Swimming New Zealand Lie Without Shame

February 22nd, 2018

Swimming New Zealand has just posted news of a new sponsorship deal. That is good news. We all should welcome the initiative and the work that has gone into obtaining fresh financial support. Here is how the Swimming New Zealand announced the event.

Swimming New Zealand and Aon New Zealand are proud to announce Aon NZ will join the organisation as the principal sponsor of the National Age Group and New Zealand Open Championships for two years.

The announcement comes following the growth of participating swimmers entering both championships every year.

Swimming New Zealand chief executive Steve Johns says he’s delighted to have Aon join the swimming family in what is an exciting time for the sport.

The announcement sounded wrong. I’ve been going to National Championships since 1989. I don’t keep a record of the entries but my impression is that the Championships are not as big today as they used to be. But we all know that impressions can be deceptive. Perhaps Steve Johns is right. Perhaps “participating swimmers entering both championships every year” have in fact grown. After all swimming New Zealand should know; they have access to all the entry numbers.

For an outside observer it is difficult to check the number of entries. The only way I could think of testing the truth of the Swimming New Zealand claim was by going to the “Take Your Marks” website and laboriously counting the number of entries in each event.

As you can imagine it is a tedious task; so tedious that I decided to limit my analysis to last year, 2017, and five years ago, 2012. After all if Swimming New Zealand were right, there should be dozens more swimmers in 2017 than in 2012. The table below shows what I found.

Entries 2012 2017 No. Drop % Drop
Number 997 767 230 23%

It really does beat me. Why can’t Swimming New Zealand tell the truth? Why do they have to lie all the time. I am sure Aon NZ will be delighted to learn that their sponsorship is based on a lie. Swimming New Zealand lying to us is bad enough but did they lie to Aon in negotiating the sponsorship deal. My guess is they did.

Their behaviour is true to form. It is the way they behave. In a recent post discussing the decision to keep the Swimming New Zealand training squad I used a quote by the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, “I’m not upset that you lied to me, I’m upset that from now on I can’t believe you.”

That may have seemed a little harsh. But a few days later Swimming New Zealand described a 23% drop in National Championship entries as a “growth of participating swimmers entering every year.” The organization just shamelessly lies and they don’t care.

Swimming New Zealand has much in common with the current American President. Their relationship to the truth is very distant. They both could learn much from the first American President George Washington who is reported to have said, “It is better to offer no excuse than a bad one.”

The thing I continue to find stunningly amazing is that the Chairman, Bruce Cotterill, sells himself as a public speaker on good corporate behaviour. You would think he would make sure those in his own backyard at least told the truth. To preach good corporate conduct when those working for you tell bald faced lies seems to me to make your words a sham. What a bloody disgrace.

Now what was the Aon email address again?

Getting Rapists Off On A Technicality

February 20th, 2018

The previous Swimwatch post discussed the influence of officials. I mentioned that in the course of thirty years coaching I have submitted five protests; four were successful and one was rejected. Well that wasn’t true. I forgot one of the protests. There have been six protests and two failures. I thought it would be fun to described the six protests; not for any educational purpose, but rather for their entertainment value.

Protest One: North Island Secondary Schools Championships, Palmerston North

This was a fairly straight forward protest and was quickly settled. Jane Copland was disqualified in the heats of the 200 IM for some error in her backstroke turn. She was not told about it and neither was I. The first either of us knew about the disqualification was when the results were posted on the pool wall.

I asked for the disqualification slip and was told that the turn’s judge had run out of DQ slips and had simply verbally informed the referee about Jane’s indiscretion. I protested on the grounds of a lack of written confirmation and the time that had elapsed between the end of the race and finding out about the disqualification. FINA Rule SW2.6.9 says:

“Inspectors of Turns shall report to the Referee any violation on signed cards detailing the event, lane number, and the infraction.”  

The protest committee and the referee handled the protest well. The referee said, “We screwed up. Jane will be reinstated.” Jane went on to win the final.

Protest Two: Waikato Inter-Club Meet, Hamilton

Jane Copland was disqualified for some infringement in her breaststroke turn. I protested the disqualification on the basis of FINA Rule SW 2.6.1. This says:

“One Inspector of Turns shall be assigned to each lane at each end of the pool.”

In Hamilton there had only been one inspector covering all eight lanes. This was a violation of the meet rules. The swimmer should be reinstated. Arthur Lydiard was with me at the meet. The referee was clearly most uncomfortable arguing that the single turns judge was perfectly able to police eight lanes. The number of inspectors rule simply did not apply.

We lost the protest but shortly after that meet organizers throughout New Zealand began to include a sentence in their meet posters about making every effort to recruit the required number of officials. I have often wondered whether our Hamilton protest initiated that change.

Protest Three: Open National Championships, Auckland

I described these events in the previous Swimwatch post.

“For example, I had to protest a senior official who took referees down to the underwater viewing windows during an open national championship heat at the West Wave pool and instructed them to disqualify one of my swimmers, in the finals, for a fault she thought she saw. That was just flat out cheating. The swimmer won the final.”

The protest was based on FINA Rule SW 2.7.1 which says,

“Judges of stroke shall be located on each side of the pool.”

It does not give them permission to go under the pool in the heats to inspect swimmers, in order to find something they can’t see from the pool deck. And it certainly does not give them permission to disqualify a swimmer, twelve hours later, in the final.

The protest committee agreed. The senior referee looked as though she’d been caught with her fingers in the cookie jar; as well she might. Her name is Jo Davidson.    

Protest Four: NZ Short Course Championships, Wellington

After spending seven years coaching in the United States, I was staggered to come back to New Zealand and discover that swim meets were still being started from the shallow end of the Kilbirnie Pool. In Florida you would be banned for life for letting swimmers dive into one meter deep water.

At the first national short course championships after my return I submitted a protest on the basis of FINA Rule FR2.3. This says:

“A minimum depth of 1.35 metres, extending from 1.0 metre to at least 6.0 metres from the end wall is required for pools with starting blocks.”

The protest committee rejected the protest on the basis of FINA Rule FR1.3 which says:

“All other events should be conducted in pools that comply with all of the minimum standards contained within these Facilities Rules.”

The rule, Swimming New Zealand said, says “should” comply, not “must”, therefore the pool was fine. They seemed to ignore, or just did not care, that the pool was dangerous, no matter what the rule said. And then two events occurred that swung things in the direction of change. First, a young swimmer from Raumati Club lost some teeth diving into the shallow end of the Kilbirnie Pool and, second, Lauren Boyle broke a World Record and Swimming New Zealand decided to lie on the record application form. They signed the form saying that the pool complied with all FINA minimum standards when clearly it did not.

The publicity surrounding those two events finally forced change. Today races at the Kilbirnie Pool start from the deep on of the pool. But I still haven’t got my $50 protest fee back. Perhaps it’s in the mail.

Protest Five: Auckland Championships, Auckland

Shortly after the breaststroke rules changed to allow a butterfly kick after the start and turn Jane Ip was disqualified for an illegal turn. Most swimmers doing the new underwater turn do the full pull and then the butterfly kick. For some reason Jane Ip preferred to do the kick first and then the pull. She was the national short course open 50 breaststroke champion at the time so, while her pull out looked odd, I was happy to leave things the way Jane found most comfortable.

At the Auckland Championships some turns judge decided that “looking odd” meant illegal and disqualified Jane. On the basis of Rule SW7.1 I protested the disqualification. This rule says:

“At any time prior to the first Breaststroke kick after the start and after each turn a single butterfly kick is permitted.”

The key words, of course, are “at any time”. The protest was handled very well. Jill Vernon was the referee. She even asked Jane to show her the different timing in the West Wave diving pool. Jane’s disqualification was overturned.

Protest Six: Central American Championships, Mexico City

I was the national coach of the US Virgin Island’s team at the Central American Championships. One of our male swimmers was disqualified during the heats of the 100 breaststroke. To this day I am unsure what he was accused of doing wrong. The disqualification slip was a mess. First it was written in Spanish which made understanding difficult. Second the slip referred to FINA Rule SW6.4. This rule governs backstroke turns. I was unsure of its relevance in a breaststroke race. And third the date on the form was the 24th January, the previous year.

I protested on the basis that the disqualification was difficult to understand; it referred to the wrong stroke and happened last year. The referee called a protest committee hearing. He was an excitable chap and insisted on yelling his way through the protest committee hearing. When it became obvious that my swimmer was going to be reinstated, he came around to my side of the table, stood over me and screamed, “I hate your sort. You’re the sort of person that, if you were a lawyer, you would get rapists off on a technicality.”

Wow, I thought, 100m breaststroke, hardly compares with statutory rape. My swimmer was reinstated. He got third, that evening, in the final.

Official Information Act

February 19th, 2018

There has been a lively debate on the “NZSwim” Facebook page on the subject of New Zealand swimming officials. The table below shows comments made on the subject.

NZSwim So officials are misbehaving at the Harlequins Junior Festival. A shocked parent writes:

“We had terrible experience today from JOS (Judge of Stroke) . Not only kids but also young coaches were almost abused by these 2 females and another male representative of Auckland swimming. Shocking! Swimmers were growled at and quite often pushed by these 2 females. I hope someone will put an official complaint.”

Jeremy Chick Tasker Judging on results the Harlequin’s got compared to every other region, the officials must’ve been doing something right. Maybe we could learn a thing or two from them?
NZSwim Do you really believe its the standard of officials that have a bearing on results? Maybe their coaches and swimmers are doing something right – perhaps other zones’ coaches and swimmers can learn a thing or two from them? Based on your rationale Jeremy Chick Tasker, Aussie officials must be superb compared to officials in most other countries. Surely you can’t be serious.

I confess this is not a subject that I give much thought. Officials are what they are – good or bad. My job, as a coach, is to teach swimmers to follow the rules. With that done, we all have to work with the cards that the sport deals. When decisions are made that seem wrong they must be quickly accepted. It is more important to move on than spend time worrying about the actions of officials. In thirty years of being a coach I have protested an official’s decision on five occasions. I have lost one and won four. The one I lost was a protest about the depth of the Kilbirnie Pool. I might have lost that protest but they did change the pool. I’m still waiting for Swimming New Zealand to refund my protest fee.

While the behaviour of officials is not of much personal interest, it does not mean I do not have an opinion on their actions. I have been fortunate enough to attend swim meets in all sorts of countries, countries as diverse as Saudi Arabia, Mexico, the Virgin Islands, Monaco, Jamaica,  Majorca, Barbados, the UK, the USA, China, Spain, France, Holland, Sweden, Germany, Russia, Italy, Australia and New Zealand.

I guess the questions posed by the Facebook posts are: is there a difference between the officiating around the world and, if there is a difference, does it affect the standard of swimming? Is there a relationship between the actions of officials and the standard of swimming?

In my opinion the answers to those questions is – yes, the standard of officiating around the world is extremely uneven. And second – yes, the actions of officials do have an effect on the success of the sport. In other words Jeremy Chick Tasker, I think you are right.

But is there any evidence to support that opinion or is it just anecdotal observation?

Example One

A few years ago I took our club team to Australia for the New South Wales Championships. It was a good team and included New Zealand champions Toni Jeffs and Nichola Chellingworth. Future national champion and representative Jane Copland was eleven years old when she went on her first visit. I thought 13 years and under swimmers were included and entered Jane in all the breaststroke races. When we arrived I was unable to find her name in the program. I went to the Meet Director to find out why. His investigation discovered that their computer had rejected Jane’s entries because of her age.

“Oh,” said the Meet Director, “You made a mistake with Jane’s age. She’s actually 13 isn’t she?

“She is my daughter. She is 11,” I said.

“I don’t think you understand. She is 13, isn’t she?” he asked again.

“Oh, of course, yes, she is 13.” I agreed.

Jane ended up swimming in the New South Wales Championships 13 year old events as and eleven, twelve and thirteen year old. You’d struggle to see that happen in New Zealand and maybe in part is why Australia’s swimming is so much better than ours.

Example Two

I keep a petty detailed record of the races swum by swimmers I coach. The table below shows the number of races swum by Jane Copland throughout her swimming career, the number swum overseas and the number swum in New Zealand. The number of times she was disqualified is also shown.

Race Location Number of Races Number of Disqualifications
Domestic in New Zealand 442 11
Overseas 418 1
Total 860 12

As you can see the number of races is close to 50/50 here and overseas and yet Jane was disqualified eleven times more often in New Zealand than overseas. I don’t believe for a moment that was because Jane was a better swimmer in Europe and the United States than in New Zealand. The reason was because the judging was different. Swimmers are going to be miles happier staying in a sport where the chances of being disqualified are 1 in 400 rather than 11 in 400.

Example Three

The table below compares the disqualification rates for two good size swim meets in New Zealand with a very big swim meet in Florida, USA. All three meets cover all the age groups from junior swimmers to open competitors.

Meet No of Swims DQs % DQs
Fort Lauderdale Invite Florida USA 5,610 35 0.6%
Anthony Mosse Meet Auckland NZ 2,067 82 6.5%
Counties Championships NZ 1,772 60 5.5%

Well, isn’t that a telling comparison. The American meet is huge, two or three times the size of the New Zealand meets and yet the disqualifications are less than half. Swimmers are 9 or 10 times more likely to be disqualified in New Zealand than in the United States. In Florida swimmers were disqualified once in every 160 swims. In New Zealand the odds reduced to one in 27 swims.   And no one should attempt to argue that America’s young swimmers are less likely to break the rules than New Zealand swimmers or American swimmers are better coached. Neither of those things is true. For example I coached exactly the same way in Florida as in New Zealand. And yet my disqualification rates were very different. On five occasions I have been to the Florida meet, American officials are not letting swimmers away with breaking the rules. American judges simply interpret and apply the rules better. The standard of judging could well be a factor in the American’s successful swim culture.

Example Four

There are one or two really poor officials in New Zealand; bad apples that affect the whole barrel.

For example, I had to protest a senior official who took referees down to the underwater viewing windows during an open national championship heat at the West Wave pool and instructed them to disqualify one of my swimmers, in the finals, for a fault she thought she saw. That was just flat out cheating. The swimmer won the final.

On another occasion, in Hawkes Bay, Jane Copland’s photograph was posted on the Onekawa Pool notice board. She had just set a NZ open 200 breaststroke record. One morning I noticed a senior Hawkes Bay official, who I also knew did not like me, standing in front of the picture. She turned quickly and walked out of the building. I was suspicious and walked across to the notice board. Sure enough the photograph was gone. The Pool Manager found it in a rubbish bin outside the pool. The official’s fingernail scratches were down the side of Jane’s face as she clawed the photograph off the wall.

I do not mean to suggest all officials are bad. I’ve known some stunningly good officials. Jo Draisey Jill Vernon, Beth Meade, Jeannie and Geoff Sibun and Jay Thomas were and are as good as any in the world. But taking Jeremy Chick Tasker’s point – yes good officials do make a difference. And yes, I agree, “Maybe we could learn a thing or two from them?”

Are They Really Worth This Much?

February 18th, 2018

Sport NZ was established as a Crown entity on 1 January 2003 under the Sport and Recreation New Zealand Act 2002. Their purpose is to “promote, encourage and support physical recreation and sport in New Zealand”.

High Performance Sport NZ (HPSNZ) was established as a Crown entity subsidiary by the Sport NZ Board in August 2011 with a mandate to lead the high performance system. Its key objective is “making New Zealand the most successful sporting nation in the world by developing high performance sport”.

It is ironic that HPSNZ was established in the same year as Miskimmin and Moller changed Swimming New Zealand by imposing a new reactionary constitution. It is even more ironic that the CEO of HPSNZ for most of the period between 2011 and 2017, Alex Baumann, should have had swimming as his specialist subject.

Ironic because Baumann’s brief was to make “New Zealand the most successful sporting nation in the world by developing high performance sport”. Presumably that included swimming. Well that hasn’t worked out too well, has it? That is a rhetorical question. But, to remind you, here is the data on how well Baumann and Miskimmin have done in turning swimming into “the most successful sporting nation in the world by developing high performance sport”.

  1. The number of competitive swimmers is down by 8.1%.
  2. The number of coaches is down by 54.7%.
  3. The total membership is down by 24.9%
  4. The number of clubs is down by 8.3%.
  5. Government funding is down by 28.0%
  6. Membership fees are down by 0.7%.
  7. Total funding is down by 14.7%.
  8. The number of individual qualifiers for the Commonwealth Games is down by 83.3%.

So what did Baumann and Miskimmin do in the six years to reverse the catastrophic decline in the performance of this sport. The Sport NZ Annual Report tells me:

Many have re-set their strategic direction and developed capability in key areas such as insights, locally-led delivery and spaces and places. Together we deliver initiatives to address system-wide issues and create engagement that connects, shares and informs New Zealand on high performance good practice.

So there you have it. I hope it makes you feel that the sport is in good hands. If it does, you know a lot more about this than I do. Because after a reasonably good education and thirty years coaching I don’t have a clue what those forty four words mean.

But here is the really good news. Do you know what we paid Baumann and Miskimmin to rule over the terminal condition of swimming and write that rubbish?

Well, the Sport NZ chief executive’s salary, that’s Miskimmin, was within the band range $390,001 to $400,000 (2015/16: $380,001 to $390,000). And the HPSNZ chief executive’s salary, that’s Baumann, was within the band range $430,001 to $440,000 (2015/16: $420,001 to $430,000). Yes that’s right, and they gave themselves a 2.9% pay increase as a reward for the sterling difference their decisions had made in swimming and being smart enough to write words the rest of New Zealand didn’t understand.

And their efforts in directing the fortunes of Swimming New Zealand and writing meaningless reports were not theirs alone. They had help; a lot of help. Because in the Sport NZ Annual Report we are told that there were another 88 employees paid in excess of $100,000.

Sport NZ, it’s better than Lotto. To be paid, you don’t even need to win.

Has swimming got value for money? Has the contribution of Miskimmin and Baumann been worth over $800,000 per year? For two guys – $800,000! Almost a million dollars to rule over a sport that has seen every performance measure decline since 2011. And it is not as though Swimming New Zealand hasn’t followed Baumann and Miskimmin’s orders. The two Swimming New Zealand Chairmen, Layton and Cotterill, have been like two well-trained Labradors; fetching and retrieving to their master’s whistle.

That it hasn’t worked is saying the “pretty bloody obvious”. That’s why swimming needs a new direction. And needs a new direction pretty quickly before the multitude of junior swimmers competing in the regional championships this weekend have their careers put in jeopardy. The last generation were sacrificed while Miskimmin and Baumann lived off the fat of the land. That should not happen again.

Wellington 2020 Strategic Plan

February 16th, 2018

Jon Winter’s great new Raumati Pool

I see the Wellington Region have published a 2020 Strategic Plan. As I expected, in a report prepared by Mark Berge, someone who calls himself the quintessential consultant in jeans, it is largely a maze of bureaucratic gobbledegook.

Berge was on the Board of Wellington Swimming in 2011 and is there as the Chairman in 2018. Before looking at the Wellington plan through to 2020 I thought it would be fun to prepare a term report on Berge’s performance since 2011. His website tells me:

“Mark sees the bigger picture rapidly, balances his conceptual thinking abilities with practicalities and therefore you don’t just have good ideas, you have good ideas that work.”

Clearly he has a pretty remarkable opinion of his own talents. But has the performance of Wellington Swimming matched that remarkable opinion?

Let us examine that question in terms of some of the goals Berge has set for Wellington Swimming in the Strategic Plan.

Berge’s opening subject is participation. The aim, we are told, is to “increase participation in swimming in the Wellington Region”. The table below shows the term results in the subject called “Participation”.

Item 2011 2017 Change
Number of Competitive Swimmers 836 817 Down by 2.3%
Number of Coaches 68 27 Down by 60.3%
Officials 369 348 Down by 5.7%
Total Members 3163 2989 Down by 5.5%

In every relevant participation measure Berge’s Wellington Region is poorer in 2017 than it was six years ago. His report card is going to say, “A poor result. Mark needs to apply himself more in this subject.”

The second subject is revenue. The aim, we are told, is to reduce the cost of participation and at the same time Increase revenue streams. The table below shows the term results in the subject called “Revenue”.

Item 2011 2017 Change
Total Income 224,347 229,329 Up by 2.2%
Meet Entry Fees 83,459 93,343 Up by 11.8%
Affiliation Fees 54,894 32,532 Down by 40.7%
Donations and Grants 23,355 44,705 Up by 91.4%

So what does all that mean? Well it means effectively total revenue has remained static. So the performance in terms of “increased revenue streams” has not been good. Six years of the same revenue is definitely in need of attention. For some reason Affiliation fees have reduced by 40%. Part of that is the result of a 5% reduction in membership. However a 40% reduction certainly earns Berge a pass mark as a student of “reducing the cost of participation”. The shortfall in Affiliation Fees has been made up for by an 11% increase in Meet Entry Fees and a 91% increase in Donations and Grants.

The increase in Meet Entry Fees compromises the Berge performance in Affiliation Fees. It could be that Berge is simply giving with one hand and taking away with the other. Lower Affiliation Fees but more Meet Entry Fees all from the same cheque books.

The increase in Grants and Donations is exceptional. Berge gets an “A” in this subject. However Grants and Donation income does come with reservations. Grants and Donations tend to be very volatile. They can be taken away on any one of a dozen whims. Relying on this source of income to the extent that Wellington is in 2017 means that the core activities of the business are not paying their way. A sound business would have the core activities paying for the business and grants and donations as the cream on top. That is not the case in Wellington. Without grants and donations Wellington will have real financial difficulties.

And the final subject is performance. The aim is to improve the performance of the region’s swimmers. The table below shows the term results in the subject called “Performance”.

Item 2011 2017 Change
Number of NZ Open medals 9 10 Up by 10%

There are a dozen ways to measure elite performance. I have chosen to measure the number of medals won by Wellington swimmers at the New Zealand Open Championships. Six years ago Wellington swimmers won 9 medals and last year that increased to 10. Joy at the one medal improvement is compromised by recognising that at the NZ Open Championships 102 medals are presented. For a major centre, like Wellington, to win only 10% of the medals on offer, is not good enough; not be a country mile.     

And so is the performance of Mark Berge a pass or a fail. The next table shows how I would mark his test results

Item Grade
Increase participation in swimming in the Wellington Region. F
Reduce the cost of participation B
Increase revenue streams C
Performance C
Overall Result C

I guess members of the Wellington Region need to decide whether a “C” grade is good enough to take them through the next two years. For me I’d want better.