One Further Thought Before Monday

By David

On Monday next week Swimming New Zealand arrive in Auckland to explain and sell their Project Vanguard dream. In Swimwatch we have argued Swimming New Zealand has an obligation to explain what the regions are doing so badly that they require the intervention of Wellington. However, before Swimming New Zealand explains the region’s shortcomings they need to convince us that their closer involvement would be an improvement. Would things be better or would it simply be a case of out of the frying pan, into the fire?

The only evidence we have of Swimming New Zealand’s competence to meddle in the affairs of the regions is to look at the job they’ve done of managing their own business over the past twenty years. If Wellington has sprung from one glittering success to another then the regions and their clubs may be inclined to share in that good fortune. If, however Wellington has struggled to keep their own house in order; if they have performed worse than the regions they are setting out to replace, then the current federal system may be best left alone. So how good is Swimming New Zealand’s current performance? How have they managed their affairs over the past twenty years? Are they any good?

The money side of things doesn’t look too healthy. Six years ago in 2004 the business of Swimming New Zealand was worth $479,953. Today it’s worth $326,586. That’s a drop in value of $153,367; a cool 32%. The business today is worth only two thirds of its value six years ago. Creating sustainable business value is a fundamental financial measure of business competence. To lose a third of the organization’s financial worth is not a good sign. Every swimming region would be best to keep well away from the management that came up with that set of figures.

But, we can hear Wellington say, what about cash in the bank? And sure enough, in 2010 there is quite a healthy cash balance – over a million dollars, $1,018,609. That sounds quite good until you consider two other facts. Twenty years ago, in 1990, Swimming New Zealand had, in 2010 dollar value, cash reserves of $1,219,913. So, even the cash reserves are down 16.5%. The big and disappointing difference is not only that the organization has less money. The distressing fact is how those reserves were earned. The 2010 million dollars was primarily the result of a two million dollar SPARC handout; government welfare. The 1990 reserves were the product of prudent management accumulating reserves from earned fee income over many years. The message of Swimming New Zealand’s cash is that they’ve got $201,304 less and most of what they have got, they didn’t earn. Regions that have accumulated cash from all sorts of local fundraising raffles, sausage sizzles and hard work would do well to avoid the example of Wellington’s cash management.

What about membership? The problem with membership is that Wellington bureaucrats will claim that the number of members is not their problem. The regions are responsible for attracting members and Wellington simply accepts what they are given. That claim would be duplicitous. Swimming New Zealand’s website is quite clear on the point. It says, “Let’s aim to make everyone taking part in Swimming New Zealand’s Education courses feel they are part of a respected, successful program. Value effort. Make sure everyone knows Swimming New Zealand is the organization making the opportunity real.” So it seems pretty clear that Swimming New Zealand is claiming a leading role in attracting members to the sport. How have they done? Well, in 1990 there were 24,000 members registered members in Swimming New Zealand. Twenty years later there are 22,202. That’s a drop in membership of 1,798 or 7.5%. In the same twenty years New Zealand’s population has grown from 3,410,400 to 4,385,143. That means swimming’s share of the New Zealand population has dropped, not by 7.5%, but by 28.6%. It would be difficult to see that as any sort of growth. If Swimming New Zealand is the “organization making the opportunity real” it clearly hasn’t been real enough.

And finally to the measure of most interest to Swimwatch, the performance of the country’s best swimmers at the Olympic Games. There is no way Swimming New Zealand can escape responsibility for the sport’s international results. In the last decade Swimming New Zealand has grown its power and control over the nation’s elite program. Today the Wellington office owns the performance of New Zealand’s best swimmers, lock, stock and barrel. And during their tenure New Zealand swimmers have won nothing at an Olympic Games. Swimwatch have said many times that appalling result is not the fault of the athletes. They have followed their master’s instructions to the letter. Many of them have been and are capable of winning Olympic medals. It hasn’t happened because the Jan Cameron led Swimming New Zealand program does not work. The last time New Zealand won an Olympic medal was in 1996 when Duncan Laing and Danyon Loader did their thing in Dunedin. Before that Moss and Kingsman prepared in Auckland and the United States to win bronze medals in the 1988 Games in Seoul. Since then Cameron’s Swimming New Zealand program has had millions of taxpayers’ dollars. The most recent Annual Report is a little confusing on the point but in the past twelve months Cameron’s largesse may have cost us all about $2,000,000 (Athlete Coach Support $K720, Team Payments $K473, High Performance Other $K468, PM Scholarships $K298). And our performance from two medals in Seoul and two in Atlanta has dropped to zero. I guess that’s a negative return of 100%; not something New Zealand’s regions should want to own.

The score card of Wellington’s performance does not make happy reading. The value of the business is down 32%, cash reserves are down 16.5%, membership is down 28.6% and results are down 100% to zero. It may be worth asking Swimming New Zealand’s traveling ambassador on Monday night how that performance justifies any closer involvement by Wellington in the region’s affairs. Swimming New Zealand say they will provide better “more modern management”. The evidence does not support that view. We have a federal system of management that protects strong regional powers and rights. It would be best to stay with what we know.

  • J

    Interesting stats!

  • Jenny Smith

    “We have a federal system of management that protects strong regional powers and rights. It would be best to stay with what we know.”
    If there was any stronger an indication of the need for swimming in NZ to change, that would be it, David. Where, in any of your griping, was a SINGLE MENTION of what swimmers in NZ need?

    Where was any acknowledgement of the fiefdom mentality of some regions and how strategy, forward thinking and collegiality goes right out the window when regions are asked to think about what works for the sport – and swimmers – as a whole?

    Why does attacking SNZ staff assist your argument?

    Why do you demand respect from “Wellington” yet continue to slag them off without bothering to have much idea at all of how sports administration is changing – and needs to change?

    Where is the recognition that swimmers need administrators and boards that are not interested in patch protection?

    Why are you always with the ‘us and them’ childishness?
    Have we seen from you one single, constructive idea on how to make our sport, as a whole, better? No, didn’t think so…

    Is this kind of closed-mind thinking why swimming is so far behind other sports in how it structures itself? Yes, thought so…..

  • wow, Jenny, careful of those negative fibes. You must have missed our “What should Replace Her” article which has 1000 words devoted to constructive ideas that we think will make swimming better. Have a read. It should brighten your day. I know it is a difficult concept to grasp but supporting the existing federal system is not reactionary or wrong. We think federalism is best for SNZ members and will argue as strongly as we can for its preservation.

  • Jenny Smith

    Wow David. I imagine you mean ‘vibes’.
    Actually I did read your previous blog. It was a hatchet job on Jan Cameron – full of more griping and offering nothing more than platitudes. You don’t have to like the woman – but chopping her down in that way is just plain rude and doesn’t exactly support your case. It’s the same narrow-mindedness that leads you to attack the staff too. Again, I doubt they’re perfect – but groups that vent their spleen on staff rather than try hard to work together generally get into trouble.

    I think you have absolutely no grasp at all of the current issues – and environment. It’s a shame: you’re a good writer but let yourself down by a relentless one-eyed approach that, sadly, seems, to be prevalent throughout our sport.

    I’ve been involved in swimming for quite some time now. I’ve seen some very good people come and go, utterly frustrated with the old school and the inability of not-always well meaning people to recognise that change is absolutely essential. It’s a brave person who recognises that, and will help to achieve it constructively.

    Your blogs reflect a view out there, sure – but it’s the view of
    people locked in the past and without a generous, open, respectful way of discussing issues that focuses on what the sport AS A WHOLE needs to go forward. The SGM last week was an example: a waste of everyone’s time and money because a few decided to stick it to the Board and hang the consequences. Just dumb – and thank God common sense was finally allowed to prevail. I don’t know how Murray Coulter does it really – patience of a saint.

    So you might think my words are strong – but there are many of us out there who are utterly sick of intransigence like yours and probably won’t stick around much longer. So you may well ‘win’ – actually I don’t think it’s meant to be a competition – but at a shocking cost. I would ask you at least to open your mind to change. The world has changed – and we have to change with it.

    It’s not about the ‘federal system’. It’s about the right way to run the sport.