FREE FROM THE INFLUENCE

December 1st, 2021

New Zealand’s COVID lockdown is about to be eased. As far as Swimwatch is concerned that means we can get back into the Millennium Pool. For 15 weeks there has been no swimming in Auckland. Oh, Eyad and Alex have gone for the occasional swim around the buoys at Takapuna Beach. But that was mainly to sit in the sun drinking coffee afterwards.

Lydiard once told me I should try doing distance training in the sea. He said, it might achieve the benefits that running the Waitakeres did for runners. This 15 weeks is proof enough that Takapuna Beach is not the Waitakere Ranges. I’m looking forward to the smell of chlorine again.

A feature of the break I have enjoyed has been the freedom to discuss topics apart from swimming. Some have been important. The chaos of Sport New Zealand and High Performance Sport New Zealand’s mismanagement of sport. Highlighted by the death of Olivia Podmore and the attempt to ban Alan Thompson. Swimming went through their own version of that in the Jan and Bruce era. It has brought into focus that the problems of sport in New Zealand begin at the top. They say a fish rots from the head down. Well so does New Zealand sport.

However, this last lockdown post allows me the opportunity to comment on a political change that took place in New Zealand this week. The leader of the National Party changed again. Even the most loyal National Party voter has to admit sacking the old leader and voting for a new model is not all that unusual. What is it? Something like 5 leaders in four years or is it 4 leaders in five years. Either way it is a huge number. This time the anointed ones are Christopher Luxon and deputy Nicola Willis. How they get on with three previous bosses still in their caucus will not be easy.

Twice in my business career I was appointed to the role of company chief executive with the old bosses still around. Once at a large processing plant outside Palmerston North and the second time as CEO of the New Zealand stock exchange listed company Colyer Watson. In both cases the previous bosses made my life miserable. And the guys I had to deal with were nothing like as vicious as “Crusher Collins”. Good luck with that Luxon and Willis.

But apart from the prospect of the National Party continuing to tear itself apart, what else comes to mind about these two. Well, quite a bit actually, and none of it is good. Let me tell you about Nichola Willis first.

My daughter, Jane, and Nichola Willis are about the same age and went to the same school, Samuel Marsden Collegiate School. Before I was aware of that connection, I had wondered whether Willis was a Marsden old girl. She has the tell-tale features. Jane went to Marsden for eight years and hated every minute. The school breeds a personality that is hard to miss, arrogant, vicious, superior, fake snobs.

I remember Jane asking her mother, why was it the girls prayed in chapel everyday and five minutes later acted like Taliban terrorist towards each other in the playground. I think Alison explained because that’s the way some people with lots of money act. Anyway, “Marsden old girl” tells you all you need to know about the endearing features of the new Deputy Leader of the National Party.

A few years later we moved Jane to a more respectful and better school. I’m glad we did. There are quite enough Nicola Willis types already.

So, what about Luxon? Well, the really scary part about him being leader of the National Party is his religious convictions. A religious zealot is not the best person to run the country. Governments deal with many norms that have religious implications. For example, liquor laws, abortion, euthanasia, contraception and gay rights. The list goes on and on. The table below lists the disadvantages of having Luxon anywhere near the Prime Minister’s office.

Alternative opinions are rarely welcomed 
Religious zealots preach peace, but they teach discord. Marsden School for example
Minority groups are not tolerated. Gays, Muslims and so on 
You cannot have a unique faith under a theocracy unless it’s Luxon’s faith.
Zealots change the beliefs of a nation. Education gets twisted towards the leader’s beliefs
It places cultural expectations of one society against others. NZ foreign policy will align more with right wing USA military.
Facts don’t matter. Luxon’s God has it covered.

We will see whether Luxon turns out this way. However, the signs are not good. In one year, he has already voted against euthanasia, recreational drug use and liberalising abortion. It would be hard to convince me that Luxon’s voting record wasn’t the result of his religion. I have yet to find a religious zealot who does not display these bigoted features. And that is not the New Zealand I want to live in. Religious zealot and liberal democracy are not synonyms. Luxon and Willis are something new, that’s true. Problem is, they look a bloody sight worse.

Seems to me Jacinda is a safer, more New Zealand, option.

PS – “The gov’t is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion. Government should have a foundation free from the influence of clergy.” George Washington – America’s first President.

  

HON GRANT ROBERTSON REPLIES

November 29th, 2021

The previous Swimwatch post copied extracts from many emails sent by double Olympic Gold Medalist Alan Thompson to Hon Grant Robertson. Apart from the normal ministerial courtesy reply – you know, the one that says, thank you, the Minister is very busy – the only informative correspondence back was a letter from Grant Robertson dated 27 June 2021.

Grant Robertson also met with Alan Thompson during the period covered by the correspondence.

Reading the letter, I am left with an impression of stunning naivety. Right or wrong, Grant Robertson believes his subordinates. His loyalty may be admirable but in the current state of New Zealand sports administration his trust is misplaced and dangerous.

Olivia Podmore paid the price for Grant Robertson’s trust with her life. I paid the price for Grant Robertson’s trust with my health. But back to his letter.   

Paragraph three says this:

I am confident that the allegations have been taken seriously by CRNZ and have been thoroughly investigated.  

Alan Thompson’s allegations were never taken seriously by CRNZ. All CRNZ did was whitewash the issues until sufficient time passed for them to initiate Alan Thompson’s expulsion from the organisation. The saga was, and is, a vendetta. Getting rid of Alan Thompson solved their problem. They could tell SNZ and HPSNZ that Alan Thompson’s allegations were fabrications. In fact, they could, and they did, tell their bosses Thompson was the abuser. SNZ and HPSNZ would pass that on to Grant Robertson. Problem solved. Thompson would be back in Gisborne, shopping on Gladstone Rd where he belonged. He would never disrupt their well paid and sordid lives again.

If CRNZ, SNZ and HPSNZ – otherwise known as a sporting freak show – get away with the expulsion of Thompson it will only make their self-important toxic swamp worse. They need control – not to be given free rein to run around beating up high profile and honest athletes. The arrogance of SNZ and HPSNZ is not restricted to its influence on CRNZ. As we have seen Cycling and, when Bruce Cotterill was around, Swimming were infected just the same. SNZ and HPSNZ are the source of the problem. As night follows day, the parents have the disease and pass it on to their children.      

Grant Robertson needs to wake-up. His confidence in bad people caused the death of Olivia Podmore. It resulted in me having to attend North Shore Hospital for five hours three times every week. He needs to be confident no more. Alan Thompson was right. Put the carrot away. It is time to take out the stick. And Raelene Castle should be Robertson’s first victim.

In paragraph four, Grant Robertson says:

CRNZ has appropriate systems and processes in place to run its programs as effectively as possible and keep improving over time. CRNZ has accepted the results and is committed to implementing all recommendations made.

That is also SNZ and HPSNZ spin. Remember Cycling New Zealand and Swimming New Zealand saying the same thing about their investigations. And then cycling started cheating at the Olympic Games. And Olivia Podmore died. I doubt that Grant Robertson’s assurance is much comfort to Olivia Podmore’s mother. It certainly did not relieve Olivia’s pain or cure my health. SNZ and HPSNZ lie like flat fish. When those with real power believe the lies and write rubbish like this, they cause cheating, illness and death.

And in his final paragraph Grant Robertson says this:

The independent Sport and Recreation Complaints and Mediation Service (SRCMS) was launched in February this year.     

This is Grant Robertson’s attempt to convince Alan Thompson that a new initiative has been launched to solve abuse problems. I guess Grant Robertson does not need to be told it hasn’t worked. Forty-two days after he wrote this letter Olivia Podmore was dead – in the face of the corruption, the training abuse and the hush money payments Grant Robertson’s new initiative did not do Olivia any good. The same applies to the seven women who abandoned the CRNZ program. If they had not left, how many of them would be experiencing Olivia’s struggles? Ask them, they don’t believe a word that comes out of the freak show. And the same applies to me. In the face of it all my health gave way.  

From what I have seen on TV, I like Grant Robertson. He seems honest, sharp and has a good sense of humor. Altogether a good and decent person. However bad people are taking advantage of his good nature. He is being screwed. The problem is when Raelene Castle’s organisation screws someone like Grant Robertson all of us are twisted out of shape. Olivia Podmore’s death is one death too many. But with letters like this, I promise you, Olivia will not be the last.

PS – Olivia Podmore is the second association Cycling High Performance Director, Martin Barras, has had with the death of an elite cyclist. An Australian World Champion male cyclist committed suicide when Barras worked for Cycling Australia. Grant Robertson must see the need to investigate the SNZ and HPSNZ culture that allows these individuals to be employed and to prosper. I am convinced Olivia Podmore did not commit suicide. She was murdered just as surely as if Cycling New Zealand had attacked her with a loaded gun. Robertson needs to prevent the same thing happening in CRNZ by closing down the effort to expel Alan Thompson.

OMG – WHAT DID THEY KNOW AND WHEN DID THEY KNOW IT?

November 27th, 2021

Before you read this Swimwatch post there are two qualifications you should know about.

First, I voted Labour in the last two elections and will do so again in a year’s time. This post is not political.

Second, the correspondence you are about to read comes from double Olympic Gold medalist, Alan Thompson. It is a credible source.

There are also three arguments I am about to address.

First, that Hon. Grant Robertson for over a year has been told that Sport New Zealand (SNZ) and High Performance Sport New Zealand (HPSNZ) were not fit for purpose.

Second, that Grant Robertson was warned over a year before Olivia Podmore died that her death was going to occur.

Third, that Grant Robertson did nothing. SNZ and HPSNZ continue as they did before, and Olivia Podmore was allowed to die.  

SNZ and HPNZ not fit for purpose

In an email dated Wednesday, 5 August 2020 Grant Robertson was told this:

I implore you as the Minister of Sport to remove HPSNZ and SNZ from any inquiries or investigations. The process must be conducted by a fully independent person or commission if it is going to have any credibility. I agree with David Howman who stressed this two days ago. Sport New Zealand has had a culture of ‘they know best’ and have bullied NSOs for years.

In an email dated Thursday, 13 August 2020 Grant Robertson was told this:

You are asking that I as a parent along with many athletes put faith in SNZ to make their complaints of abuse to the ICM when Sport New Zealand may be complicit in this abuse and definitely HPSNZ is. How (has) sport in NZ got to such a low that allows the systematic abuse of its athletes. They do not and will not trust HPSNZ as they have been repeatedly let down by them. The athletes I know do not trust anything associated with SNZ. Sport New Zealand is a very big part of the problem and may be complicit in this abuse.

In an email dated Monday, 31 August 2020 Grant Robertson was told this:

The Athletes Federation is not representative of sports people in this country. when one takes a closer look you may find Mr Rob Nicol has a close friendship or association with Mr Gordon Walker from CRNZ, the Athletes Federation has in the past acted as an agent or on behalf of the CEO of CRNZ Mr Tom Ashley, the CEO of the Federation I believe is possibly Ms Carrington’s manager. You can draw your own conclusions.

In an email dated Monday, 31 August 2020 Grant Robertson was told this:

Sport NZ has a ‘dirty puppeteer’s finger’ in most NSOs pulling and manipulating all processes and directions for its own ends. The parents and these young women want a Royal Commission of Enquiry put in place so they can tell their stories and also point out how dishonest the NSOs and HPSNZ are, in addition they want to make recommendations that protect the integrity of sport in NZ and protect future sports people.

In an email dated Monday, 12 October 2020 Grant Robertson was told this:

What I would like to see is a Commission of Enquiry and all those abusers and those complicit gone. The reason I wanted a Commission of Enquiry was because this has been going on for years because of the power exerted by Sport NZ and HPSNZ.

In an email dated Monday, 21 December 2020 Grant Robertson was told this:

I ask you to use your influence through Sport NZ to demand the resignation of CRNZ’s Board, CRNZ’s Board has failed to take due care of its members and has failed in all aspects of health and safety, it has failed control its employees. I know that the CEO and Coaches of CRNZ have rights under Employment Law but when someone of your calibre says they have grave concerns about their performance or have no confidence in them, this would or should make them resign.

Hon. Grant Robertson was told about Olivia Podmore’s death

In an email dated Thursday, 13 August 2020 Grant Robertson was told this:

You are asking that I as a parent along with many athletes put faith in SNZ to make their complaints of abuse to the ICM when Sport New Zealand may be complicit in this abuse and definitely HPSNZ is. Sport New Zealand is a very big part of the problem.

In an email dated Monday, 31 August 2020 Grant Robertson was told this:

It will only be a matter of time before some parent gets the knock on the door from the Police. I leave it for you to act hopefully in haste.

In an email dated Monday, 31 August 2020 Grant Robertson was told this:

Some of these young women have already just about paid the price with their lives. This cannot happen and should never happen, vested interests that discard young sports people like altar boys and girls in the catholic church cannot pervade NZ Sport.

In an email dated Monday, 31 August 2020 Grant Robertson was told this:

One parent yesterday told me that ‘we are very lucky to still have two of these young women’. CRNZ and HPSNZ yesterday openly lied about when they knew about what was happening and the action they have taken. This Sir we can prove beyond all reasonable doubt both with email trails and eye witnessIn

In an email dated Monday, 21 December 2020 Grant Robertson was told this:

HPSNZ knew full well about the toxic culture that existed in Canoe racing NZ and HPSNZ chose to ignore it. ‘Medals over ethics and morality, medals over lives’- what an indictment of NZ Sport.

In an email dated Monday, 3 May 2021 Grant Robertson was told this:

Today another young women has left one of Canoe Racing NZ HP Women’s squads because of a nervous breakdown, anxiety and depression. My count stands at 7 young women who I know who’s lives have in some cases just about been destroyed, yet nothing has changed. Obviously Sport NZ, HPSNZ and those they are responsible to only care about not upsetting the apple cart and medals are more important that lives. Some of the young women that stood up and spoke out are still being physically and mentally intimidated.

Conclusion

What a chilling email. Sixteen months ago, Hon. Grant Robertson was told by a double Olympic Gold Medallist. “It will only be a matter of time before some parent gets the knock on the door from the Police.

It is too late for Grant Robertson to act now. Olivia Podmore’s mother has had “the knock on the door from the Police.” Her daughter is dead. Grant Robertson was told and did nothing. He was in a position to save that girl’s life and left her to die.

But it is not too late for him to save others. Here is what The Minister of Sport needs to do.

  1. Close down the Canoeing SGM that is clearly a vendetta aimed at Alan Thompson for telling the truth to a Minister of the Crown.
  2. Encourage the Police to get fully involved in the Podmore inquiry.
  3. Widen the Police investigation to include:
  4. consideration of the charge of murder
  5. The role SNZ and HPSNZ played in Podmore’s death
  6. Payment to the lawyers involved in the current Podmore inquiry should be taken over by the Government – not SNZ or HPSNZ.
  7. Widen the current Podmore inquiry to include a SNZ and HPSNZ restructure aimed at preventing the moral corruption that has recently characterised both organisations.
  8. Replace Raelene Castle as CEO of both agencies.   

WHAT IS IT THE MEDIA DON’T UNDERSTAND?

November 26th, 2021

Here we go again. Another good guy being hung out to dry by overpaid self-important fat cats in New Zealand’s sporting Head Office. What is it the media don’t understand? It is not actually those that manage the sports that are to blame. It is Sport New Zealand’s money and the influence of Sport New Zealand and High Performance Sport New Zealand (HPSNZ) bureaucrats that are destroying the moral fabric of sport.

This website has said many times – the buck stops with Raelene Castle and, before her, Peter Miskimmin.

Everything either of them touch turns to custard. Three of the biggest recipients of their charity have been Rowing ($5.1million in 2020), Cycling ($4.4million in 2020) and Canoe Racing ($1.9million in 2020). Think about that for a second. In one year, Castle handed over $11.4million to three sports. And what did Castle get for her flippant waste of our money – because its source is our taxes. How’s this for a list.

Cycling

A toxic environment that probably caused the death of Olivia Podmore.

The resignation of their Head Coach, their CEO, their High Performance Director and their Sprint Coach. I used to think swimming was bad with 13 Head Coaches in 15 years. That was before I watched the chaos Castle and her money were about to unleash on Cycling. Would the last person leaving the velodrome that Castle built please turn out the lights?

Payment of what looks like a $20,000 bribe to buy Podmore’s silence. If that, as it appears to be, is true, it is the behaviour we expect out of Somalia, South Sudan and Syria. But no, in this case the ironically named Grassroots Trust Velodrome, in leafy Cambridge, was the drop-off point for Sport New Zealand’s hush money.

Yet another inquiry. They say the only ones getting rich out of all this are inquiry lawyers. That is not entirely true. Castle isn’t on fish-n-chip dinners yet. But the lawyers must be loving this chaos.

Well done Castle – one death, four resignations, an alleged bribe and two inquiries. Seems like a good way to run a sport’s team. And all it cost was $4.4million a year.

Rowing

Compared to cycling, rowing has been fairly quiet recently. They haven’t been caught threatening New Zealanders who dare to use their sport to pay for an American University education. I have not even heard of rowing banning from selection any female rower who wants to spend some time working in Europe for the IOC. Even the almost annual inquiries into charity’s fraud or false grant applications seem to have slowed down.

Like all castles, Castles rowing’s real strength is losing their best staff. They even lost Dick Tonks who had been coaching rowing in NZ for 20 years. His rowers won more medals than any other coach in the sport’s history. But he couldn’t stand Sport New Zealand and went off to coach in Canada.         

Canoe Racing

Even Canoe Racing NZ has not found a repellent to ward off the Castle scourge. Their latest scandal involves a concerted effort to expel double Olympic Gold Medallist, Alan Thompson. Canoeing is holding a SGM in December to see if they can get New Zealand’s 16 canoe clubs to throw Thompson out of the sport.

I don’t know Alan Thompson. But I come from Gisborne and know many guys who do know him. Alan and I also swam for the same swimming club and for the same coach. These are people whose views I respect. Respect a lot more than Castle.

Sure, Alan is old school. So am I. So was Tonks. So was Lydiard. So was Laing. But that canoeing stuff about a “safe environment for all athletes that participate in canoe racing and CRNZ activities”.as though Alan Thompson was an East Coast Ted Bundy is a straight out CRNZ vendetta.

For years Alan Thompson has called out bureaucratic waste. For years he has been an anti-establishment voice. But I tell you what, Podmore would not have died under Alan Thompson’s watch. She did die when Castle was in charge. It would pay the 16 canoeing clubs in New Zealand to remember that and vote to keep one of New Zealand’s good guys in their sport.

If Canoe Racing NZ can get rid of Alan Thompson when he calls them to account, will anybody ever be able to voice their concerns without Sport New Zealand paying whatever it takes to silence a critic.

The canoeing clubs should also be aware that the QC who investigated Alan, Victoria Casey, says on her website, “Independent investigation on instructions from the High Performance Sport NZ”. In my opinion she clearly has no idea what she is talking about. Any investigation “on instructions from the High Performance Sport NZ” is NOT by definition independent. HPSNZ paid Canoe Racing NZ $1.9million last year. In my opinion it is far more likely that HPSNZ hired Victoria Casey to look after their interests and like a well-trained puppy-dog that is what she has done. Sport New Zealand and Canoe Racing NZ wanted to get rid of a troublemaker and paid Casey to provide the bullets for their firing squad.

It is another set-up just like the Podmore $20,000 was a set-up. I just hope there are at least nine decent canoe clubs in New Zealand who recognize graft when they see it and keep one of their more valuable assets in the canoeing fold.

PS – I have a daughter who swam for New Zealand. If I was unable to go on an overseas trip with her, there was only one person I would trust to take her away – Duncan Laing. You can add a second name to that list – Alan Thompson.

TOO HOT IN THE KITCHEN

November 24th, 2021

Cycling New Zealand (CNZ) has announced that its CEO, Jacques Landry, has resigned. He will return to his native Canada at the end of the year. In my view, this must not be allowed to happen. Oh, he can resign all right. No problem there. But skipping the country. No, that must not be allowed.

Why? Because in my opinion Landry and others face the prospect of criminal charges in relation to the death of Olivia Podmore. I am not calling her death suicide any longer because in my view it was culpable homicide. Here are the events that, if correct, would form the case against those responsible in CNZ and Sport New Zealand.

  1. Olivia had knowledge of a relationship between the National Cycling Coach and a female athlete.
  2. CNZ demanded that she participate in a cover-up of the relationship.
  3. Olivia was required to lie to protect CNZ.
  4. There was an implied threat to Olivia’s financial and sporting life.
  5. Olivia compromised her honesty and self-esteem and participated in the CNZ cover-up.
  6. Sport New Zealand paid Olivia an additional $20,000 after the inquiry for “welfare reasons”. A cynic might ask – whose welfare?  
  7. CNZ refused to select Olivia for the Tokyo Olympic Games.
  8. Olivia was found dead at home on 9 August 2021.

That series of alleged events requires answers in a Court of Law by those responsible for Sport New Zealand and CNZ. Included among those is the current CEO, Jacques Landry.

Culpable homicide is described in the New Zealand Crimes Act 1961, Section 60. It “consists in the killing of any person by causing that person by threats or by deception, to do an act which causes his or her death.”

While the circumstances of Olivia’s death remain under investigation by the Coroner and the Special CNZ Panel, Landry should not be allowed to leave New Zealand. He became CEO of CNZ in 2018, one year after Olivia had been asked to lie in the CNZ cover-up. His organisation allowed her participation in the CNZ centralised training programme to be used to obtain her compliance with the cover-up. Was he the CEO of CNZ when Olivia was paid the $20,000? He was CEO of CNZ when she was not named on the Tokyo Olympic team. He was CEO when she died. In my view he was at least an accessory to these events.   

To my untrained eye the actions that led to Olivia’s death certainly look like culpable homicide. In simple terms the pressures she had to endure killed her just as surely as if someone had stood outside her home with a rifle. And Landry was the CEO shortly after or during it all. Landry should not skip the country without answering questions in a Court of Law about his actions. For example.

  1. When did he have knowledge of a relationship between the National Cycling Coach and a female athlete? What did he know and when did he know it?
  2. When was he aware that Olivia had been asked to participate in a cover-up of the relationship?
  3. When was he aware that Olivia had been required to lie to protect CNZ?
  4. Was he aware that there was an implied threat to Olivia’s financial and sporting life in the CNZ cover-up?
  5. Was he aware that Olivia had compromised her honesty and self-esteem in order to participate in the CNZ cover-up?
  6. Did he have any involvement in the Sport New Zealand “welfare” payment of $20,000 after the inquiry? Was this money Olivia’s payoff for her part in the CNZ cover-up scheme?   
  7. What was his involvement in CNZ’s refusal to select Olivia for the Tokyo Olympic Games? What did he know and when did he know it?

I have no idea how to avoid Landry skipping the country. The circumstances described here demand that Landry be prevented from spending Christmas tucked up in Canada safe from his actions at CNZ being examined by New Zealand justice.

A particularly poignant saying about events like this is that bad people get away with bad things when good people do nothing. Do you think that might be what we have here? If we have, it is clearly up to someone to take a stand. If the extreme pressure Olivia was put under by CNZ and Sport New Zealand’s money made this a possible case of culpable homicide, then those responsible and/or associated with these events in any way, no matter how distant, should answer for their actions. Olivia Podmore deserves no less. I know this is true from my own experience with an NSO.