Just What The Hell Are They Up To?

By David

Silence is golden. Except in a situation like this, it is dark and ominous. It reeks of compromise, deception and defeat. Gone are the almost daily reports from Swimming Bay of Plenty. Vanished are reams of suggested improvements to New Zealand swimming from Auckland Swimming. The opposition has been silenced. Even the daily vitriol being posted on Swimming New Zealand’s website has faded. A conflict both sides once happily described as a battle is now a love-fest of reason and common sense.

The Miramar Golf Club chardonnay and cheese tutorial didn’t work, so my guess is that, someone somewhere decided to do a backroom deal. Lots of pats on the back, lots of “we have responsibilities to our members,” lots of muttering about being the sport’s last chance, secret meetings in corporate Board rooms in Wellington or Auckland and the leaders of the Coalition of Region’s folded. And I think it stinks.
The climax of the new union between Swimming New Zealand and the Coalition of Regions came in the form of a press release posted on the Swimming New Zealand website. This is what they are going to do.

  1. “We plan to work towards the development of a business case to SPARC. We believe that the review should consider our governance, the basis of membership, the role of our Board, Regions / NZSCTA and Clubs, and the way we engage with our stakeholders including the swimmers. The review would consider our Constitution and other guiding documents, and would take account of best practice developments in other sporting organisations.”
  2. “However, we are committed to working together in a productive and responsible manner, consistent with our Swimming NZ values of respect and integrity.”
  3. “We propose to do so away from the glare of publicity, and we will therefore not be making any further public statements.”

All this effort and the best the Coalition of Regions and Swimming New Zealand can offer is another bloody review. All this time spent naval gazing – no wonder there is never time to do anything. But before considering the number of reviews, I am obliged to comment on the following wording – “and the way we engage with our stakeholders including the swimmers.” Swimmers tacked on as an afterthought. Butler would never write this insult if he had watched swimmers labour through 10,000 meter swims or applied Vaseline to their stinging chlorine burns. Swimmers are not stakeholders in this sport. They are the sport. It belongs to them. It is their journey. Anyway back to the number of reviews. In the last six months this is review number four.

  1. Swimming New Zealand has already spent $250,000 on review number one – called Project Vanguard. This is still described on Swimming New Zealand’s website as a project to determine, “how should we organize and run swimming in New Zealand to support growth and success in this new decade” – pretty much the same words used by Butler to describe this latest bit of visionary management.
  2. The second review was the Ineson Report. I have no idea what it cost, but it certainly would not have been cheap. The objective was to “analyse Swimming NZ’s current high performance programme.” Although the Report was aimed at the High Performance program it did reach a number of conclusions on the incompetence of the current Board and its senior management.
  3. The third review was the fortune spent by Butler wandering around the country as Chairman of the High Performance Governance Committee. Swimming New Zealand’s website tells me that was, “to ensure clear reporting lines and greater board oversight, accountability, and contestability of SNZs HPP.”

I really love the second comment about “Swimming NZ values of respect and integrity”. Remember, it is Butler writing this stuff. He’s the guy who stood up in a Nelson Annual General Meeting recently and promised to do all in his power to destroy the personal reputation of anyone who questioned his management of the organization. That’s his idea of respect and integrity. And, as for the Coalition of Regions, they have done a deal with people they believe show little respect or integrity. What does that say about their judgement?

The third comment is a gem of great value. Swimming New Zealand and the Coalition have decided that their work is going to be “away from the glare of publicity, and we will therefore not be making any further public statements.” Are these really the same people who said just four weeks ago that because, “this is a serious issue affecting all members of SNZ, the board has determined that in the interests of openness and transparency that all correspondence regarding this matter should be available on the SNZ website.” Four weeks and suddenly “openness and transparency” don’t matter. Now it’s about staying away from the “glare of publicity”. And, in this regard, the Coalition of Regions is no better. What does it have to hide? What skulduggery is it up to? If the Coalition can’t tell us what it is doing, it shouldn’t be doing it.

This announcement essentially confirms that the Regions have been duped by negotiators far, far more skilled in getting their way. For the third or fourth time in a decade, good but naive Regions have fallen short of their goal. Perhaps it was always too much to expect Regional officials to take on the chief executives of Brierley Investments and Comalco. During the next month these men will tack on important Project Vanguard changes to the minor revisions they concede. That’s the way these men operate. Suck in the Coalition of Regions, join them in the process and screw them blind.

Thanks to their powerful friends the insurance salesman from Nelson and his mate, Mike Byrne, could well survive. The really bad thing about all this is that any compromise that results from this month of negotiations will leave New Zealand swimming worse off than when the struggle began. Without question I would prefer Cameron and Coulter back at Swimming New Zealand than accept a conclusion that is three quarters Project Vanguard, one quarter Regional idealism. Regular Swimwatch readers can imagine the effort it took for me to express that thought. I have fought for ten years to see the Cameron regime replaced by something better. However, there is no satisfaction in seeing Cameron go when the prospect is that Byrne, Butler and McDonald will be designing its replacement. Are we worse off right now? Yes, without question.

Those who began this fight had an obligation to see it through. Remember the line, “We began this thing. I guess we’d better finish it.” Any malcontent can initiate a rebellion. It demands courage and vision to reach a conclusion; to put in place a better regime. I thought the Coalition of Regions had that vision; offered that resolve. Instead, this episode in Swimming New Zealand’s history will be known as another victory for central control. Mike Byrne and Ross Butler will go on the record as bringing a few disruptive Regional lightweights into line. By bailing out to the prospect of negotiation the Coalition of Regions has abandoned the sport of swimming. Worse than that, New Zealand’s best swimmers have been deserted by those they should have been able to trust. Our youth have a right to expect more of their elders. There was a duty to, “finish it.”

However Swimwatch has stood alone before and is happy to stand alone again. I have two goals. I want to see honest people replace the crooks that currently run Swimming New Zealand. I want to see New Zealand coaches empowered and given the responsibility of producing world championship swimmers; a regime Swimwatch has labelled “rugged individualism”. It was heady stuff when the Coalition of Regions looked like they were pushing hard in the same direction. It now seems that the Coalition of Regions has chickened out; has agreed to compromise and negotiate with those they once sought to depose. That is a shame. Perhaps next time we will find leaders with sufficient character and talent to lead this sport properly. New Zealand’s swimmers deserve no less. On this occasion the swimmers have been let down by those who promised a brighter future. That is a shame. It is a setback, but it is not the end. Swimwatch is hated because SPARC and Swimming New Zealand know we cannot be bought, we cannot be intimidated and we will not be compromised out of our beliefs. We will not negotiate with those who are responsible for the shortcomings identified by Ineson. The dark side may have nullified a weak Coalition of Regions but that just makes the battle ahead more interesting and more important.

You see this battle was not begun in the past twelve months. Lincoln Hurring, Duncan Laing, Tony Keenan and Ross Anderson were pushing for the independent delivery of elite swimming long before many of today’s Coalition of Region officials were drinking out of elite swimming’s socialist trough. But this announcement means reform will have to wait until another generation of swimmers has been failed by New Zealand’s socialist method of delivering elite sport; failed by the Millennium folly. Byrne and Butler will blame the disappointment of missing their London goal of five finalists and one medal on the disruption of the rebellious Coalition of Regions. SPARC will agree and will deliver Butler and Byrne four more years of funding. The next call for reform will not be until 2016 when New Zealand swimming fails again in Rio.
Those responsible for the Coalition of Regions have condemned this sport to five more years of socialist failure. They cannot be trusted. Soon they will move on to other things. They will leave behind a broken sport that they tore apart but lacked the character to put something better in its place. To promise and then fail to deliver is worse than Cameron and Coulter. At least we knew not to expect anything from them. The Coalition offered a better way. Just read the documents on the Swimming Auckland website. Instead, my guess is that they have sold out to the dark side and have the sport’s GPS firmly programmed to deliver a socialist destination.

However, there is a way out. Independent coaches around New Zealand can work harder to produce more international champions from outside the system. We can do it the old way – the way Duncan Laing, Arthur Lydiard and Arch Jelley did it; without SPARC’s money or Byrne’s interference. Private enterprise does deliver elite swimming best. I guess its up to us to prove that’s true.

  • David

    A Step to Far – Thank you for that thought. It briefly crossed my mind to look at that. Does anyone know how we can hold SNZ and the leaders of the Coalition responsible for by-passing the Constitution? I’ll talk to a lawyer today and happily pay to hold them individually and personally liable – if that is possible.

  • Sensible Swimming

    This is both interesting and puzzling. On the surface I think I agree with your analysis David although as with many things we may have to look for what is not being said as much as what is being said. I for one do not believe that the Swimming New Zealand Board had much to do with trying to move matters forward at all and now this press release reeks of Butler trying to stay in control of an agenda which he no longer owns.

    The New Zealand Herald contained this report yesterday:


    From what I read the notice you refer to on SNZ’s website is clearly written by Butler. It has the sound and feel of his language all over it. With the sport being funded by public money it is essential that you and reporters like Mr Alderson continue to ensure that there is a ‘glare of public scrutiny’ over what happens from here. I cannot imagine that if SPARC is involved as Mr Miskimmin acknowledges they are, that a secret back room process will be possible. We have already seen that you have ensured documents are exposed under the Official Information Act and I am sure that will happen again. Please continue to exact transparency now as you have in the past. You are right to do so.

    If as the New Zealand Herald suggests this is a Rugby League style of review then from what I understand this should be a good thing. That review was not done by the sport itself and resulted in the complete removal of the Board of Rugby League and its CEO. More importantly from what I am reading about it the sport has now moved forward into a place which is genuinely better than where it came from. While I agree with the tenor of your article I wonder as we get more information if things may look a little less bleak.

    The Herald reports the establishment of a planning committee, presumably it will set terms of reference. Who is on that and what they do will be important and will dictate direction.

    The Rugby League review was conducted under the independent chairmanship of Sir John Anderson and this seems by all accounts I read to have produced a good result.

    Here are some quotes from that report:

    “The abuse of democracy has been damaging. Management … has been a fine
    line between financial incompetence and financial mismanagement.”

    “There was a consistent view that the past and current Board and Management do not have the skill set to take the game forward. The strongest message coming back from the consultation was that there is urgent need for strong, high integrity, experienced governance with transparent processes and modus operandi. This will enable both greater influence of the international game and will provide the leadership for the game in NZ.”

    If similar strong conclusions result from this review of swimming then that ultimately may lead us to a better place. What seems evident to me is that things have got so bad that there needs to be the legitimacy of an external process to ensure progress is made.

    The reasons why the Ineson report was necessary and the failure of Swimming to deal with his report and its conclusions in an appropriate and timely way already means our swimmers are compromised for London. That is a tragedy and we know that. All of us who have been following this debate with you understand that. In our own way we will all contribute to trying to help them give their best in difficult circumstances. I could not agree with you more that this is their sport and we must give it back to them.

  • James T

    David, you are bang on. This coalition group is now, for want of a better term, a political group, and frankly should be subject to being “Swimwatched” as much as any one else.

    Which brings me to an important point. This is the first time that SNZ have been forced (no doubt through gritted teeth) to acknowledge that there is an effective Opposition, not too dissimilar to a Parliamentary Opposition that demands accountability. Time will tell whether they have compromised and have been, as you suggest, defeated, but I will reserve judgment on this point. But the reason why SNZ have been able to ignore the regions for so long, apart from the odd skirmish which they have batted off, is because the regions were not united. Of course it has always suited SNZ’s purposes and PR spin to portray this group as just some rabble of malcontents. Last year they saw what could happen when the regions did unite when they dumped the database project, and it has been war on the regions ever since. Of course, predictably, my lot are throwing a hissy fit because they have been locked out because they are not part of the coalition. Well, frankly, they had their opportunity to align in the beginning so, as they say, you either put up or shut up.

    One other point David. For the sake of our sport, I am relieved that the AGM at least has been deferred. I had mentioned before that there were some fairly ugly rumours swirling around that SNZ were intent on causing chaos at the AGM. One of your other commentators had also mentioned this. Certainly down here, there was talk of SNZ (Butler, MacDonald, Byrne et al) engaging in dirty tactics, setting up one of the regions to challenge the voting capacity at the beginning of the AGM, presenting legal notices, and if the remits were passed, SNZ were going to refuse to register them and challenge any business that they didn’t like through the courts. They were intent on ensuring that no matter what happened, the business of the AGM would not be passed or implemented – and of course, blame the regions for it. What we quite possibly might have been facing was months in the High Court, with our national sporting body being quite willing to spend our money on legal fees, and the regions having to give up the fight ultimately because of the cost.

    But one thing I have to hold out hope for David. If asked to make a choice of who I would trust, Mrs Radford or Mr Butler, there is no contest.

  • James T

    David, this just in (I think possibly from yesterday). http://www.nzherald.co.nz/sport/news/article.cfm?c_id=4&objectid=10754234
    My questions are these:
    1. Who will be on the planning committee as they will be setting the terms of reference? This is crucial.
    2. When and who will be recommended to the review committee? Frankly, I think Mr David Wright would be an excellent choice (guaranteed to make SNZ choke!).
    3. How long will it be before we get to the point where we have a new CEO and a new Board? In Rugby League the Board had to accept the recommendations, and what we don’t want is another Ineson Report where SNZ have spent the last 4 months wringing their hands.

  • David

    It is not the best of starts for the Coalition’s in-bed-romp with Butler and Byrne. The leaders of the Coalition are learning quickly. Already the SNZ Constitution doesn’t matter. Looks like it’s true – if you lie down with dogs, you get fleas. There’s an Auckland Centre swim meet this weekend. Looks like we will need some “No Bugs Bug Bomb”

  • Hurf Durf

    I feel your argument here displays some Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy. Yes things have gone quiet from the regional coalition. That does not mean they are feeding from the trough.

    Remember the coalition leaders have responsibilities to their own regions as well as to the betterment of SNZ. I was in Tauranga over the weekend for the Bay Of Plenty Champs. The meet director/s there did a fantastic job organising a very large competition (400+ swimmers) – in a facility with little understanding of and no interest in competitive swimming. The same individual who was meet director there was also organising details of an upcoming camp for Central New Zealand Aquaknights. The same individual was also organising the Central New Zealand Grand Prix – an exciting initiative that is incredibly time prohibitive and done for nothing more than the benefit of the swimmers involved and on the smell of an oily rag.
    Sometimes silence is golden. Sometimes silence is ominous. Sometimes silence is because other things are happening.

  • David

    A Step Too Far – Thank you. It will be done.

  • Sharon

    Speaking of silence…has anyone heard how Koru is getting on with Happy Feet?

  • J

    The power of Swimwatch has been neatly confirmed in this phrase from James T:
    “and frankly should be subject to being “Swimwatched” as much as any one else.”

    To become a verb that is recognised in the media is a huge compliment, and I am very sure that anyone following this story, or in the swimming world, would recognise the implications of that new verb in any other context.

    Long may injustices be “Swimwatched” whether swimming related or not!