A Step Too Far

By David

I have no idea who writes the comments posted by “A step too far.” Whoever it is, I like what he or she has to say. The first post censured me for being too extreme. For example when I suggested taking Swimming New Zealand to Court in an attempt to determine the definition of a member, “A step too far” told me, “I think the latest initiative you have declared for next week is plain outright crazy. Don’t proceed with your High Court action.” In spite of the warning, I did attend a meeting with the lawyer who helped me obtain court approval for a West Auckland Aquatic’s swimmer to compete in the Auckland Winter Championships. You will never guess what the lawyer told me. He said, “I think the latest initiative you have declared for next week is plain outright crazy. Don’t proceed with your High Court action.” And so ended that good idea :)

Today “A step too far” has provided equally sage advice. There is a suggestion as to how I might best lay a complaint about the lack of notice Swimming New Zealand and the Coalition of Regions provided everyone that the Annual General Meeting was being delayed until 30 October 2011. There are two things wrong with what Butler and his new Regional mates have done in this case. First of all, Rule 15.1 of the SNZ Constitution says the Annual General Meeting must be held prior to 30 September. Second, Rule 19.2 of the SNZ Constitution says that to override a Constitutional rule requires 40 days notice. The new meeting is set for 30 October and we were all given the news one day before the first scheduled annual meeting. It seems like Butler has already convinced the Coalition leaders to adopt the same disregard for the organization’s constitution that he has. I have said before that a previous generation spent four years in German POW camps and lost body parts defending, in part, the rule of law. They would be appalled at the Coalition of Regions expression of contempt for the organisation’s rules.

And the recommendation of “A step too far?” He or she says that our first “port of call might be the Registrar of Incorporated Societies.” The Registrar’s website is closed until Wednesday, this week. First thing on Thursday though the Registrar will have a complaint about the Coalition of Region’s behaviour.
Sadly “a step too far” believes our chances of success are slim. The correspondent says, “in this case according to the SNZ release the deferral has the tick from the Board and over 90% of the Regions, as well as at least the implicit tick from SPARC, then it might be hard to get the Registrar to want to act in any way.” I just hope “a step too far” is wrong. I also hope that the prior notice of one day provided to the members buries this arrogant new union.

“A step too far” then makes a few interesting observations about SPARC. For example, “from things I have seen in other sports, I have no doubt that SPARC has a Head Office, centrally controlled business model in place for all sports. I am sure they don’t like the federation of regional or local association’s model and far prefer the unitary model.” I agree with the position of “a step too far”. I think that’s exactly what’s going on – suck the Regions in, join them in the process and screw them blind. In this case sex with a SPARC led SNZ inevitably results in the birth of another unitary governance model. That proposition has far more credibility than Sensible Swimming’s naïve idealism – all that clap-trap about a SPARC review moving Rugby League “forward into a place which is genuinely better than where it came from”. The stunning success of the Warriors has had more to do with the growth of Rugby League than any SPARC review. Besides for every Rugby League story Sensible Swimming carefully avoids mentioning Canoeing New Zealand or Surf Live Saving New Zealand who also had SPARC reviews and are now facing financial and competitive ruin. Sensible Swimming must be a mate of Ross Butler. He is even beginning to sound like him.

The comment by James T is also worth mentioning. At heart this is a plea for understanding, James T argues that the Coalition of Regions had to cozy up to Butler, Byrne and McDonald because they were threatening to obliterate the sport. McDonald knew exactly what he was doing. Constantly up the ante, act all hurt and aggressive and eventually the junior players in the Region’s team would fold. And he was right. He read his opposition well. Boys and girls were sent to play games with some pretty tough men and women. McDonald, Butler and Byrne would never have been allowed to clear-fell the sport of swimming. It would be more than SPARC was worth to allow that to happen in an Olympic and an election year. The threat though was enough to roll the Chamberlains sent to represent the Coalition.

“A step to far” then puts this view of the way ahead, “Sports organisations should organize in the way that best suits themselves – there should be competing models across sports. Otherwise, why not just let SPARC takeover all the NSOs.” Of course that is right. Don’t count on it happening in swimming anytime soon. The key battle in this war was fought last week and the good guys lost.

And finally “a step too far” offers this sad prospect for the future of Swimwatch, “I suspect you personally are in for 4 weeks of angst as you agonize over the possible outcomes. I suspect Swimwatch has been cast into the role of enemy of everyone, which means you are unlikely to be the recipient of any leaks from the talks.” I imagine “a step too far” is right. We will be swimming’s public enemy number one. That’s a good thing though. The Coalition of Regions has clearly shown us the staggering cost of cuddling up to McDonald, Butler and Byrne. Compared to that prospect, “the role of enemy” sounds pretty good to me.

  • Jenny Smith

    Here’s some novel thoughts.

    1. Let’s abuse the hell out of everybody we disagree with

    2. Let’s spray around lurid conspiracy theories and put silly words in people’s mouths to discredit them

    3. Let’s work on sacking everybody before they come up with a plan that we disgree with

    4. Let’s bag anyone who tries to help to fix this mess – oh yes, that includes the regions now, as well as SPARC, anyone with an open mind who goes on a regional or national board, and anyone who dares challenge the world according to David

    5. Let’s even attack someone for mentioning swimmers – looked to me like it was more of an attempt to ensure they weren’t forgotten in the middle of all these fiefdoms and ancient slights constantly being dragged up

    6. And let’s whine that absolutely everyone that has a governance or management position is a fool.

    Given all this is how you frame the view of swimming in NZ, no wonder anyone with more than half a brain is trying to figure out how to change the sport. Sadly even positive change won’t stop you malcontents from continuing your search and destroy missions. Honestly! Find some positive values and model them, eh? Us parents have had a gutsful

  • Northern Swimmer

    When looking to resolve a conflict it frequently pays to put yourself in the shoes of your opposition, and consider what you would do to win at any cost. It can be both enlightening and disturbing – you may not like the moral depravity which lurks beneath your skin. (For a truly frightening example imagine you are the Greek Finance Minister: what would defaulting on the debt really mean for you and Greece?)

    If I wanted to retain power of SNZ at any cost what would I do?

    1. Avoid conflict and confrontation
    The postponement / abandonment of the AGM would be a godsend.
    Similarly I would look to reduce public expression of differing opinion. This is frequently done in politics by saying that an issue is ‘above politics’ or that the opposition is attempting to ‘politicise the issue’. That person then has the perceived moral highground if someone else speaks out in dissent.
    Here I would frequently say that what I was doing was “in the best interests of the sport”, and that anyone with a different approach was “attempting to derail the necessary restructuring process” and was putting swimming / medals /funding “at risk”.

    2. Reframe the Issue
    A frequent statement in politics is that the opposition do not understand the complexity of the matter. This serves arguably three purposes:
    i) it undermines the opposition;
    ii) it make it seem as though you have at your disposal extra knowledge of the matter, and that justifies your decisions; and
    iii) it can make the opposition second guess themselves and their interpretation of the matter. All it takes it a moment of self-doubt by them and you can gain the upper hand.
    Here I would be saying that the Regional Coalition do not fully understand the “complexities associated with managing high performance programmes / the funding relationship with SPARC / the practicalities and legal difficulties of governance and Constitutional issues”. I would make appeals to compromise and pragmatism. I would also say that the issue was even to complex for me alone and would seek external expert assistance, making sure that those contracted shared a similar philosophy to me.

    3. Divide and Conquer
    Agree that there are valid concerns which have been raised. Establish some sort of group or committee which is to look at this. Heavily stack it in your favour but also draw in a couple of key members of the opposition – this takes away some of your greatest critics and also validates the group as one which is capable of “addressing all issues from all perspectives”. Ensure that the group is subject to a collective responsibility agreement – the dissenting members then cannot speak out about the decisions which the group makes – they will be ‘undermining the process’ – which leaves them with the only alternative of resigning which makes them look like they are difficult to work with, and also means that their voice is no longer included in the decision making process.
    Also ensure that any decisions made also purport to include input from opposing members. This makes them able to be scapegoats for failures in the future, and also turns other opposing voices against them. (Here, I note that Swimwatch has started criticising the Regional Coalition)

    4. Business as usual.
    While all this is occurring continue to push through your own agenda, hastening it if necessary, but knowing that it will be without criticism as this is no longer allowed, and those previously active voices are now neutralised within a committee, with its attention focused elsewhere.
    On this point I note that there has been a recent appointment to a position which the Ineson Report recommended as a second preference to the appointment of a Head Coach. Let’s not mince words here, the position was only meant to be constructed if Jan Cameron would not resign, and restructuring was necessary to create a new ‘different’ position which she along with others could then apply for.
    The report says that the new structure should be effective by 1 October 2011.
    The effect of this will be that if a leadership change can and does occur, those who gain power will be restrained by the structure they inherit, becoming lame ducks. Disappointment with these leaders will then fester as they ‘do nothing’ in pursuit of their objectives, and change once again will appear the only solution.

    With regard to Vanguard changes I would say that I was not proceeding with them, but rather in consultation with the regions was looking to establish and fund permanent professional positions in the regions which brought their concerns to SNZ. I would let this occur for 18months, then gradually cite financial constraints as the reason for some of these positions being amalgamated between regions, eg it would ‘make financial sense’ that the Wellington voice also represented Wanganui, Manawatu, and Wairarapa; I would neutralise Auckland by splitting it at the harbour bridge with the northern clubs joining Northland, and the others joining Counties Manukau. These sorts of changes would continue until only 4 or 5 regional positions remained – couching it as aligning with Super 15 teams would help to make detractors seem unpatriotic.
    Over time the personnel and role descriptions would change – those occupying ‘regional facilitator’ roles would go from being appointed by the regions and to present the regions’ concerns to SNZ; to a ‘collaborative appointment process’ which ensured the correct people with the ‘appropriate skill set and experience’ were employed to ‘mediate the bilateral information flow’; to finally being appointments by SNZ but with ‘ comprehensive regional input’ to ensure that there were people with the expertise to ‘implement best practice grass-roots management and coaching of swimming in Aotearoa New Zealand’.

    It may not be the fastest approach to get your own way, but it would likely be the path of least resistance.

    Your Devil’s advocate,


  • Honestly! Find some positive values and model them, eh? Us parents have had a gutsful

    I will put my “approves the comments” hat on here for a second…

    Let’s keep it civil, Jenny. Plenty of people–notably Northern Swimmer and the subject of this post, A Step Too Far–manage to disagree on this blog without doing what you are accusing the author of – “[putting] silly words in people’s mouths to discredit them.”

    There have been plenty of positive suggestions put forward here, both by the author and by readers. For instance, this one. Let’s all stop pretending posts like these never happened.

    You haven’t exactly been a champion of Fair and Balanced yourself, all but absolving the guilt of bullies who picked on children (and who still are picking on children) by dismissing the concerns of their former victims.

  • David

    Northern Swimmer – That’s right. I do hope those charged with handling this stuff see it for what it is. Right now the signs are not good. Your piece should help.

  • Rhi Jeffrey

    I have been following all this Swimming NZ stuff for a while now and I remember swimming with David back in Florida and him going on about the shambles it was in then as well. I think this has all gotten past the point of ridiculousness. I think clearing out the entire Swim NZ board won’t even be a 100% guarantee that things will move in the right direction for the sport here. The one thing I would like to see change is you guys have a very poor athlete representation on a board level here. Back in the US, each local swimming committee has three to five athlete representatives on their board. They have to be current swimmers, usually over a certain age, and usually at a specific level in the sport. They go to all the board meetings and have a pretty big voice in the decisions and processes that go on even at a national level. My family was all big into sports. My dad played football, my mom was a marathon runner, I have cousins that were football players and champion weight lifters and so on, but only my sister and I swam. One thing I know for SURE is NO ONE understands the world of swimming to complete accuracy unless you’ve been one yourself. Even my mom who drove us to every practice and to every swim meet doesn’t fully comprehend just what the sport is all about. Only we do. That’s a BIG reason I believe that US Swimming is so successful. We have STRONG athlete representation. Not only that, but since those positions give the current swimmers a look at what goes on at the political level, most of them in the US start working for US Swimming after they retire. Since we have past swimmers governing swimmers, there are NEVER quotes coming from US Swimming that read “…. including the swimmers.” They all realize it IS the swimmers. Of all the people I have met in this world so far, swimmers usually have the strongest opinions and the strongest voices. We would not be afraid to get in there at national board meetings and say what we are feeling, how we are being mistreated, how not everyone wants to swim for the stupid high performance club. Maybe with better CURRENT athlete representations, we would be able to get a better feel on the higher level of what the important people (the swimmers) are feeling about the current processes. I think the regions (Auckland, BoP, etc) should have three to five current swimmers on their boards at all times. Not only would it give us (the people this should all be about) a voice in our own sport, but maybe it would help future generations of swimmers by employing people that actually used to dedicate their lives to the sport. Just a thought…..

  • James T

    Geez David. We’re all on the same bloody side!

    So from a ridiculous one-page “we’ve all kissed and made up” Butler pronouncement we are supposed to honestly believe that the regional heads of the Coalition are now “cozying up to Butler, Byrne and MacDonald” as you suggest? I’m sorry. But I stand by what I said in a previous post that if there is a question as to who I will trust, Mrs Radford or Mr Butler, there is no contest. Why David? Because I know that the likes of Mrs Radford and many of the coalition leaders were at pools up and down the country last weekend (despite the fact that they could have been forgiven for taking the weekend off after the last minute deferral of the AGM), doing what good swimming people do, running swim meets, helping our swimmers, contributing in ways that Butler, Byrne and MacDonald could NEVER appreciate. No, not for a minute am I taken in by the “love-fest” as Butler et al would have us believe, and frankly, I am surprised that any one else would be.

    I for one am holding my judgment. I want to know who is going to be appointed onto this steering group that Andrew Alderson talks about in his article, and the Terms of Reference that they have write. This is crucial, not only in respect of the TOR written, but because they will also probably put forward recommendations and appoint the working group that will actually do the review. Until I see this, I am holding fire.

    Interesting that even he questions the Butler “away from the public glare” nonsense given that SPARC (and essentially SNZ) are publicly funded.

    And on that point I think that we all agree.

  • Sensible Swimming

    The great thing about what you have provided David is a forum for us to contribute. You may not always agree with what we have to say but I think we are more closely aligned than not.

    I respect the fact that there are some people out there who have put their necks out to try and make some change. To write off their efforts at this stage would be premature. Time may vindicate your skepticism but I hope it will not.

    Has the ‘coalition’ sold out? To base that view on a single press release from Ross Butler would be a little like suggesting that Churchill was done because Goebels said it was so. What I am hearing is quite different to what you suggest, but again time will tell.

    There is a very important piece of drama going on this week. This involves the appointment of a representative to a ‘steering committee’. It is interesting that there will be a single representative from the SNZ Board but an equal representation from the Regions on that steering committee. That sounds to to me as though there has been some status established and that big efforts are being placed into ensuring that the right battles are being fought and won. Lets see who is nominated and appointed to this role. That will give a very good flavour of how strong the coalition is and what direction they are heading in. I am picking that in the coming months the real important fights will be fought and won as a result of the work of this steering committee.

    Quite legitimately you identify concerns about the proposed review just being another ‘Surf’ or ‘Vanguard’ style review. I have read the Rugby League review David and I do not think you are correct. That review was conducted external to the sport and importantly also external to SPARC. Here-in is the difference. From what I can see there was nobody on the review working group who was a SPARC employee. Don MacKinnon was on the panel but I believe this predated his appointment to the SPARC board and I have heard nothing but good about his contributions then and also now as a member of the SPARC Board and also newly appointed to the Board of HPSNZ. He is very highly regarded. He was a part of the process involved in recruiting and appointing Alex Baumann as CEO. By all accounts this is an appointment which will challenge the centralist tendencies you deplore and which I would also argue is likely to be very good for swimming. The rest of the panel were people of huge mana and experience.

    This is not a review about the sport gazing in at itself seeking to implement a pre-dertermined agenda via shonky process (a la Project Vanguard or Groundswell.) It is going to be conducted (based on the league experience) by we would hope some of the finest contributors the country has to offer. Sure there will be vested interests who will try and cling to power as we have seen happening with Vanguard. If the league experience is correct its findings will be binding on the Board of SNZ and if the league experience follows will likely result in the Board and the CEO being required to step down to make way for a new order. The regions being the federal owners of the sport will have the final say as to whether or not the findings are adopted or not. That does not sound like a sell out to me if indeed the path being followed is similar.

    I am sorry if you feel I have become an apologist. I do not think that this so called coalition has objectives dissimilar to yours David. That has been clear over the months this debate has raged. They may see a need for adaptation to accomplish the result they have in mind but I do not think for one minute that they will have sold out on the principles which have been discussed ad nauseum over the past few months. I do not believe for one minute that they have climbed into bed with Byrne and Butler. I know many of these people and what you suggest there is simply not within their make up.

    As I have said previously, lets look as closely at what is not being said and by whom, as much as what is being said. This game of chess has clearly entered a new phase. It does not necessarily need to spell either stale mate or check mate against the coalition!

  • Sensible Swimming

    Rhi, your suggestion about swimmers being represented is interesting. A couple of years ago that very suggestion (having a place on the board reserved for a recently retired swimmer) was placed before an AGM and voted on. It was rejected on the recommendation of the SNZ Board. There are however two recently retired swimmers on the SNZ Board (well Dominic Toomey has now left) and I know in a number of regions there are recently retired swimmers working on boards. The jury is still out on how successful that has been.

    I am thinking that our present mess goes back a very long way and has been a very long time in the making. Boards should not generally be comprised of interest group representation, they should be made up of people with the right skills to make effective governance decisions. That is where we have been so badly served. As and example of bad board decision making and as far as I can tell, the past three appointments of CEO have left much to be desired. The previous CEO was well liked but by all accounts struggled with the complexities of the job and set in place the Project Vanguard train. The very mention of his predecessors name raises the blood pressure of most who had anything to do with her at the time. We don’t need to say anything more about Koru as it has all been said already. These are key examples of poor decision making by the board of SNZ which has very far reaching consequences.

    There are some differences between your USA swimmers and ours. Your swimmers are products of a private system normally via the NCAA and what then follows. Ours generally (in recent years) have emerged from the Jan Cameron inspired centralised social welfare system. That system produces a very different conditioning. Some are defensive about the system because it is all they have known and others are damaged by it and want to have nothing more to do with the sport ever again.

    We have many examples of our former swimmers who have made, and continue to make large contributions to the sport and society post retirement but equally many are lost to the sport as well.

    What is still important is what David has said in the past. If you get good people running the sport (regardless of whether they are swimmers or not) you will get good decisions. We have had bad decisions made for many years. We still need different people making better decisions. I still think that Davids ‘model’ board many posts ago was a great example of the type of leadership which could really make a difference. Hopefully when that day comes there will be former swimmers prominently represented in a more constructive environment than what they have available today.

  • Tom

    I’m inclined to agree with the sentiment expressed by the likes of James T, A Swimmer and others on this forum. I beleive Edmund Burke said something along the lines of “All government, every human benefit and enjoyment, every virtue, and every prudent act, is founded on compromise.”

    There is no perfect outcome to be found here. It is a tired cliche, but none the less true, that “you can’t please everybody all the time”. The coalition must be given time and opportunity to work on a solution. And that solution won’t be perfect. I think the analogy that was made on Swimwatch about the Greek finance minister is apt. Sometimes you are faced with difficult choices, each with difficult outcomes.

    In regards to negotations and work the Coalition is currently undertaking, I think the oft-quoted statement by Ghandi is appropriate: “All compromise is based on give and take, but there can be no give and take on fundamentals. Any compromise on mere fundamentals is a surrender. For it is all give and no take.”

  • Chris