Most Glorious Night

By David

Last night the Auckland Swimming Centre called a meeting to discuss Project Vanguard. I was impressed. I can see why Auckland Swimming is well run and successful. Good people expressed their views openly and honestly. I do like the way Suzanne Speer operates. Clearly she feels deeply about the issues involved in Project Vanguard. She undoubtedly has been hurt by the decision to remove her from the Project Vanguard steering committee. And yet none of that came through in her presentation to this meeting. She was calm and balanced. She discussed the issues involved with more control than I could ever manage. Rejecting a woman of her calibre says just about all you need to know about the motives of the Swimming New Zealand Board.

The meeting addressed two issues. The integrity of the Project Vanguard process and the competing decisions required in the future. A couple of speakers linked the two subjects. I agreed with that. Clearly constitutional change does depend on trusting those promoting the amendment. That’s where Project Vanguard comes unstuck. Already we have a prominent legal opinion that Swimming New Zealand have acted illegally. Swimming’s Head Office is asking us to trust them to assume control of the whole organization. That’s difficult when they have acted dishonestly presenting their case. Actually it’s worse than difficult – it’s flat out impossible.

Two events of interest occurred towards the end of the evening. A West Auckland Aquatics’ parent, Stephen Pye, addressed the meeting. Stephen is the immediate past President of New Zealand Surf’s Northland Region. Surf has already been through a Project Vanguard experience. Except it was called Project Groundswell. Evidently the Northern Region has survived the experience quite well. Why? They simply opted out of the whole deal. In the face of huge political pressure they stood firm and refused to be absorbed into the national socialist collective being promoted by their Wellington Head Office. They believed federalism works best. Local people look after their affairs better than Wellington civil servants. Stephen’s message was clear – accept nothing unless it is clearly and absolutely 100% in each Region’s (in this case Auckland) best interest. I agree – vague promises and exaggerated claims are insufficient; especially when they are peddled by a hired gun from Christchurch, a sacked Olympic Association Board member, a CEO who knows embarrassingly little about the sport and a High Performance Manager who thinks Nepotism is the name of the favourite to win the Millennium mile at Te Rapa.

The meeting had ended when the second event of interest occurred. The Auckland Region’s Board members had retired to an adjacent room to hold a Board meeting. The Chairman, Andrew Brown, told us the Board was going to consider Auckland’s damning legal opinion on Swimming New Zealand’s behaviour. Included on the Auckland Board is Dominic Toomey, an Auckland lawyer and Swimming New Zealand Board member. I had noticed him during the meeting. When Stephen Pye was talking Toomey conducted a loud conversation with ex-Swimming New Zealand President, John West. It was rude and arrogant. It typified the contempt Swimming New Zealand people have for their members. If this conversation was representative of how they behave they are people of few manners and little breeding. We are well shot of both of them.

Anyway, back to the Auckland Region Board Meeting. About twenty minutes after it began, I was standing in the corridor when the door to their meeting room opened and an angry Toomey came storming out. He strode across the foyer and disappeared into Auckland’s most glorious night. Something had gone seriously wrong. Characteristically Toomey had packed his toys and refused to associate with those who did not agree with him. I’d love to know what had tipped this spoilt child over the edge. Was it Maria Clark’s impressive legal opinion criticising Toomey’s Wellington mates? Was it Suzanne Speer’s revelation to the earlier meeting that she had never approved the termination of the Vanguard Committee? Was it the revelation that Toomey’s boss President Coulter was not telling the truth when he claimed the decision was unanimous. Had Toomey promised his Swimming New Zealand buddies that he’d be the man to deliver Auckland’s vote in favour of Project Vanguard. Whatever it was Toomey does not react well when he doesn’t get his own way. Come to think of it – it seems there are a number of situations in which lawyer Toomey behaves badly.

When I left Auckland Swimming’s headquarters the night was not yet done. I arrived home to find a leaked email from my Australian based ex-New Zealand swimming friend. The email was from Swimming New Zealand wishing the organisation’s High Performance Intern Emma Dean well as she returned to the UK to complete the final year of her Sports Science Degree at Bath University. It was the emails middle paragraph that caught my attention. Here is what it said.

Emma has been an integral part of our team here in Auckland since July 2010, she has gone above and beyond our expectations of an intern and fully immersed herself into Swimming New Zealand. The swimmers, coaches and staff alike have become used to having Emma around and she will be greatly missed by everyone here at MISH.

Here at Swimwatch we couldn’t agree more. Above and beyond is barely an adequate description. I know of only one or two interns anywhere that have done as much or immersed themselves as far to please their bosses. With the team and Coach Scott off to the USA to prepare for the World Championships the amount of immersion left for a willing intern will be greatly reduced. A job well done though – an intern’s trip to New Zealand; truly a most glorious night!

  • Chris

    Very, very interesting! I think I know that Auckland lady who also referees. My friend was telling me about a Vanguard meeting he attended and where she was there as a PV committee member (isn’t she a town-planner, is that right?), didn’t say much, but apparently it was clear that Hemsworth was irritated with her being there and was trying to blank her out – like the proverbial stone in a shoe. Good on her!

    Interesting also about Surf Lifesaving because of course they had been heavily citing Surf as the perfect model to follow, and yet not even a year into the brave new world of Surf and it is anything but successful. And of course I had already mentioned Girl Guides with Hemsworth doing a hatchet job on that too.

    Why are they so hell-bent on this David? With an absolutely shambolic national body under review, they are wasting $1/4m trying to bulldoze their form of major structural change that is suspect at best, which they don’t have a hope of getting through a vote, that’s why they have been desperate to get rid of even any record of the obligation to vote. But this is how stupid they are when they think that they can change a set of Minutes and no-one will notice!! So somehow all 16 regions are going to suddenly have amnesia and forget what they voted on last year and miraculously, none of those in attendance at the AGM took their own notes? And they wonder why no one trusts them?

    You see David, they have been going on and on about how SPARC want Project Vanguard (which is rubbish) and how we will lose SPARC funding if we don’t do this (which is more rubbish because they are not linked), but the reality is no one in the provinces gives a toss about SPARC, because SPARC does nothing for the clubs. None of the SPARC funding filters down (in fact, no money from SNZ filters down) and if SPARC money stopped tomorrow, guess what … swimming out here will carry on and we will hardly miss a beat. Those at the Millenium programme represent only a tiny fraction of the sport and it seems the only ones paranoid about SPARC are those who stand to lose the most which is the national body itself with its seriously bloated payroll.

    Incidentally, a number of the regions and clubs have apparently already set up trusts to protect their reserves. Just in case … LOL. And it seems to me that there are a lot of areas around the country where the regions are functioning pretty well. In fact, in the central North Island the regions have been running a coalition for years where they do a huge amount together, share expertise and resource, jointly host meets, and even a few weeks ago had a coaching conference where they brought Bill Sweetenham out. They didn’t need SNZ to do that for them – they are quite capable of doing that on their own, thank you very much. There is no doubt that there is a lot that the grass-roots can do better and we welcome that, but you don’t need constitutional change to effect that. Interesting that you picked up on the original terms of reference of Project Vanguard being to “optimise” the regions, which is vastly different from what SNZ wants, which is to “annihilate” the regions.

  • Paul Kent
  • Thank you Paul. My feeling is that Project Vanguard is dead. The Regions have seen through the scheme. We are not going to suffer like Surf.

  • Chris

    Mmm – I think you might be right David.

    From what I recall they need 60% of delegate votes (remembering that delegates are the regions) for any constitutional change, which is what they have been desperately trying to avoid because they don’t have a hope in hell of getting that.

    I was at a meeting last year and there was a SNZ person who started going on about PV (which of course most of us there at that stage had never heard of). They started going on and on about how the clubs need to be able to have an opportunity to vote because that would be truly democratic, and in essence tried to put forward the ignorant case that the big bad regions aren’t democratic. Until, someone pointed out that the clubs do get an opportunity to vote … every year … at their regional AGM … and elect a Board to represent them and their views … and if they don’t like their regional board then they have a mechanism to change it. Most of the regional AGMs are coming up soon, so we have no excuse. That is called democracy.

    Funnily enough, that’s how we change the SNZ Board (although not all their members come up for re-election every year) In fact, I think Murray Coulter should be up for re-election this year, maybe? I’m sure someone out there can tell me who is up for re-election.

    The thing is David, they’re devious buggers (although not good at it as evidenced by “Minute-gate”) and have been throwing money around, buying approval. There would hardly be a week that goes by without yet another new scheme or initiative spending up large. Like these work groups which Paul Kent highlighted above (interesting, the many extremely experienced and qualified people not on that list of invited attendees). I have never in all my years known SNZ to fly people from all over the country in for a meeting, all expenses paid. Even at the AGM, the regions pay their own way. Many would say, why shouldn’t they pay, and I would agree. BUT WHY NOW! Why this sudden spirit of largesse, and all in the last 6 months? Two reasons – Project Vanguard (buying votes) and the SPARC review (buying favourable opinion).