Archive for August, 2011

Waimarama To Hamilton

Tuesday, August 30th, 2011

By David

When my daughter Jane was at high school in New Zealand her favourite subject was English. In the national School Certificate English exam she scored 96%. Her short stories were published in various New Zealand publications and won a collection of encyclopaedias for her high school in a British Council international competition.

When I began writing for Swimwatch I studied Jane’s stories and asked her advice on how to improve my literary efforts. She told me to never begin a story with the sentence, “We packed up the car and went to Waimarama.” For those of you unfamiliar with Waimarama, it is a beach in Hawke’s Bay that the internet tells me is a “golden, sandy surf beach close to shops and takeaways.” She said it was a boring start to a story that would inevitably be equally boring. With all that, by way of introduction, I now want to tell you a story about what happened in Hamilton last weekend.

Mike Byrne packed up the car and went to Hamilton. His purpose was to attend the New Zealand Inter-Secondary Schools Swimming Championships. Two of the swimmers I help were competing in the meet. A few other friends were lucky enough to be chosen by Mike Byrne to hear his tale of Swimming New Zealand woe. He really should know better.

With up to 1,000 New Zealanders now reading Swimwatch every day Byrne should realize that most groups he talks to will include a Swimwatch mole. In Hamilton that was certainly true. Within hours I was called and told that Mike Byrne had just told my friends the following story.

According to Byrne, Brian Palmer, the CEO of the Auckland Region was opposed to Project Vanguard because if Project Vanguard succeeded Brian Palmer would be out of a job. Brian Palmer was entirely motivated by self interest. Byrne also said, Bronwen Radford was leading the sport into a catastrophic position that would certainly mean SPARC would withdraw its funding. Radford was an inexperienced Regional administrator meddling in affairs she did not understand and was ill equipped to handle. And finally the Auckland Region was acting dishonestly by registering learn to swim swimmers as Swimming New Zealand members. Auckland’s sole motive was to increase the Region’s voting power at Annual and Special General Meetings. Auckland was treating New Zealand’s other Regions with contempt and dishonour.

When you listen to this sort of stuff, you can’t help but wonder whether there is any limit to Byrne’s fraudulent claims. Take the Brian Palmer story. I have been to four Project Vanguard events put on by Brian Palmer and the Auckland Region. Not once have I detected any semblance of self interest in his presentations. Besides, Brian Palmer is employed by the Auckland Region to look after its affairs. I’m pretty sure Auckland will always choose to look after its own affairs, rather than trust anything to those who have made a ruinous mess of running Swimming New Zealand. The Ineson Report was written about Mike Byrne’s world, not Brian Palmer’s. The real danger in Project Vanguard is that its progress could cause Brian Palmer such despair that he looks elsewhere for employment. That would be a tragic loss for swimming in New Zealand. The departure of Mike Byrne on the other hand would be progress for us all.

The one insight provided by Byrne’s comment about Brian Palmer is that there is a clear intention to “rape and pillage” Regional staff if Byrne gets the opportunity. Byrne can’t wait for the chance to get even with Brian Palmer. A Swimming New Zealand’s takeover of the Regions would certainly be hostile. At least that’s what Mike Byrne says.

As for the claim that Bronwen Radford is about to cost us all SPARC’s funding – that is just not true. If you said that Mike Byrne – you are a two faced shameful liar. I have been to meetings, read news items and studied reports from the CEO of SPARC. Not once have I heard Miskimmin link the efforts of Radford to reform the Swimming New Zealand Board with the amount of SPARC’s funding. In fact on several occasions I’ve heard Miskimmin deny that there is any connection. I have heard him link the amount of funding SPARC gives swimming to Byrne’s performance. Byrne is responsible for a failing High Performance unit. That is certainly Miskimmin’s concern. Byrne needs to get out of the bloody way so that those who know what it takes to win a swimming race can do it – and save SPARC’s funding in the process.

While I am on the subject of SPARC’s funding, I wrote recently that all SPARC’s $1.6 million was spent on the Cameron and Byrne’s high performance empire. I was wrong. Evidently SPARC set aside $150,000 for “grass roots” swimming. But do you know what Byrne spent it on – Project Vanguard, that’s what. While my club and most clubs in the country had kids that could barely afford training fees, Mike Byrne was spending “grass roots” money on airfares and hotels to cart Hemsworth and her Project Vanguard side show around the country. And he says Bronwen Radford is putting swimming’s funding at risk. He is a sick, sick joke.

My Waikato friends were quite shaken by Byrne’s revelation that Auckland was registering learn to swim members. Could this be true? Was Auckland up to no good? The answer is that, yes it was true and no Auckland was acting just fine. For years many New Zealand Regions have registered learn to swim students as Swimming New Zealand members. That never worried Byrne when it was Mark Berge’s tame Wellington Region that was doing the registering. It was all good fun then. Byrne could and did talk up the healthy increase in numbers. But when Auckland decided to follow Berge’s example and register a very small proportion of its learn to swim community, it all became a problem. The new voting college accurately reflects the number of swimmers in each Region. In the year I have been in Auckland I have observed closely the work of those that run the affairs of the Auckland Region. Auckland is conducting itself just fine. They are good people, trying to reform a broken head office. They can be trusted. For someone from Central Otago I do not say that lightly.

After the Ineson Report it is Byrne who is in danger of losing his job. It is Byrne who has put SPARC’s funding at risk. And it is Byrne who taught us to register learn to swim students. Check it out, before you believe a word he says.

To Join Swimming New Zealand

Monday, August 29th, 2011

By David

I see that Swimming New Zealand has ratified the new regulation that all coaches on the pool deck at one of their events must be members of their organization. I have no serious objection to that rule. For the past eight years I have happily been a member of either the US Virgin Island’s Federation or USA Swimming. The United States has a similar rule to this New Zealand rule. A coach needs to be a member of USA Swimming to participate in their competitions. So it is not membership of a national federation that is my problem with the New Zealand rule.
Here is what the rule says:

In order to be granted accreditation for access to New Zealand Competitions, Team Managers and Coaches must be members of either Swimming New Zealand or the New Zealand Swim Coaches and Teachers Association.

My problem is the Code of Conduct members of Swimming New Zealand are expected to observe. Anyone joining Swimming New Zealand is required to comply with the Swimming New Zealand Code of Conduct. One of those rules says, “To not speak to any media in a negative way regarding Swimming NZ Inc.” That rule is so disgusting, so devoid of common decency, so anti democratic that I am revolted by the very thought of being a member of any organization that has it as part of their Code of Conduct. Certainly, the new rule combined with the Code of Conduct has been introduced in an effort to silence Swimwatch.

It is the sort of personality politics that is a trade mark of the Cameron, Byrne and Coulter regime. Play the person not the ball is their specialty. Every day they are as guilty as sin of breaking the very next Code of Conduct rule that says they will, “Never act in any way that may bring disrepute or disgrace to SNZ members.” Are Cameron, Coulter and Byrne guilty of breeching that rule? The answer is not even close. Swimwatch has listed a litany of acts and illegalities that have brought disrepute and disgrace to the organization. And the Coulter gang know it. That’s why they are working to silence the rest of us. Just about every swimmer interviewed by Ineson listed, as one of their concerns, the danger of being punished for talking about Cameron’s failings. Ineson called it a “climate of fear”.

Of course their “bully boy” rules never worked in the case of Swimwatch. I was not a member of Swimming New Zealand. I could say what I liked; what I thought was important. So now they have tried to close the loop hole. To be with my swimmers on the pool deck at Swimming New Zealand events, I have to join their organization. If I join their organization I can no longer write for Swimwatch. The vehicle that has highlighted some of their worst atrocities would be silenced. But would we be the only ones?
In the last Swimwatch post I highlighted a report circulated to all the Regions by Bronwen Radford. In it she uses expressions such as:
The situation that our sport has been placed in by our SNZ leadership now concerns me enormously.

The remits were, once again, met with a resounding and collective wall of silence from SNZ which signalled a clear intention on SNZ’s part to both ignore what had been presented but also to not work with some of these remits in the event that they were passed.
Rather than work with what the AGM had lawfully determined, SNZ immediately responded by commissioning a legal opinion in support of their lack of desire to follow the wishes of the AGM.

Certainly no one reading her report could be left in any doubt that Bronwen is speaking “in a negative way regarding Swimming NZ Inc.” Just like Swimwatch her report is a clear breech of the Cameron, Coulter and Byrne imposed Code of Conduct rule. So what are they going to do? Have a hearing and ban Bronwen Radford from the sport? I’d love to see them try. But that is what their rule is there to do. It is there to silence dissent. It is there to compel silence – and do you know what – for eight long years it worked. No one dared cross the Coulter gang. That is until Browen Radford came along. And that’s why she deserves our respect.

Without the freedom to dissent there is no democracy. Coulter can bang on as long as he likes about elections and Annual Meetings but while he denies Swimming New Zealand members the right to express an honestly held opinion to anyone they like he is no better than any other tin-pot dictator; an autocrat without honor.  

So now the Coulter gang has Swimwatch in a corner. If I want to be on the pool deck with the swimmers I help, what am I going to do? Join the organization and write platitudes about how wonderful Jan is and how highly Lydiard spoke of the fleeting moments of time they spent together. Join the organization and continue to write about Swimming New Zealand honestly and risk expulsion. Refuse to join the organization and sit in the bleachers, communicating with the West Auckland Aquatics team by two way radio.

I must tell you I really hate the idea of joining the organization. That rule of silence goes right to the heart of everything I despise. I do take seriously the fact that my father lost his arm and eye in Italy fighting for a cause that, in part, included the right to speak about the failings of those in power. A friend of mine has a father who spent four years in a POW camp for exactly the same reasons. It is not taking the argument too far to say that 11,900 New Zealanders died so that we could preserve the freedom of speech that Swimming New Zealand are now trying to limit. I hate the idea of walking away from their sacrifice because three gutless pricks in Wellington don’t like the truth. No one is above the right to be criticized.

So I have no idea what to do. Right now I think I might take the bleachers and two way radio option. However if anyone reading Swimwatch has any better idea of how best to handle the problem, I’d love to hear from you. I’m just hoping Bronwen Radford gets rid of the three tyrants and democracy replaces them with directors who have more respect for our personal freedoms. Then I’d join Swimming New Zealand in a heartbeat.            

The Coalition Manifesto

Saturday, August 27th, 2011

Swimwatch has recorded many thousands of words about the treachery of Swimming New Zealand. Over ten years the bunch of crooks that lead this sport have directly damaged the careers of two generations of New Zealand swimmers. Anyone who resisted their deception has been slandered and libelled; condemned and harassed. Cameron laboured long hours to ensure I never worked in New Zealand – just ask the Fairfield Swim Club. Byrne contacted the Swim Coaches Association and asked them to discipline their rogue member. Ironically he failed – I wasn’t a member. I doubt that Swimming New Zealand can damage me much more. Just about everything negative it’s possible to say about someone has already been said. If half the stuff they say was true, it would be very bad indeed. Some people believe it, some don’t.

Without question, the publication of the Ineson Report was personal. At last the essence of what I had been writing in Swimwatch for eight years was endorsed by an official report. Swimming New Zealand’s problem was Cameron, Coulter and Byrne. In Swimwatch terms, they were useless. They could run around New Zealand saying what they liked about me and anyone else they did not like, but at the end of the day 83% of swimming people thought they were a waste of space – and that’s a score, I bet, that beats even me.

However as at 3 o’clock this afternoon, all my writing on Swimwatch counted for nothing. I arrived home to find a copy of a report prepared by Bronwen Radford in my email in tray; her Coalition Manifesto. Her report sets out the history of how the Regions finally asked the current Board to resign. It is a tale of Shakespearian dishonesty. In Hamlet, Macbeth and The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare came up with some pretty awful examples of human deprivation. Radford’s account makes equally unpleasant reading. But, worse really, because in Radford’s case the tale she tells is true. It actually happened. And it happened here in New Zealand. Jane has attached Radford’s report to the Regions at the conclusion of this article.

While Radford’s account of history makes compelling reading it is her look into the future that I found irresistible. At the bottom of page six she begins her analysis of the future with the sentence, “I guess we started this so it is only right we finish it.” Churchill could not have said it better. That sentence tells you all you need to know about why Radford needs to lead Swimming New Zealand. It tells you why she is so different from Cameron, Coulter and Byrne. While Coulter is playing around not letting anyone know whether he is going to stand for re-election or not, Radford is setting about finishing the task she has got herself into. One is an idiot the other is a leader.
Radford then goes on to propose the following course of action.

  1. We now reply to SNZ advising them that, based on legal opinion, remits have been submitted for consideration at the AGM that allow for accountability to be required of the Board.
  2. At the conclusion of the AGM, a letter will be tabled requesting a SGM at which time all Board members (with the exception of those newly elected) resign in accordance with the capacity which will be granted under the new remits, and nominations for board members (new or old) will be called.
  3. I will now also take the opportunity of clarifying the question regarding a question I have been asked frequently: “But who is standing. You cannot ask the Board to resign without knowing who will stand. I want to see the names before I decide to sign the letter requesting the SGM.” I want to see us have a new board appointed who has the full support of the membership as we are facing difficult times ahead. I want the board to be made up of people who understand what it means to be accountable for their actions and decisions. While I have some good people in my mind who I think could make a big difference. I am sure all of you also know people with the right skills to put forward.
  1. We cannot advance further than this as SNZ and its board now hold all the cards associated with the AGM. Until they publish all the remits that have been submitted, the voting numbers, the nominations etc, it is very hard to make exact decisions. We do not get this until 14 days prior to the AGM, and so when it is published we will give it very careful evaluation at that point.
  2. Should regions be in agreement with this strategy then please email by return and I remain happy to co-ordinate this process.

So that’s the Radford plan and it is a good one. I know Swimming New Zealand have tried to spread the impression that Swimwatch complain about everything. That is not true. The way Radford and the Coalition have gone about this difficult business is most admirable. They deserve all our support. 83% of those involved in swimming told Ineson the current leadership is deficient. It is important that 83% now support those that are setting about making a change – because you can bet the 17% that support Cameron, Coulter and Byrne will be making more noise than the rest of us.

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A Most Unusual Woman

Thursday, August 25th, 2011

By David

First sentences and last sentences serve two very different purposes. The first sentence wants to grab your attention. The last sentence often serves to summarize and reinforce a central message or mood. The title of this post has carried out both functions. In Agatha Christie’s novel “Cat Among the Pigeons”, the phrase, “a most unusual woman” ends the novel. Today its purpose is to draw your attention to yet another interesting character in the West Auckland Aquatics Swim Team.

Two weeks ago West Auckland Aquatics held a week long training camp in Rotorua. We stayed in a large house of the shores of Lake Rotoma; a Maori word meaning “Clear Lake”. Rotoma is a genuinely lovely part of the world. This is how Tourism New Zealand describes our destination.

“Rotoma is the clearest and cleanest lake of all the Central North Island lakes. At 10.8 Km/2 it is the fourth largest and eastern most of the Rotorua lakes. It features a multitude of white sandy beaches where you can always find a sheltered place to enjoy your day’s activities. Nearby, the Waitangi Soda Springs offer a relaxing way to unwind.”

No matter how clean and clear the lake might be, in the middle of a New Zealand winter, I thought there would be some resistance to the idea of swimming in the lake. Rhi is an Olympic Gold Medallist but flatly refused my invitation to experience Rotoma’s 11 degree centigrade (54 degrees Fahrenheit) waters. Incredibly some of the others spent a few hours playing in the lake.

Our training involved a daily commute to the seaside town of Whakatane. They have a newish (2001) Aquatic Centre with a 25 metre indoor heated pool; an idea much more to the liking of my delicate charges. Actually I have a previous swimming connection with Whakatane. It is the home town of Toni Jeffs. The old open air pool, where Toni used to train under her father’s guidance, is still used in the summer months. I have said before on Swimwatch that Toni’s magnificent stroke mechanics were very much the product of the time she spent being instructed by her father in the old Whakatane Pool. There may have been some who credited Wellington with Toni’s swimming success. And certainly I provided Toni with the opportunity to train for twelve months each year. The fundamentals though, the all important basics, were well founded long before Toni ever came to Wellington. When West Auckland Aquatics arrived in Whakatane it was not the first time this town had seen a top class swimmer in action.

Before we left for Rotoma I thought I had better find out about the team’s eating preferences. It seemed that Rhi and Jessica would eat anything. I was concerned that Justin’s only request was for a large bag of potato crisps. I suspected Zane would be easy to please. I heard him ask his mother, “What is it I don’t like?” Xavier’s Dad told me his son had never turned down an invitation to a hangi. For American readers a hangi is a Maori method of cooking. The steps involved in “putting down a hangi” entail digging a pit in the ground, heating stones with a large fire, sprinkling the stones with water to produce steam, placing the food on top of the stones, and covering it all with hessian bags, sheets, flax mats and then covering everything with leaves or dirt to cook for three hours before uncovering (or lifting) the hangi. A hangi produces rich, succulent food with a flavour quite unlike anything else. Unfortunately we never got to indulge Xavier or introduce Rhi to the joys of hangi food during our week in the centre of New Zealand’s Maori tourism.

And then I asked Erica if she liked fruit? What a fascinating treasure chest of information that simple query exposed. No, Erica said, she did not like fruit. If pushed she would eat a very firm red apple but nothing else. But before I tell you where this conversation took us I had better explain that Erica is a better than average freestyle and backstroke swimmer. She won the senior 100 backstroke at the recent New Zealand Division 2 National Championships. She has a terrific high ride through the water, almost as though she is permanently wearing a personal flotation suit. I know she would love to win a scholarship to swim for an American University. She has the talent. I hope she can realise the dream. Oh, and one other thing. Erica is without fear. During our week in Rotorua she had a shot at skydiving from 9000 feet and, along with six other team members tried out Rotorua’s new bungee jump.

Anyway back to Erica’s food preferences. “So, what about vegetables?” I asked. “No” she said, “definitely no vegetables. Perhaps some potatoes or corn but none of that green stuff.”
“How does she live?” I thought. “What do you eat?” I asked. “Cows, pigs and sheep.” She replied.

Could this possibly be right? Over the years I have met many vegetarian swimmers, who for health or personal reasons prefer not to eat meat. There have even been a few very famous swimmers who have avoided eating meat. The Australian Olympic Champion, Murray Rose, is often credited with being the first “swimming” vegetarian. However well before Rose, the first man to break a minute for 100 meters freestyle, Johnny Weissmuller avoided eating meat. Among modern Olympic swimmers Amanda Beard is probably the best known vegetarian.

But Erica is different. Here we have a full fledged carnivore; which Wikipedia tells me is an “organism that derives its energy and nutrient requirements from a diet consisting mainly or exclusively of animal tissue, whether through predation or scavenging.” Before afternoon practice I had noticed her eating a snack but had never paid any attention to the content of what was being eaten. Yesterday I thought I might catch her out eating a muesli bar. But alas there she was sitting on the pool deck happily consuming half a dozen small sausages, known in New Zealand as cocktail sausages. Genuinely a true carnivore. I asked her today what her preferred means of transport was. I should have known better, “A Harley Davidson Roadking” she replied. As I have said, “a most unusual woman.”

What About This For An Idea?

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011

By David

What is going to replace the current Board? There is no point in overturning the regime in power unless there is a plan for what comes next. First of all though, the revolution has to be successfully concluded. To do that the approaching Annual General Meeting has to be totally ineffective. Participating in the Annual Meeting with the current Board only makes the Coalition complicit in their existence. Approving their budget, passing their remits, progressing their Project Vanguard and voting for two new Board members acknowledges and endorses their right to exist.

It is messy, but the 2011 Annual General Meeting has to fail. Either the Regions just don’t turn up and the meeting falls over for a lack of a quorum or the Coalition votes down every measure proposed. Nothing gets passed. This Board has forfeited the right to govern. This Annual General Meeting must clearly demonstrate the member’s endorsement of that point.

Then a Special General Meeting should to be called to elect a new Board. Six members get elected and two are appointed. The Special General Meeting has to make sure there is a discernable change. The new Board has to be a new broom. It cannot be a different eight members of the old guard. That won’t change anything. For example I would not have David Jack, Neville Sutton or Brett Naylor anywhere near a new Board. They may not be responsible for the current Board’s mistakes but they have a history of involvement in the structural shambles we have on our hands today. There are a dozen other individuals like them – who worshipped Jan Cameron, who appointed Mike Byrne and created the environment that has ruined swimming in New Zealand.

Here are the eight souls I’d have on the new Board. My vote is probably the last thing any of them would want. However I did vote for Margret Thatcher and illegally contributed $100 to Obama’s election campaign. I also voted for Helen Clarke at one election and plan to give John Key my vote in this one. So, there have been a few winners in my past.

Bronwen Radford for President. The public face of the revolution has to lead it into power. She has shown courage, tenacity, honesty and endurance. She has the stuff leaders are made of. One day Swimming New Zealand should sell t-shirts with her face printed on the front.

Maria Clarke for Vice President. Clarke is a sports lawyer and member of the New Zealand Olympic Committee. She’s as sharp as a tack and has an IQ that’s better than most of us. She would make sure some of the tricky deals that the Coulter gang specialize in, never happen again. She’d also be well suited for keeping Kerry McDonald in line.

Bill Garlick for Board member. Garlick is an ex-President of the New Zealand Olympic Committee. He is a visionary. That quality may have got him into some trouble in the past but would be well valued on a new Board. New ideas would not be in short supply with Garlick around.

Dick Quax for Board member. Quax is an Auckland Super City councillor, a 5000 meters track world record holder and an Olympic Silver medallist, also in the 5000 meters. He too is as sharp as a tack. He understands sport. He knows what works. He has seen the top of the sporting tree and knows what you need to do to get there.

Mark Weldon for Board member. Weldon was one of New Zealand’s best swimmers and is now hugely successful in business. He is an interesting and rare blend of deep swimming knowledge and commercial acumen. I don’t know him personally but he seems to be a person you’d call a progressive; a quality this Board will need.

Nigel Soper for Board member. Soper is the Chairman of Southland Swimming. Southland Swimming is probably the most financially independent of all the New Zealand swimming Regions. Soper’s knowledge of the qualities required to achieve that status is important if SNZ is to move away from its current state of SPARC welfare dependency. Oh, and Soper also works for the Alliance Meat Company. For an ex-Borthwick employee like me that’s a huge plus.

Sir Michael Fay for Board member. I think there is merit in having a captain of New Zealand industry on the Board. Other contenders would be John Hart, Sir Stephen Tindall, John Banks and Geoff Ross. Sir Michael gets my vote because of his sporting credentials in beginning the dynasty of New Zealand’s America’s Cup competition but also his family’s deep involvement in the sport of swimming.

Wayne Rollinson for Board member. Rollinson is the Chairman of Swimming Canterbury. Equally compelling arguments could be made for Jim Swanson and Suzanne Speer from Auckland. I’d go for Rollinson because he adds a South Island perspective to the Board and he works for Silver Fern Farms – another freezing works veteran (only joking).

So there is the Board I think would move New Zealand Swimming forward. I guess the important point of all this is not the specific names. It is vital to recognize that there are many good people in New Zealand who are far better equipped to lead, than those who are failing us just now. It is time for a fresh start. Fortunately there are many fine New Zealanders who can provide the quality of management and direction this sport craves.

There are also two executive positions that need to be filled; a CEO to replace Mike Byrne and a Coaching Facilitator to replace Jan Cameron. There are four people I think would do a great job of being the sport’s new CEO – John Munro, Brian Palmer, Marisa Carter and Sarah Ulmer. Any one of them would be light years better than what we’ve got now. All of them will cost a lot of money – but isn’t that great. And finally – someone to replace the “irreplaceable” Jan Cameron. Well, that’s the easiest replacement of the lot. Whatever it cost, I’d get Mark Schubert down here. He is the ex-USA Swimming Head Coach. His swimmers have won more medals than most of us have had hot dinners. One fact in all this is guaranteed – Mark Schubert would never bring a New Zealand team home from an Olympic Games empty handed – not ever. Over the next four years he would weld every coach in New Zealand into a genuine “one team”. Schubert would help New Zealand’s coaches find another Danyon Loader. In fact being Schubert he’d probably help us find several Olympic winners – for that’s what winning coaches do.