subject the entire sport to the same centralised policy.

I went to Wellington during the Moller investigation and spoke to him for about three hours against the centralisation of elite swimming and of swimming in general. My views were rejected. Centralisation of elite swimming continued for another six years and Moller recommended the rest of swimming follow that shining example – that’s another joke.

In the end the only real change in swimming was the decision of Wairarapa and Wanganui to become part of Wellington. That’s five or six years ago now; time to determine whether this centralisation thing works. Has swimming in the Wairarapa bounded forward from success to success as a result of the amalgamation and as was promised by Moller and Sam Rossiter-Stead.

It will come as no surprise to hear that my views on centralisation have not changed. I can see no benefit of the policy in elite swimming. Even SNZ has had to creep away, with their tails between their legs, admitting the policy has failed. Gary Francis has been appointed in an effort to introduce some decentralised democracy. That hasn’t worked yet. But the good thing, so far, is that SNZ has had to admit they were wrong. They have wasted $30million and two generations of New Zealand’s best swimmers in the process. But finally they had to face the reality of their failure and pretend to do something different. It has been a total defeat; an unqualified rout.

But what about the rest of swimming? What does the amalgamation of Wairarapa into Wellington teach the rest of New Zealand about centralisation?

SNZ cling desperately to the remnants of power. For them amalgamation into a centralised structure has bountiful advantages. Best of all a centralised structure keeps decision making firmly at the top of the hierarchy; among the small authoritarian clique of Cotterill, Johns and Francis. They see it as easier to impose standard policies for the whole business, as preventing parts of New Zealand swimming following regional plans and as making it easier to control the amount and use of the region’s money. SNZ has no regard at all for the lack of authority in the smaller regions reducing motivation and enthusiasm and the fact that local members miss out on the speed and flexibility of local decision making.

During my meeting with Moller I argued against centralisation. Six years later I still feel that the amalgamation of Wairarapa into the Wellington region was not in the best interests of Wairarapa members. The points I made to Moller are summarised in the table below and remain valid today.

·         Because decisions are closer to the region the decisions made are better and more relevant. ie there is better customer service.

·         Administrators are better able to respond to local conditions and have more knowledge of regional circumstances.

·         Local administrators have more motivation to do a good job for their local region.

·         Local administrators have a better opportunity to train and motivate new administrators.

·         Administration of the regions finances is held and protected where the money was earned and where it should be spent.

Those are the points I argued with Moller. But has the reality turned out that way. I believe so. From my observation the amalgamation has done nothing for swimming in the Wairarapa. For example, since the handover, there has been no, specifically Wairarapa, financial accounts. Members in the region have no idea how much money they put into the Wellington bank account and how much they get back. Are they being ripped off by Wellington or is the larger area subsidising the Wairarapa? No one knows. My guess is that Wellington central is taking far more out of swimming in Carterton and Masterton than is ever being put back in.

For example no Wairarapa prize giving awards have taken place since the amalgamation. Seventy years of history obliterated in a moment. What was wrong with displaying a bit of local pride; of recognising the best swimmers in the area? Clearly Mark Berge and his mates thought it was an unnecessary distraction to their objective of building a kingdom. Certainly Wairarapa recognition has become a thing of the past. And that is a wretched disgrace.

The last Swimwatch post gave credit to the manner in which the Wellington Region had handled problems at the Masterton Swimming Club. The only criticism I have heard is the length of time it took Wellington to get off their behinds and do something. Local Wairarapa administration could well have reacted with more speed and avoided the worst of the fallout. Certainly Wairarapa people dealing with Wairarapa problems has many advantages.

I have long been a fan of swimming in the Wairarapa. The work that Coach Russell has done at the Carterton Club is an example to us all. I’ve not spoken to him about this subject but I doubt that he has benefitted at all from Mark Berge rule. But, hang in there Russell. I hear that all is not lost. Perhaps there is a lawyer in Wellington right now looking into whether the whole amalgamation thing was even remotely constitutional or legal. Good luck with that.

If Justice Be Thy Plea

July 18th, 2018

From a distance and without knowing any of the parties involved, I have been watching the saga unfolding at the Masterton Swimming Club. The Head Coach has been the subject of a Swimming New Zealand (SNZ) and Swimming Wellington inquiry into complaints made about the coach’s behaviour. My interest was aroused because of the problems I faced at West Auckland Aquatics.

The purpose of this post is not to discuss the merits of the problems at either the Masterton Swimming Club or at West Auckland Aquatics. I don’t know enough about what has occurred in Masterton to discuss its merits. I have read a letter sent to club members by the coach in which she describes the allegations made against her as follows.

- I gave a swimmer an energy drink and told her not to tell her parents

- I showed a swimmer my phone that contained obscenities

- I interfered with the investigation, made allegations and denigrated others

- I excluded club members from information and activities.

Her letter then acknowledges some fault and her decision to submit her resignation. It says;

I sought legal advice and in June 2017, MSC, my counsel and SW met to attempt to find a resolution to the issues. At that meeting, I acknowledged there had been a breach of privacy that I was responsible for, and had been for some time prepared to apologise for.

As you will know, in January 2018 I resigned as MSC Head Coach. The pressure, bullying and intimidation of me from various sources became too much for me and my family. Throughout this period, I chose not to speak my views to protect the MSC and ultimately the swimmers. 

So that is a summary of the Masterton issues. However, as I have said, the details of all these events are of no concern to me or Swimwatch. In this post, I want to address the involvement of SNZ in both the Masterton and West Auckland cases. In both clubs SNZ had a problem to deal with. Did the organisation handle their responsibility well?

The good news is that in both cases SNZ got involved; through Swimming Wellington in the case of Masterton and through Auckland Swimming in the case of West Auckland. In both cases the issues involved were sufficiently serious for them to receive the attention of the parent body. There was however a noticeable difference between the ways SNZ decided to handle the two disputes. In the case of West Auckland, SNZ assumed the leading role in the investigation. Auckland Swimming took a back seat. In Masterton, Swimming Wellington conducted the enquiry and SNZ restricted itself to an oversight role.

I don’t think that difference is important. The critical point is that in both cases the problems were brought to the notice of the parent body and SNZ rightly decided they deserved their attention. The only criticism I have heard is that the problems in Masterton had been apparent for far too long before SNZ or Swimming Wellington decided to act. However SNZ are in a difficult position. There is no way they should dive into every club squabble in the country. Therefore some delay is understandable while they determine whether the dispute is of sufficient consequence to merit intervention. In the case of West Auckland the involvement of SNZ was timely. Certainly things could not have been left any longer than they were.

While the SNZ decision to get involved in the troubles of the Masterton and West Auckland clubs was appropriate, what was vastly different was the manner of their resolution.

In the case of Masterton, Swimming Wellington reached a conclusion, distributed that conclusion to the club Committee and to the coach and then allowed a 28 day appeal period. Swimming Wellington then prepared a letter that explained what they had done. The letter made it clear that the “panel imposed a number of sanctions on the club member.” The letter went on to make five recommendations that covered the formation of a new Committee, the distribution of information, continuing staff training and the distribution of an apology.

These matters are often messy affairs no matter how well they are handled. However in this case, it seems to me, that the conclusions were properly arrived at. The club lived to fight another day. The coach decided to resign and move on. The re-set button had worked.

That was the very opposite of what happened in the West Auckland case. In that case SNZ were provided with a list of complaints made against me. Some of these are included in the table below.

·         I had favourite swimmers who received attention at the expense of others.

·         I ordered adult female swimmers to visit an Auckland strip club with me.

·         I sneaked around the pool taking photos of female swimmer’s chests.

·         I suggested adult female swimmers should get pregnant to take training advantage of the early increase in blood volume and then have an abortion close to a peak event.

At the cost of several thousand dollars SNZ decided to employ a clinical psychotherapist.to investigate and report on the allegations. I was interviewed aggressively over the course of three days. It was not easy. The accusations were devastating and potentially career ending. And worse, there appeared to be an assumption of guilt. Certainly the knives were out. Eventually I was told a decision would be made, a report would be written and I would be informed of the result. I was told I would receive a copy of the report.

Well, a decision was made, a report was written but I was never told the result or provided with a copy of the report. I assume I was cleared of all the allegations. If I had not been cleared SNZ would have had me hanging upside-down from a power pole outside Antares Place. I have long been of the view that because the report cleared me, because it was a pack of disgusting lies and a gross waste of time and money, SNZ decided to brush it all under the carpet.

SNZ’s view of justice is that the accused should be subject to obscene allegations, a three day trial and, if innocent, should never hear the verdict or be told they are free to go. SNZ has never given me the report, as they promised, and have never even emailed me the conclusions – nothing, just silence. No one should be treated the way I was on that occasion. Bruce Cotterill can grin and wave at me in the pool as much as he likes. But I will never forgive him for the injustice of his decision to withhold the report, to not communicate the conclusions and to avoid publically clearing me of those accusations.

He was prepared to spend thousands trying to nail me. He was happy to subject me to a three day trial. He had no concern for my emotional and financial cost. He allowed those who had perpetrated the grotesque lies to escape sanction. I guess he was content with the thought that if you throw enough mud some of it will stick. And when he discovered there was nothing there he walked away without even communicating the verdict. It was an injustice beyond belief. And it is still an open wound. If the great hand of God was to go as deep as possible and lift Cotterill up as high as possible, he still would not reach the bottom.

So well done Wellington Swimming, not because of the decision you made but because of the way you made it. SNZ, as usual, not so much. But I am still waiting in hope.

Rules? What Rules?

July 16th, 2018

 Two or three Swimwatch posts have discussed aspects of the Steve Johns’ email. I thought it best to save the most important to last. You see the principal point Johns was attempting to make was contained in the following quote.

“For you its too easy just to put pen to paper, write whatever pops into your head and not be interested in the negative impact that you have on people’s lives.  If you think your little blogs and constant attacks are helping swimming in NZ, then you are seriously mistaken – or is it just a fun little game you like to play?”

His intention is clearly to convey the impression that there is no substance to the arguments put forward in Swimwatch. There are no problems. David Wright has these flights of fancy that pop into his head but they are not real. It is just a little game he likes to play. If David Wright brings his latte to Steve Johns’ office Swimming New Zealand (SNZ) will provide a re-education program. According to Johns, change lies in reforming the messenger. The SNZ product is doing fine. It’s the Swimwatch message that needs to change.
Of course the implications of that argument go further than Steve Johns’ email. There are two serious costs. First it convinces others of a false narrative. Members believe the Antares Place propaganda. They accept that Cotterill, Johns and Francis are leading well, with sound and well thought-out plans. The problems are only in David Wright’s blog; a fantasy of his twisted imagination. And second, the arrogant belief in their own virtue robs Cotterill, Johns and Francis of all incentive to reform. The clear message of Johns’ email is that there is no reason for him to reform. David Wright’s blog is an insult; a mere burning kite flying over the border.

Those two costs are serious. I guess there are readers who are already saying, “Here he goes again.” But just bear with me for a couple of minutes more.

I imagine we can all agree rules are an important feature of well-run organisations. The “rule of law” and “no one is above the law” are foundation principles. We should have rules and we should obey them.

SNZ also recognises the importance of the rule of law. The SNZ Code of Conduct says:

3.1 The Objective of the Code are to ensure that Members, parents and guardians comply with certain standards of behaviour

But the Code then reinforces the importance of the rules when it says:

5.1 A Member must at all times during the course of his/her membership of Swimming New Zealand comply with:

(a) The Constitution;

And any breach of the above shall be a breach of this Code.

And so the position of SNZ seems pretty clear; we have rules and they must be followed or sanctions will result. None of that is a David Wright fantasy designed to “hurt people’s lives”.

If that is the case then please Cotterill, Johns and Francis explain the following table to me. It shows how the Swimming New Zealand Constitution requires the National Secondary Schools Championships to be run and how the Meet Flyer says Cotterill, Johns and Francis have decided will actually happen.

The SNZ Constitution Says 2018 What is Actually Going to Happen
2.21.1 The competition will be swum in a long course 50m pool. Meet Set-Up The meet is Short Course (25m Pool).
2.21.4 To be eligible to compete a swimmer must be a financial and registered Club Swimmer or Competitive Swimmer. Non-SNZ members are enter (sic) through the online entry form
2.21.6 Events will be super seeded with the fastest 8 swimmers in each age group swimming together in the last heats. Events will be super seeded with the top 10 swimmers in each age group swimming together in the last heats,

There could well be a dozen other examples. Those three just happened to stand out. What the Constitution says has been taken from the SNZ Constitution and what is going to happen has been taken from the meet flyer published on the SNZ website.

But in these three instances Steve Johns and his mates are about to blatantly disregard the rules. That’s okay – the rules don’t apply to them. Well they do. The rules apply to everybody including the arrogant inhabitants of Antares Place. Cotterill, Johns and Francis should be dismissed for this example alone. Not because it matters whether the pool is 50m or 25m or whether eight or ten swimmers compete in the fastest heat but because Cotterill, Johns and Francis cheat on the rules. It is exactly the same principle as signing the Lauren Boyle world record form or picking relay swimmers for unqualified individual events. Cotterill, Johns and Francis cannot be trusted to obey the rules.

I had a conversation today about the problems in SNZ. Loud and great blame was being heaped on coaches and swimmers. We were just not good enough. But that is a lie. It is simply not true. The reality is the toxic lack of principle in our leadership. We have been led by them into a dark place that even the Jelleys and Lydiards and Hansens would struggle to overcome. New Zealand swimming is blessed with some wonderful swim coaches but when they work for individuals that have no regard for the rule of law we have no chance.

And that is what matters about this SNZ example of their disregard for the rules.

So there is an example today that is NOT a David Wright flight of fancy. It is real and it is in writing. Bruce Cotterill, Steve Johns and Gary Francis, please explain yourselves. No, better still, apologise and resign. At least leave with some integrity.

My First Bike

July 15th, 2018

 Clearly nothing much is happening in New Zealand swimming. Steve Johns hasn’t got around to thanking me for the assistance Swimwatch has generously provided. Bruce Coterill waved and smiled in my direction at the pool the other day. I’m delighted he’s pleased with the performance of the sport under his care. Gary Francis is nowhere to be seen, but that’s not new. Even when he’s there, he’s absent. For Swimming New Zealand (SNZ) the highlight of the week appears to have been the Annual Awards Dinner. It is difficult to know how to react to this event. I am torn between admiration for those who achieved and contempt for the sport’s administration. I guess it’s appropriate that the two most hugely deserved awards should go to someone who was too busy at a swim meet to be there, Clive Power, and someone whose career has ended, Lauren Boyle.

So I thought I would tell you the story of how I bought my first bike.

I bought the bike when we lived in Horopito. My step-father and mother were the only teachers at the Horopito School. In those days Horopito had the school, a post office, a railway station, the William’s dairy farm and old-man Weir’s sheep farm. But the premiere attraction was clearly Bill Cole’s car yard. It was huge. I am told it was the largest in the southern hemisphere. The business was later to achieve fame as a centre piece of the New Zealand movie “Smash Palace”. There were acres of wrecked cars. My parents bought our first car, an Austin A40, from Bill Cole. One of my earliest memories was the negotiations that went on between my step-father and Bill Cole over the price for that car. It took some time. Bill was one of those laid back guys who took a long time to say a very few words. Finally he shook my step-father’s hand and said very slowly, “Well—-I—–suppose—-that’s—-a—–deal—–then.”

In spite of his appearance Bill Cole was not a man to be crossed. He had won a New Zealand light-weight boxing title. An angry customer once said to him, “That car is so crap I’m going to knock your head off.”

Bill frowned slightly and replied, “Well—-if—-that’s—-the—-way—-you—-feel—-there—–is—-not—–much—–I—–can—–do.”

Fortunately the customer realized there was a problem and backed away from physical violence.

I was seven when I asked my parents for a bike. They offered to buy me a second-hand model from Bill Cole’s one hundred wrecks. But that wasn’t good enough for me. I’d seen a brand new model in the Farmer’s Department Store catalogue. That was the one for me. The problem was price. The Farmer’s bike cost was not much less than Bill Cole’s A40. Finally though a deal was done; if I could save half the price my parents would come up with the other half.

Of course the problem in Horopito was, how does a seven year old earn money? Killing is the answer. My parents bought me five possum traps. The government was paying two shillings for every dead possum as part of a national eradication programme.

I set my five traps in the bush slopes of Mt. Ruapehu. It was a bit of a struggle. The steel jaws of a possum trap are hard to open and difficult to set. But it would be worth it. A new Farmer’s bike would soon be mine.

My first day of trap clearing was a disaster. No possums but, in trap two, one of old-man Weir’s prime ewe’s was caught in my trap. I ran home to get my step-father’s help. Fortunately the trap had only caught the hoof and the freed sheep ran off unaffected by the experience. Trap two was moved.

Skilled possum trappers can kill with one blow of a tomahawk axe. At seven years old it took me five or six blows to cause the same damage. It was a bloody business. My knife was never sharp enough to easily remove the ears (they are called a token) required to prove the kill. Gradually, however, the number of tokens grew. I forget how many were needed to get my half of the bike but it took more than a year.

I was eight years old when the bike was ordered and shipped by rail to the Horopito station. Late one winter’s evening I went to the station to collect the new purchase. This was not something to be carried home. This had to be ridden. Why else did it have a shining new stainless steel light? The wrapping was torn off. I’d never ridden a bike before. However I wasn’t too bad on a horse. This could not be all that different.

I mounted the bike and rode it off the station platform onto the main line railway tracks. The front wheel was bent and broken. The bike could no longer be ridden. My parents showed their kind side and ordered a replacement wheel. When that arrived I learned to ride on the school field before attempting the main north road. But soon I was the envy of Horopito with a new bike from Farmers. Even Bill Cole thought it was pretty flash.

An Activated Comments Facility

July 15th, 2018

 You may have noticed that after the Open Championship and during a holiday week Swimwatch has made an effort to answer requests made in the Steve Johns’ email. Johns has already been provided with a critique of the email. Sadly we have not had any feedback. I do hope he found our guidance beneficial.

Johns also asked Swimwatch to reopen the blog’s comment’s facility. In fact Johns issued his request in the form of a challenge. This is what he said;

“I also challenge you to ‘open’ your blog so that individuals can comment on your posts and provide a bit of balance to your crusade.”

It is difficult to avoid the stunning arrogance contained in that text. I’m sure you would agree that the natural reaction to that insufferable conceit is to tell him to go take a long walk off a very short pier. However as I have already explained – when Johns opens the Swimming New Zealand (SNZ) website to comments from Swimwatch he may then be in a position to challenge others. When Johns shows us his, we might show him ours.

Sadly an open comment’s facility is unlikely. Swimwatch closed the facility because of the volume of spam. We were receiving numerous comments advertising all sorts of rubbish – Donald Trump for example. For all I know some of the unwanted advertising may have been of interest to Steve Johns – cheap Viagra from Canada and a direct Air New Zealand flight to Houston for the city’s premiere of the Stormy Daniels’ show, “Make America Horny Again”. I would be very concerned if Johns’ request was an attempt to access the stuff Swimwatch used to receive.

But we may be able to accommodate Johns. Not by opening the comment’s facility but by publishing a selection of emails we receive from readers in New Zealand and around the world.

Here, for example, is an email sent to me today from a South Island based reader. I won’t identify him any more than that, except to admit that they breed them tough with forthright views down there in the deep south. Anyway here is the comment for Steve Johns’ reading pleasure.

Hi David hope you are well and enjoying your weekend. Just read all of your blog posts from the past two weeks and I honestly take my hat off to you. I don’t know why Swimming NZ is getting so sensitive because you’re only saying the truth and they need to hear it whether they like it or not.

It’s not to discourage them in anyway. It’s to help them understand the situation and fix it but clearly they are still blinded by their own pride. I can’t help but feel sorry for Bradlee I really do want him to achieve his goals but it’s hard to do so if Swimming NZ can’t keep their promises and develop the way it needs to be. They need to realize that their expectations  don’t quite match up with their contributions so unless they do something about it like grown ass adults I don’t know what else they expect

There you go Steve Johns. There are two features of the comment that merit consideration – the content and what it means for SNZ.

The email sums up the current situation very well. Why is Steve Johns so sensitive about the truth? As far as possible, in Swimwatch, I support the opinions published with tables of data. In fact I occasionally think I provide too many numbers. However, if a point is supported by data and by facts, SNZ should welcome the discussion. Good management requires a ruthless determination to tackle problems upfront and quickly. Certainly Johns does need to hear it whether he likes it or not.

When every measure of corporate financial and membership health has declined for eight years – how does Steve Johns explain the disaster? Not by telling me not to mention it in a blog he doesn’t. The South Island correspondent then comments that the organisation is blinded by pride. Sadly, it is not just pride – its arrogant, superior pride based on nothing. It might be blunt but the last line says it all. It’s about time SNZ did “something about it like grown ass adults”.

So what does the email mean for SNZ? Well, it is the sort of comment I frequently receive. I doubt that SNZ will benefit much from having two or three of those published every day. But we could try and find a way if SNZ think it’s a good idea.

You see the purpose of Johns’ question is to leave the impression that if the comments were opened a flood of disgruntled members would come surging to SNZ’s defence. John’s wants to convey the story that I closed the comments facility to avoid admitting no one agreed with the content of the blog. Let me assure Steve Johns that would not be the impression left by opening the blog’s comments facility. The majority of the comments are supportive of Swimwatch and reflect the content of the email published in this post.

People are telling Steve Johns what he wants to hear. That’s what happens when you are a CEO of SNZ; members curry favour. New swimmers and their families still believe SNZ has the power of life and death over their swimming careers. They pay their respects accordingly. The reality is that Johns needs good swimmers far more that they need him. His inflated wages, paid entirely by members and taxpayers, depend on finding good swimmers.

The reality is that, like the Swimwatch correspondent, behind Steve Johns’ back many members believe SNZ is a joke; a self-serving bunch of bureaucrats who have spent $30million of our money and have provided us with a worse product.

That, Steve Johns, is what your members think and they are using Swimwatch to vent their frustration.