Saudi Arabia and Donald Trump

May 22nd, 2017

Donald Trump has just left Washington to visit Saudi Arabia. The Saudis are reported to be preparing a red carpet reception. I can believe that. The Saudis and Trump are well suited to each other; in a macabre, terrible sort of way.

Trump will arrive at Riyadh Airport. The Saudis have just built a new terminal building. Like many Saudi public buildings the terminal is grand but austere. In Riyadh there is none of the liquor and cigars gloss of Dubai and Doha. The duty free reminds me of the sparse supermarkets I visited in the Soviet era USSR.

But Trump won’t mind that. He does not drink alcohol and he will not be using the public terminal. In Riyadh they have a huge glass terminal exclusively for private aviation. Trump’s 747 will park alongside a dozen other privately owned 747s. Trump will love it – two families with king complexes; massaging each other’s egos.

But the similarities do not end there. When I lived in Saudi Arabia I was just staggered by the injustice of their society; injustice that was reflected in the administration of swimming. Injustice made worse by the fact that the CEO of swimming was a New Zealander who either could not or did not want to do anything about it.

Let me give you some examples.

The treatment of foreign nationals amounts to racial apartheid. Short term western imports like me are fine. But long term residents live an impossibly segregated life. I know of Egyptian and Syrian families who have lived in Saudi Arabia for twenty years and, because they are not Saudi born, are forbidden from opening a bank account, from purchasing a house and even from using the local public swimming pool.

Just imagine if the New Zealand government announced that Asian immigrants, because of their race, were not allowed to swim in the Henderson, West Wave Pool. Just think of the chaos that would follow Maori being banned from the Auckland, Newmarket Pool. And yet the Saudi government does the equivalent of that all the time and the New Zealand CEO told me he would not do anything about it. With Trump’s attitude to aliens I suspect he will see the Saudi example as a goal for his administration to aspire. After all when so many Mexicans are rapists and drug dealers, why should they swim with real Americans?

And then of course there is the well-known position of women. That amounts to apartheid as well. There are different security queues in the airport for men and women, different standards of dress, different sections of every café and restaurant and different universities. Women are forbidden from using public pools or swimming in the sea, forbidden from driving cars, forbidden from opening a bank account without the approval of a male relative, forbidden from travel without a male chaperone, punished for talking to male strangers, forbidden from taking part in competitive sport and quite unbelievably from even praying in the same room as men – as though God cares.

In matters of gender Trump and the Saudis will not get along. I cannot imagine any Saudi royal supporting Trump’s two most famous quotes “I did try and fuck her. She was married” and, “Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.” But although their attitude to women is very different, Trump and the Saudis end up in a similar place. For both of them women are items of property, devoid of rights and stripped of independence.

Although gender equality is a major issue in Saudi Arabian swimming nothing is being done to address the problem. In this world there are those who tackle the big issues with courage and without pause for their own safety. And then there are others who ignore the injustice and cower from conflict. I will leave you to guess which qualities have ruled Saudi Swimming in recent years.

There is always an excuse for doing nothing. I recall the Vanguard initiative being defeated in New Zealand swimming. A pivotal meeting was held in Wellington. It was a “Munich” moment requiring nerve and courage. Sadly it got neither. Today swimming in New Zealand is still suffering as a consequence of that failure and the 2012 constitution it spawned. That inability to lead hurt New Zealand swimming and does not appear capable of solving the two big issues of swimming in Saudi Arabia either.

But back to Trump and the Saudis; probably the most frightening effect of the Trump visit will be the confirmation, in Trumps mind, of the way rulers are supposed to be treated. I have been in Riyadh when the streets for miles around have been closed in preparation for the King’s transit. I have seen his convoy of twenty cars and an ambulance speed through the city. I have witnessed the subservient behavior of citizens to members of the royal family and I have seen the hectares of walled-off palaces in Riyadh and Jeddah.

We know Trump is like a little boy. He will want some of that. He will want CNN to show the servitude demanded of the press in Saudi Arabia where criticism of the government and royal family “are not generally tolerated. Self-censorship is pervasive.”

Fortunately for our world Trump is not going to get what he wants. Sadly for women and foreigners living in Saudi Arabia I suspect they are not either.      

 

The Start Of Something Extraordinary

May 16th, 2017

“The start of something extraordinary” is the slogan printed on the banner of the Swimming New Zealand website. The slogan is correct: five errors in the news report telling us about the high altitude training camp is certainly extraordinary.  

Then I thought, what would I find if I read the other news items? Perhaps five errors are not the start of something extraordinary. Perhaps that’s Swimming New Zealand’s normal standard.

Here is what I found. Some of my gripes are trivial. They do however add to an impression of an organisation that struggles to get anything right.

Report One – Team for Commonwealth Youth Games announced

This is what the website reported, “Mya Rasmussen with also be one to watch.” What they mean of course is, “Mya Rasmussen will also be one to watch.”

Report Two – Upokongaro School Celebrates Swimming Success

Here is a sentence from their Upokongaro School report.

Upokongaro School also include beach education with Surf Life Saving NZ over summer and prior to conducting any education outside the classroom that are around water, emphasis is made to ensuring students keep themselves safe whether they are in, on or around water.  

That is a mammoth 44 word sentence. The UK Government have rules about this sort of thing. Here is an extract from their blog “Inside GOV UK”.  

Research shows that when average sentence length is 14 words, readers understand more than 90% of what they’re reading. At 43 words, comprehension drops to less than 10%.

Studies also show that sentences of 11 words are considered easy to read, while those of 21 words are fairly difficult. At 25 words, sentences become difficult, and 29 words or longer, very difficult.

Long sentences aren’t just difficult for people who struggle with reading. They’re also a problem for highly literate people with extensive vocabularies.”

Having struggled to keep up with what was happening at Upokongaro School, I agree with the UK Government. Ten percent comprehension? Only if I was lucky.   

Report Three – Swimming’s rising stars bag record haul in Australia

This is a report about the Australian Age Group Championships. It is probably the most serious fault. The headline claims a “record haul” of medals. The text says:

“It brought New Zealand’s tally to a record 18 over the six-day meet”

I thought I’d go back to 2009 and check the past seven years to see if the New Zealand result in 2017 was a record. I only needed to check one year. In 2009 swimmers from NZ won 22 medals at the Australian Age Group Championships. The website claim is not true. It’s an alternative fact. And as Chuck Todd said to Kellyanne Conway, “Look, alternative facts are not facts. They’re falsehoods.”

But the confusion does not end there. The report then says:

“New Zealand finished the meet with two victories to Crawford and Christchurch’s Hannah Bates, 11 silver medals and five bronze medals, with the medals coming from nine clubs.”

The sentence is not all that long but there are three or four subjects all squashed together that make the whole thing meaningless. Someone needs to tell Swimming New Zealand that it is not necessary to jam every fact into one breathless sentence.  

Report Four – Swift Water Personal Skills Course

Two of the skills taught to members attending this course are described as:

“Move safely in and around a river environment up to grade 2+

Perform non-technical self and peer rescues in a river environment up to grade 2″

Is the river grade “two plus” or “two inches” or both.

Report Five – High Performance Team visit USA

I have already discussed this report. For the sake of completeness I will include the Swimming New Zealand’s report again. Here is what they said:

“Some of the USA’s top swimmers, such as Katie Ledecky, Nathan Adrian and Simone manual were amongst the athletes competing at the meet.

The competition was hosted by the Storied Club Mission Veijo Nandadores.”

Here is what they have wrong in just two sentences.

  1. “Simone manual” is Simone Manuel – that’s two errors
  2. “Storied Club” should be storied club – that’s another two
  3. “Veijo” should be Viejo – and that’s one more

Five errors in 34 words: that is not good. If someone in Swimming New Zealand knows enough about Mission Viejo to call it “storied” you would think they would also know how to spell the club’s name.  

Report Six – Crawford leads further medal haul in Australia

As I have said there is a general impression of incompetence. For example this report says:

“with the competition continuing until Saturday”

And then it goes on to say:

“and continues at the Brisbane Aquatic Centre until Friday.”

And then we are told:

Smith, from the emerging Whangarei club, set a personal best 3:34.03 to finish second in the 16 years 200m breaststroke.”

But in the results we are told:

“16 years: Ciara Smith (Northwave) 200 breaststroke 2:34.03”

I can understand the New Zealand Herald getting a 200 meter breaststroke time wrong by a minute. The national swimming Federation should know better.  

It is not overstating the case to say that when the organisation’s shop window is this sloppy, when they can’t write a report without silly errors, when they lie about their performance: why should anyone trust them with the careers of their children? If a school principal sent a newsletter home with this many errors would you be happy your child was in good hands? Of course not. The message coming from their website is one of confusion, poor performance and incompetence. But does the website simply reflect the organisation in general?  

 

I Told You So

May 15th, 2017

During the seven years I spent coaching in the United States there were a number of disruptive parents. One of the worst was a Florida mother called Julie Reiser. She was incredible; the gold standard when it came to causing trouble.  

With that history imagine how I felt when I read the following headline in the May 19 2014 Boca News – “Made In USA Founder, Reiser Jailed.” Evidently Reiser had fallen out with and had left her husband. She visited the family home while he was out and removed two bags of his belongings and took them to her car. Then, according to the report, Reiser “came back into the house and took a 12-pack of Michelob beer” that she broke and poured over her ex-husband’s possessions in the driveway. Afterwards, the report said, Reiser was found by police in Boca Raton, Florida and turned over to cops in Delray Beach.

That has to be karma or as a committee member from the Florida club said to me in an email on the subject – “Four greatest words in the English language:  I told you so.”

Well we have just experienced another one of those moments. In a recent Swimwatch post we commented on the Swimming New Zealand’s high altitude training junket to a mountain in Arizona. This is how Swimming New Zealand announced the event.  

“The team of 7 guys and 9 gals with support staff of Jerry Olszewski, Mat Woofe, HPSNZ S&C Specialist Stephen Hill-Haas and Team Manager Susie Prince will today head home from the 3 week long training camp at the Flagstaff Altitude camp after competing in the USA Pro Series events in Mesa and the Mission Viejo Swim meet of Champions over the last few days. Watch the FB page for some updates on PB’s!”

We analysed the results and discovered that in the Mission Viejo meet of Champions the New Zealand team swam in 64 races. The team had 4 personal best swims; Gasson in the 400 IM, Ashby in the 400 freestyle and McIntosh and Deans in the 1500. Four swims from 64 races is a personal best ratio of 6%. That is pretty ugly especially when all four PBs by the New Zealand swimmers were in the swimmers’ off-events

We went on to comment that “no doubt Jerry and Suzie (coach and manager and Arizona natives) will say the team was in the middle of hard training and so PBs were never expected. They had just been to the Arizona mountain. They had experienced travel delays. Trump protesters were rioting outside the team hotel. The hamburgers had caused sickness. Blaa, blaa, blaa. Coaches have an endless list of excuses to explain a 6% PB result.

Finally last week the Swimming New Zealand website reported on the trip. Here are some extracts from their report.  

“Some of the USA’s top swimmers, such as Katie Ledecky, Nathan Adrian and Simone manual were amongst the athletes competing at the meet.”

It is as sad as all can be that Swimming New Zealand cannot get out of gee-whiz mode. When Katie Ledecky is telling her coach she got to swim in the same meet as the New Zealand team then we can be impressed. Until then advertising the coup of being allowed to enter a meet that included these swimmers hardly seems like the attitude of champions I’ve ever met. We are so wonderfully naïve.   

And then Swimming New Zealand treated us to the stunning news that at the training camp everybody completed the training “admirably” and:

“A highlight of their trip included a visit to the Grand Canyon on their afternoon off.”

I have absolutely no problem with visiting the Grand Canyon. Indeed on swimming trips I have been to the Eiffel Tower, visited Red Square, sailed around Monaco Harbour, been into the not-yet-finished Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, visited Osama Bin Laden’s home in Jeddah, sunbathed on a Caribbean Beach and timed swimmers in the snow at an outdoor pool in Malmo. But I would never describe these events as the highlights – that’s such a tourist thing to do. The highlight is what Swimming New Zealand exactly mean by “training admirably”.

And then comes the bit that did interest me. After waiting for a week, how was Swimming New Zealand’s going to spin their “updates on PB’s!”? This is their report.

“The competition was hosted by the Storied Club Mission Veijo (sic) Nandadores. The whole team swam well after an intense 11 days of training and made several finals with multiple athletes winning titles.”

Here again we are subject to this insufferable “famous by association” naivety. Mission Viejo is certainly a stunningly famous club. In the 1984 Olympic Games club members won 13 medals; 10 of them gold. I just think the constant breathless reminder that we swam in the same pool as Katie Ledecky, had a highlight visiting the Grand Canyon and wow, got to swim in the Mission Viejo pool is elementary school nice but not the way seasoned professional athletes go about their trade.

And then, of course we come to the four PBs. Well we don’t actually because the closest Swimming New Zealand get to telling us about PBs is to say “The whole team swam well after an intense 11 days of training”.

Remember what we said a week ago, “no doubt Jerry and Suzie (coach and manager and Arizona natives) will say the team was in the middle of hard training and so PBs were never expected. They had just been to the Arizona mountain.”

You have to admit “after an intense 11 days of training” is pretty close to what we predicted. Or as the committee member from the Florida club said to me in an email on the subject – “Four greatest words in the English language:  I told you so.”

As an aside, “Simone manual” is actually Simone Manuel. People’s names normally begin with capitals; “manual” means by hand or physical. Her name is Manuel. And while we are on the subject of capitals, adjectives don’t normally need one. The “Storied Club Mission Veijo Nandadores”, spelled correctly, would have been perfectly well described as the “storied club, Mission Viejo Nandadores”.

 

Imperial Exploitation

May 7th, 2017

Swimming New Zealand has an obsession with importing foreign coaches. Three Australians have come to New Zealand, been paid and left. There have been two poms. The Head of High Performance Sport is an imported Canadian. The current Head Coach is an American age group coach and another American is acting as the New Zealand swim team manager.

The whole thing smacks of colonial rule. Is New Zealand swimming so third world in its management that foreigners need to be imported to point the local native population in the right direction? Certainly that is the impression given by the revolving door of imported foreigners.

For a year I have been part of the same malaise. Brian Palmer, the CEO of Saudi Arabian Swimming ran the affairs of that country in exactly the same way as Swimming New Zealand do here. Brian is a New Zealander. Two district managers are South African and the third is a New Zealander – me. The Head Life Guard was a New Zealander and the Head Coach is an Australian. I hated it. I thought the whole thing was colonial beyond belief. I’m not saying the foreigners didn’t work hard. But none were Saudi, none had a lifetime commitment to the country. We were all vastly better paid than the Saudi population. Good God, Brian was paid 40,000 Riyal a month – that’s $NZ 15,500 a month tax free, $NZ 186,000 a year tax free plus accommodation.

Tell me where you’d be paid that in New Zealand sport. Taxed in New Zealand the pay alone is worth about $NZ 280,000 a year. And for what? It is not exactly like Saudi Swimming is doing well. No one qualified for the last Olympic Games. The country never wins the annual Gulf States International event. Women can’t swim, teams are sent around the world with little or no purpose, foreign born nationals have no path to representation, domestic coaches are neglected and teams have no affiliation to the national federation that we would recognise. What has the Saudi $NZ 280,000 equivalent bought. We know it cost 4000 barrels of oil a year. That’s about a minute of the entire country’s production. We know it has been spent on the salary of the CEO. But what has it bought. The natural resource has gone. The oil reserves are finite. They cannot be replaced. But have they bought something permanent? Has the structure of Saudi swimming changed? Has a lifetime legacy of good being left behind? No, is the answer. In my opinion, it is just good old fashioned imperial exploitation.

In Saudi Arabia the problem is quite apparent in swimming, but it is not only in swimming. The national sport of football is just as bad. The national football team has averaged a coach a year for the last 15 years. That sort of coaching turnover is unhealthy for any sport.

I imagine there are many New Zealanders nodding their head in agreement that foreigners have not always performed well in African and Middle East countries. But before we smugly pat ourselves on the back, we need to seriously consider whether we are any better. The evidence suggests our obsession with foreign imports is close to the Palmer Saudi example.

The New Zealand Swim Coaches Association has their Annual Conference in Christchurch in two weeks. I would dearly like to go but can’t of course. However the problem of by-passing New Zealand coaches with foreign imports needs the Association’s attention. New Zealand is blessed with many good coaches; coaches that have been emasculated by the policy followed by the national federation. The Coaches Association is best placed to turn the sport in New Zealand away from the Saudi way to a permanently New Zealand alternative.

I am no fan of Donald Trump. I think his bus comments and many other acts are beyond redemption. However “Coached by New Zealanders, For New Zealanders” is a slogan I would enjoy seeing painted on the Christchurch Conference stage.          

Did The Altitude Camp Achieve Anything?

May 2nd, 2017

In a recent Swimwatch post we questioned the value of the high altitude camp sanctioned by the Swimming New Zealand Board. Of course having an approved camp in Head Coach, Jerry Olszewski and camp team manager, Susie Prince, home state did provide a much appreciated, I would hope, trip back to their roots. I accept there could be nothing amiss, but having a high altitude camp in the home state of Jerry, the coach, and Suzie, the manager, does have an uncomfortable feel. Perhaps keeping things close to home is becoming the accepted norm in Trumps’ America?   

But really this business of running the sport like amateur hour for five year olds has to come to an end. Year after year the Monty Python circus rolls on. Thousands are spent on Mediterranean junkets, fees are set and cancelled, we are told plans for the future will be announced shortly and they never are, thousands are spent on lawyers trying to keep a good swimmer out of the Olympics, and now they follow like sheep the juvenile fashion of wandering off to a mountain in America to impress High Performance Sport New Zealand that they have training plans up with the in-crowd.

And for what? What has any of it actually achieved? Nothing is the answer. Atlanta in 1996 was the last time swimming won anything and that was Danyon Loader who was coached by Duncan Laing, a man who could not stand the goings-on at Swimming New Zealand, even back in those days.

But back to the Board of Swimming New Zealand’s latest folly; the Arizona high altitude camp. We got an email from Swimming New Zealand telling us about the camp. First of all – it’s good to get the information. Well done Amanda. More communication, any communication, is a huge step forward. All you need to do now, Amanda, is convince the Board to give you something worthwhile to report.

This is what Amanda tells us about the high altitude camp.

The team of 7 guys and 9 gals with support staff of Jerry Olszewski, Mat Woofe, HPSNZ S&C Specialist Stephen Hill-Haas and Team Manager Susie Prince will today head home from the 3 week long training camp at the Flagstaff Altitude camp after competing in the USA Pro Series events in Mesa and the Mission Viejo Swim meet of Champions over the last few days. Watch the FB page for some updates on PB’s!

“Guys and gals” is a bit too chummy for me. I’ve had an Olympic female gold medallist on my team. I’m not sure she fitted the “gal” label. I’m not sure she would have wanted her Olympic status associated with the term gal. She and many other respected international sports women have fought for years to be treated as professional, independent, strong women. The sport in NZ needs to grow up – men and women might be better or even 16 swimmers would have done.

Amanda concludes her report with the teaser, “Watch the FB page for some updates on PB’s!” Let Swimwatch put you out of your breathless anticipation. But before I tell you what happened – nothing said here is a criticism of the swimmers involved. Our point is only that these souls are just the latest sixteen names in three generations of young New Zealanders who have been short changed by the national federation.  

The Mission Viejo meet of Champions was held last weekend. The New Zealand team swam in 64 races. The team had 4 personal best swims; Gasson in the 400 IM, Ashby in the 400 freestyle and McIntosh and Deans in the 1500. Four swims from 64 races is a personal best ratio of 6%. Especially when all four PBs by the New Zealand swimmers were in the swimmers’ off-events. I’m not sure 4 off-event PBs justify whatever the Board of Swimming New Zealand spent on sending Jerry and Suzie home.

Every club coach in the country would be sacked for a 6% personal best result. Clubs are looking for figures in excess of 50% and frequently score in the 80% range. It will be interesting to see how Amanda is told to spin this “guys and gals” result. My guess is we will hear no more.  

What is of concern is the gap between the times swum by the New Zealand team and their personal best. The average gap at the Mission Viejo meet of Champions between the New Zealand swimmers and their PBs was 2.0%. What does that mean? Well to put it into perspective the average time gap between first and last in the Rio Olympic finals was 2.4%. So 2% is a lot. Over a good women’s 100 meters race it is about 2 meters behind their best. That’s going to take some catching. Jerry and Suzie have a problem it seems.

Now I have no doubt Jerry and Suzie will say the team was in the middle of hard training and so PBs were never expected. They had just been to the Arizona mountain. They had experienced travel delays. Trump protesters were rioting outside the team hotel. The hamburgers had caused sickness. Blaa, blaa, blaa. Coaches have an endless list of excuses to explain a 6% PB result. Well they have three months before the World Championships. We shall see. My money is still on Lauren Boyle who stayed quietly at home preparing for events that she knows full well how to swim.