Eighty-Three Percent and Counting

By David

Can it possibly be true? Is it conceivable that Coulter is about to try and ride out Swimming New Zealand’s High Performance storm? If you were able to watch last night’s TV1 report that’s what seems to be happening. Coulter was asked if the Swimming New Zealand Board needed a “shake up”. He replied, “I don’t believe so.” The reporter then asked how Coulter explained the fact that eighty three percent of the people interviewed for the Ineson Report were “critical of the leadership”.

And in a classic piece of Coulter spin he replied. “It’s eighty three percent of people that are critical of the High Performance program – not the entire Board.” That reply says it all. It tells us why Coulter is bad for the sport of swimming. It explains the culture of deception exposed by the Ineson Report. It highlights a burden of duty that must be accepted by Swimming New Zealand’s Regions. Here is why.

First of all eighty three percent were critical of Coulter’s performance. Here is what the Ineson Report says (PDF). The quote in question is on page 16.

“Of concern is that 83% of feedback was critical about the leadership of SNZ in all three areas – Board, CEO and GM Performance and Pathways.”

That’s Murray Coulter. He’s the boss of the Board. He’s in charge of Byrne and, through Byrne, he’s responsible for Cameron. And eighty three percent of Ineson’s feedback said Coulter and his mates are not up to the job. For the last six years the High Performance Program has been run directly, lock stock and barrel, by Swimming New Zealand. They own it. The High Performance Program belongs to the Swimming New Zealand Board. What happens at the Millennium Institute is Coulter’s baby. In the opinion of Swimwatch, it is unbelievably dishonest and cowardly for Coulter to try and separate himself and his Board from the High Performance fiasco. This mess belongs to you, Murray Coulter, and don’t try and dodge responsibility with your characteristic and obvious spin.

Unbelievably Coulter is the snake oil salesman who tried to sell New Zealand on the idea that he should directly run the whole sport. Accept Project Vanguard and we’d have professionals like Coulter running everything. Wouldn’t that be a good idea? Just look at the sterling job he’s done managing Cameron’s crumbling empire. Mind you there is no excusing Coulter’s attempt to distance himself from Cameron and the High Performance program. That is flat out cowardly. It is time for him to front up and take responsibility for the mess on his watch. Of course you need to be a man to do that.

It is inconceivable that the Committee appointed to look into the Ineson Report should be made up of current Board members. Only Coulter would think that is correct procedure. What it means is – the people who are responsible for the High Performance debacle are now going to sit in judgement on what should be done about it. Eighty three percent have said it’s the Board that is on trial. Along with Coulter this Board has long since forfeited the right to decide on anything to do with swimming’s corporate future.

Which brings us to the most important point of this post. Eighty three percent of the members interviewed by Ineson were “critical about the leadership of SNZ in all three areas – Board, CEO and GM Performance and Pathways.” In a situation like this the members of Swimming New Zealand have a duty of ownership. When members observe those responsible for managing the organization failing to do their job they have a right to expect the Board to step in and correct management’s failings. When the Board fails to do that; when the Board does not act, then the members have a responsibility to act to protect their interests.

That is what has happened in swimming. Byrne and Cameron’s management of the High Performance program failed. Ineson’s Report has exposed the disaster. The Swimming New Zealand Board has also failed to act. Their website told us how stunningly well everybody had swum at the New Delhi Commonwealth Games. Cameron was positively ecstatic. It took the outside intervention of SPARC to alert the Board to the High Performance mess. This Board was so high on the opiate of Project Vanguard it had no concern for the disaster on its doorstep. At that moment the Board forfeited the right to lead.

Also, at that moment, the interests of Swimming New Zealand required that the membership step into the management vacuum. When a Board is not doing its job – and Ineson has told us that is the case – then the shareholders must take control. In this case that is the Regions. The conclusions of the Ineson Report give the Regions of Swimming New Zealand no option but to call a Special General Meeting for the purpose of disbanding the existing Board, by means of a vote of no confidence, and electing a new Board of men and women who have the moral authority to govern.

That step is not a good idea or a recommended option. That step is required. If Auckland and Bay of Plenty and Southland and the thirteen other Regions do not intervene and take control of their organization they will be just as guilty of neglect as the management and the Board have been before them. There comes a point in events such as these when it is time to act. Exercising the constitutional power of the Regions to replace a Board is not a step to be taken lightly. However Ineson’s Report is bad. It tells us that eighty three percent of Swimming New Zealand’s members have no faith in organization’s management or Board. The Region’s have been given the power to replace both. I would hate to sit at this computer in six months time contemplating a continuing shambles at Swimming New Zealand and find myself typing a story that said – I’m sorry Auckland and Waikato and Wellington, but when it was your turn to take control you sat around and did nothing.

  • Chris

    You took the words right out of my mouth!

    BTW – in case your readers missed Paul’s comments:

  • Chris

    So … fans of the The Mentalist, watch this! Murray Coulter doing his best “liar, liar, pants on fire”.

    (Its about 3/4 the way through the bulletin)

  • Chris

    Read this: (for some of us who don’t get the Herald)

    So Murray … still “struggling to put your finger on it”? Buying a starting block for Gareth Kean? They cost about $5,000 … out of your $1.6m. Big commitment! Perhaps you could explain how your buying a $5,000 starting block for Gareth Kean is going to solve all his problems with his starts and turns, when he is BACKSTROKER! Duh!

    Maybe $5,000 to Gary Hurring would be better spent. In fact, maybe PAYING Gary Hurring, full stop, would be a better investment.

  • Paul Kent
  • Chris

    Just been sent another embarrassing clip that has gone viral.


    So your still not going to resign then Murray?


  • Boxer

    Just disgusting. Geez Murray, do the decent thing. Resign and take your Board with you. Bloody Mickey Mouse would have done a better job of this mess than what Coulter did in these interviews. What a disgrace. Still, as bad as he was we should be grateful for some things. Just imagine, Byrne would have been worse! By the way. Deaker seems to think that Byrne was Bike NZ’s golden haired boy. Not what I hear. Don’t make me laugh. They were glad to get rid of him. And he wasn’t the CEO, you have got to be joking. He was the business development manager of Bike. In other words, he was their salesman. Coulter knew exactly what his job was before he came to SNZ because he recruited him. So Coulter was lying to Deaker on that subject. He certainly wasn’t in performance at Bike. He wouldn’t know a thing about that. These people have no shame.

  • OK, to put some perspective on the “we knew nothing”, “its not us” debate:

    1. Way back in 2001 I had a High Performance Advisory Group (HPAG) which met periodically to discuss the various issues and which debated with gusto and passion. Although the make up changed over the years it comprised of combinations of the following: me as HP Director, Director of Coaching, whatever I was called at the time, the leader of the National Age Group programme (Clive Power), the leader of the National Youth programme (Trevor Nicholls), a coaching representative from NZSCAT (Mark Bone, Frank Tourelle), the immediate past National Coach (Brett Naylor), a High Performance director from another Olympic sport (Mark Elliot), two high performance coaches (Duncan Laing and Jan C), a former international swimmer (Trent Bray) and the swimming representative from SPARC (latterly Don Tricker). I was not obliged to take up the group’s recommendations (“advisory”) but they were included in my reports and many good suggestions found their way into the HP programmes. The Board was fully aware of the group’s deliberations as, in the early days, I personally attended Board meetings for the HP-specific portions. Latterly this changed and the reports and proposals were presented to the Board by the CEO without my presence. The accuracy and comprehensiveness of these later presentations was always in question.

    The idea of a HP Advisory panel is, therefore, not new and not revolutionary. It is, however, vital.

    2. The dysfunctional nature of the MISH programme and Jan’s role in it was known to the Board as early as 2007 and had been intimated much earlier. Following the 2007 World University Games I instigated an extensive and comprehensive analysis of the lead-in preparation and the competition itself. Every team member (swimmers, coaches, team manager and support staff) as well as each swimmer’s ‘home’ coach, completed a questionnaire. I say every team member but hey, guess what? Jan ‘forgot’ to complete hers. I won’t go into the very fine detail of the answers and comments but here is an illustrative example:

    “The Head Coach did not fulfill her role as head coach. From day one of the trip, she made a clear division in the team between those swimmers who train at the Millennium Institute and those who did not. Everything from training times, transport arrangements, consulting swimmers about arrangements, uniform requirements, and even ‘team’ meetings were segregated, creating a distinct ‘them and us’ dynamic within the team. I was asked once during the entire 10 day period of the build up and competition by the head coach whether “everything is OK”, and even seemed to be a token attempt to offer assistance, as she barely stopped to hear my reply. There was a clear message of “if you’re not one of ‘my’ swimmers, then you don’t matter”. I believe that if New Zealand Swimming is to move forward then swimmers must feel that when they make the same qualifying standard as other swimmers, they are just as valuable as part of the national representative team as any other member. They should also feel that there is one team that is supportive of all it’s members, not two-tiers within the team, with the criteria for these tiers being whether or not your home programme is under the head coach or not.”

    The rest of the feedback followed a similar line.

    The SPARC representative was present at the HPAG meeting which examined the report and analysis, so SPARC were fully aware that everything was not rosy way back then. The report was then submitted to the CEO and subsequently to the SNZ Board.

    That was four years ago, three years before the performances in Delhi were deemed weak enough to trigger a review. There is a significant time-lag between a breakdown in culture and trust and the knock-on effect in the performance pool. In the meantime some of the best swimming talent in the world has been lost or misguided.

    3. The President and, I guess by definition, the Board was made aware of Mike Byrne’s management style in mid-2008. Accusations of bullying, harassment and intimidation of staff were sent in writing to Murray Coulter who ‘investigated’ them and took no action. This was followed by a complete review of the SNZ staffing structure which put in place the current disastrous ‘team’.

    Mark my words, if the swimming community in New Zealand wishes for change in Swimming New Zealand it will not get that change by waiting for it on a voluntary basis; turkeys, Christmas etc.

  • Ex swim parent

    Finally we speak of the things we all knew, but as parents were afraid to say. Now those who are more respected, and valued, are speaking out.

    But this culture goes way, way back. North Shore Swimming was a club divided many years ago by the same type of regime – a management team dominated by one individual with management team members unwilling to speak out for fear of retribution. What some saw as focus and determination, others then clearly recognized as “my way or the highway”

    One of the results was the lack of attention given to junior swimmers, or those who needed just a little more effort to make the grade. We had a great junior coach who was able to motivate and grow these swimmers. But this coach was too popular for her own good and had to hit the highway. She then went on to successfully train several of today’s top swimmers.

    There are obviously two sides to any story, and as parents we inevitably take the side of our child, however as an ex swimming parent who has felt the effects of such an environment thank goodness the other side is at long last being aired.

    But words are just words. Pressure has to be maintained for this regime to change and put the power back into the pools. We need to swim in one direction with the goal of not just achieving results but also achieving them in a positive and inclusive environment.