From Someone Who Was There

By David

For a number of years New Zealand had a Director of high performance swimming called Clive Rushton. He will probably be horrified when he reads this but, I liked Clive. His ideas on coaching were more scientific than my “swim and when you are really tired – keep swimming” methods. But he was good to me and my swimmers. He had dinner at my home one night when that carried all sorts of political perils. It was one of those enjoyable evenings when the wine and stories flowed happily well into the small hours. When Toni Jeffs left me to swim on her own Clive provided her with good and important advice. He was also responsible for one of my favourite coaching quotes. When I called to let him know I was leaving New Zealand to coach in the US Virgin Islands he said, “That’s great David. Coaching is always best done under a palm tree.”

Clive has posted a comment on the Swimwatch story I wrote about calling a special general meeting. I felt his point of view was sufficiently important that it should be a Swimwatch story in its own right. After all Clive was there; right in the heart of Swimming New Zealand. He was there when a lot of the decisions that have ended up in the mess we are in today were being made by Cameron, Byrne, Coulter and his Board. Here is Clive’s point of view.

“OK, to put some perspective on the “we knew nothing”, “it’s not us” debate:

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 makeup changed over the years it was 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.

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 then it 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 its 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 New 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.

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.”

That is a pretty damming document. The Regions of New Zealand swimming must not let this moment drift by.

  • 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.

  • I was talking to a friend at the pool this morning. He was talking about the Swimming New Zealand website and used the expression, “It does my head in.” I knew what he were talking about. The site is full of lies and spin and dishonesty. It reflects perfectly those ultimatly responsible for its content.

    Sadly on this occassion my friend was talking about the report on Daniel Bell’s great win in the 100 Backstroke at the Santa Clara Invitational meet in California. I say sadly because a bunch of lies and misinformation should not be allowed to diminish what was a fine swim. But that is what Swimming New Zealand have done in order to further Coulter, Cameron and Byrne’s political agenda.Here are examples of what my friend meant.

    Quote: “Bell’s time is only 8/10ths outside the national record he set in claiming a silver medal at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi.”
    Things wrong with that:
    1. Daniel Bell did not set a national record in Delhi. The national record is 53.85. In Delhi, Bell swam 54.43
    2. The national record was set on the 2 August 2009 at the FINA World Championships in Rome.
    3. Clearly someone in Swimming New Zealand is still intent on convincing us that Delhi was a swimming success, so they continue to lie about the results.

    Quote: “Jessie Blundell (1:04.49) was ninth in the B final and Emily Thomas (1:03.68), returning from knee surgery, won the C final.”
    Things wrong with that:
    1. Emily Thomas was actually sixth in the C final, twenty fourth overall.

    Quote: “Shaun Burnett was second in the B final of the 200m butterfly in 2:02.11.
    Things wrong with that:
    1. Shaun Burnett did not swim 2.02.11. That was the winner’s time.
    2. Shaun Burnett actually swam 2.03.10.

    It is very sad when the lies of administrators diminish the good work of New Zealand’s athletes. But it’s been that way for a while.

  • swimfan

    When are the regions going to say enough is enough? I have listened to Mr Coulter say they do not need to resign, this is just nonsense. The Regions now need to stand up and fight for what is right. But which region will take the lead…. I have spoken to some regional people who tell me that if you stand up and fight you are blacklisted by SNZ, the CEO does not talk to you and other regions regard you as trouble makers. It is the Regions who vote for the Board, It is the regions that need to call for an SGM the results of this will show if Mr Coulter and his team have done the job that they were elected to do.