Archive for September, 2011

Code of Conduct

Monday, September 12th, 2011

By David

Edit: A very important point the subject of this article is made in the comments section here. It makes a very good point about why we can’t let abuses of power continue in 2011.

It is a constant surprise how often those in power abuse their position. Much of the current debate going on in swimming is about words like honesty and integrity. Can our leaders be trusted? Swimming New Zealand has a Code of Ethics. But what use is it if the leaders of the sport are in almost daily violation of its terms.

For example, is altering the minutes of an Annual General Meeting being “honest in all dealings with others.” Is Butler’s claim that the Regions are paying too much attention to process and rules compatible with maintaining “an uncompromising adhesion to, standards, rules, regulations and policies?” Is Byrne’s decision to place a North Shore Club’s letter on the Agenda of the Annual Meeting compatible with the requirement to, “operate within the Constitution, Regulations, Policies and Procedures of SNZ?. Is Cameron’s rant about the “rubbish” written in the Ineson Report compatible with accepting, “responsibility for your actions?” Is Coulter’s decision to close down a Committee formed by an Annual Meeting and dismiss at least one Regional delegate, Suzanne Spear, compatible with being, “fair, considerate and honest in all dealings with others?”

I could keep going on but I’m sure you get the point. Putting the North Shore Club’s letter on the Annual Meeting Agenda when the deadline for receiving items of General Business has passed and when the North Shore Club is not a Region and therefore has no constitutional authority to place anything on the Annual Meeting Agenda is simply dishonest and wrong. And yet Butler allowed it to happen.

When the leaders of the sport demonstrate a clear disregard for the rules, their bad behaviour permeates down to everyone.

Being at the top means being cleaner than clean. It does permeate down. This weekend, in Hawke’s Bay, the Region’s Winter Championships were being held. For overseas readers, Hawke’s Bay is about 500 kilometers from our club’s home in Auckland. Our Club has a member who took part in the event. She has only recently joined the Club and, with the exception of her mother, was on her own at the Championships.

The President of the Hawke’s Bay/Poverty Bay Region is a guy called Keith Bone. As it was reported to me he approached our swimmer and asked whether it was true she had joined our club, she confirmed, it was true. Keith Bone then exclaimed,

“You are not swimming with THAT David Wright are you!” and turned and left. My swimmer tells me she felt “really stink. I wanted to say something but because it was the President I didn’t think I could.”

Is that event a Code of Conduct violation? Of course it is. It is intimidating. It shows no “respect the rights, dignity and worth of others.” It is not “fair and considerate” And it is a violation of the instruction to “refrain from any form of abuse towards others” and to “refrain from any form of harassment towards others.” It may seem like a small event but it is important to a swimmer who has just taken the step of joining the big city club. To have a Regional President scorn her decision is disgusting and gutless. Keith Bone – you may not like me. That is fine. I don’t really care. But you leave my swimmers alone. If you have something to say about me, have the guts to pick up a phone and say it. Don’t you dare beat up on an athlete because she is a member of this club.

It was really the episode in Hawke’s Bay that prompted me to write this story. I think there is a link between the bad behavior of Swimming New Zealand in Wellington and Keith Bone’s disapproval of our swimmer’s decision in Hawke’s Bay. Common respect has been lost. Wouldn’t it have been just as easy for Keith Bone to pass on his best wishes? But oh, no – in the climate we have in Swimming New Zealand just now he chose to be nasty. He appears to have learned well from the current leaders of this sport.

Never Negotiate

Friday, September 9th, 2011

By David

And so Swimming New Zealand has a new laird of the manor. Ross Butler has inherited the title of Acting President. I suspect he couldn’t wait to jump into the empty seat at the top of the Board Room table or have his new title printed on carefully crafted business cards. I met him in an Auckland pub not so long ago. He gave me the impression of being a rural artisan trying to make it in the big city; very concerned with appearances, maybe even a touch pretentious. Certainly full of small talk and hearty bon ami but without much substance, I thought.

There is no way Ross Butler is a long term solution to the top job in Swimming New Zealand. He has been there long enough to own his share of the Ineson litany of mistakes. The failings of the previous regime were the product of poor selection compounded by poor supervision and poor management. Butler was part of that problem. When you look closely at the current Board, who is there that understands the product – no one, certainly not Ross Butler. And the Chief Executive can’t provide the Board with any product knowledge. He knows as much about elite swimming as Ross Butler – that’s the blind leading the blind. No wonder the current Board couldn’t control the elite sport’s program. No one on that Board has a blind clue what the three words mean.

My concern just now is that the Coalition of Regions and others may be discussing Swimming New Zealand’s future with Butler as though he was there to stay. That would be a serious error. Never negotiate with terrorists. Of course I don’t mean that Butler is in any way similar to Mohammed Atta – he can’t fly an airplane for a start. But many of the principles are the same. Negotiating with Butler gives him legitimacy. “The Coalition of Regions is discussing the future with me,” he will say. “The Athlete’s Federation are talking to me about their member’s welfare,” he will add. And he will positively tingle describing the cosy relationship and “working understanding” he has with Bronwen Radford. You can bet your socks every last drop of PR spin will be extracted by Ross Butler in an effort to stay in the Chairman’s chair.

And the temptation to deal with him could be too high to resist just now. There has probably never been a better time to obtain a raft of generous concessions. Right now, I doubt there is much Butler would not agree to. American politicians are doing it all the time; buying favours. And for every favour the unspoken contract is – if I do this for you, I expect you to support my bid to stay in the President’s chair in two weeks time. That’s the deal. And for ten years we have all had far too much of that sort of dealing.

In this context, never negotiate with terrorists, is vitally important. Bronwen Radford and the Coalition of Regions won our support by taking on those who led swimming into a dark place. But, not only that. They won our support by offering a better way; by offering a more open form of government that kept its constituents informed. It would be distressing indeed if those responsible for the Coalition of Regions were now involved in secret negotiations that we knew nothing about. Distressing because it gives legitimacy to people who have failed this sport. Distressing because we thought the Coalition of Regions would not take part in Wellington, behind closed doors, deals. Distressing because we thought we would be told what the Coalition of Regions was doing. Distressing because of the thought that perhaps the previous Bay of Plenty newsletters were simply aimed at gaining our favour. Distressing because, pray God, the North Shore letter isn’t right after all. Never negotiate with terrorists; but if you are, come clean about it quickly and tell us.

Ah but, I hear some Swimwatch readers say, wasn’t it you that argued that the Coalition of Regions has the right to govern without referring every decision back to the membership? Now you are demanding to be consulted about every decision; every negotiation. That is not consistent. You are as bad as the North Shore Club’s Dr. Phil. He had a shot at running Auckland from a club office. So are you. Such an argument has validity. However in this case there is a difference.

If the Coalition of Regions is negotiating with the very people it asked for our support to remove and if those negotiations include Ross Butler remaining in a position of power on the Board of Swimming New Zealand then we are concerned. We are concerned because the Coalition may be riding rough shod through the principle of negotiating with terrorists and may be agreeing to a course of action 100% contrary to the one many New Zealanders supported. I support your negotiations – you do have the right to govern. But striking deals with Ross Butler shows all the integrity of a hungry rattle snake. We are sick of that sort of management. We have endured it for the past decade. It is the reason a letter from the North Shore Club has been included in the 2011 AGM general business The North Shore Club has no standing at the meeting and their letter arrived way passed the cut off date for including in the Agenda. But, to score political points, Butler ignored the rules, dismissed the Constitution and agreed to include it on the Agenda. It tells us all we need to know about the man from Nelson. He needs to be replaced – not empowered.

So, while it is fine to have negotiations, if those negotiations include striking deals with Ross Butler, then the New Zealand swimming community had better be publically informed very quickly and the explanation had better be very good, very open and very honest. The recent call for change in Swimming New Zealand was all about the integrity of the sport’s management. Swimwatch fought for a long time to see that change. Those who now assume positions of power will be held to the same standard. And back room deals done over a glass of Chardonnay in Wellington, if that is what we are about, are unlikely to meet that test.

Swimming New Zealand: A New Start

Thursday, September 8th, 2011

By David

I have just read the Auckland elite swimming delivery proposal. You can find it on the Auckland Swimming Association website. Their plan has assumed huge importance now that the old regime is on its way out. Something new, something better has to take its place. The Auckland proposal is a mighty fine place to start. Of course there will be details that can be debated. That is not really important. Whatever plan replaces the old, discredited regime, it must achieve the following.
It must have swimmer as its primary focus and it must re-enfranchise all New Zealand’s swimming coaches. For most of the past decade that liaison has been badly handled in New Zealand. Unfortunately any program that gets the swimmer/coach relationship wrong will normally fail to deliver the best results. In my first book, “Swim to the Top”, I used an important article written by Roger Robinson, the Professor of English at Victoria University in Wellington, to describe my “mission statement” of the swimmer/coach relationship. Here is a summary of my chapter on coaching from “Swim to the Top”:

“The British athletics team to the 1928 Olympic Games took no coaches with them to assist the athletes. But they did take five masseurs, one of them known for his severity as “Jack the Rubber”.
The dedication of Japan’s leading marathon runners to their great coach Nakamura, who died in 1985, went beyond their absolute trust in his advice, to a reverence for him as a spiritual leader and Master: “In the race, we call out the name of sensai (Master) and ask him to guide us,” they said.

The Rubber and the Master are extremes of status in the patchy and variegated history of the sports coach. At one pole, the coach is a menial servant, a mere sort of valet or stable hand for rubbing down the pedigree athlete; at the other, an infallible godlike leader. It is instructive to look at some aspects of the history of the sports coach, both to understand such extremist attitudes and why they arise, and to seek for a more enlightened and balanced view as modern sport finally reaches its maturity.

The five masseurs accompanying the 1928 Olympic team were typical of the kind of assistance which was deemed appropriate. There had been a brief period when British athletics had a full-time coaching adviser, the colourful ex-pro Walter Knox before the First World War, but it took until 1947 for coaching to begin to be taken seriously (and then against considerable resistance) with the appointment of Britain’s first permanent coach, Geoff Dyson, who later travelled to Canada to add to his achievement there.

Subsequent progress has been uneven and often still uneasy, as all coaches know, but the new era has certainly made progress. The bucket-and-sponge man, the degraded kind of groom or valet for gentlemen-racers, has almost disappeared. Sports coaching has erected a few of its own gods – Cerutty, Lydiard, Bowerman, Nakamura. So what, to return to my opening question, is the best balance between these two extremes?

It lies, I think, partly in the training of the coach, partly in the definition of the coach’s role. The “old pro” could teach only by repetition of his own skills as a practitioner and by requiring imitation. The new coach is a person trained not only as an expert in the skills and knowledge of the event, but in the skills of communicating that knowledge. This is an academic training, and gives to coaching the academic responsibilities of mastering a discipline and an area of knowledge, and of fostering these and passing them on.

To define the coach’s role, I should like to be dryly academic for a moment and define the word itself. Kotcz is a small place in Hungary, between Raab and Buda, which gave its name back in the fourteenth century to a special kind of vehicle, a “kotczi-wagon” or “kotczi-car”, used for passengers on the rugged local roads. The term passed across to England after a hundred years or so, and by 1556 was anglicised as “coach”. “Come, my coach,” calls Ophelia in Hamlet, and she was a lady who could certainly have used help with her swimming. In fact, the word began to take on the modern meaning of an instructor only in nineteenth-century Oxford and Cambridge universities, where by 1849 to “coach” a pupil meant to “prepare in special subjects”, to carry the student along, as it were, like a coach and horses, to the destination. Soon, sporting “coaches” appeared, first of all in rowing, the social leader of Victorian sports. The Oxford English Dictionary cites “…coaching from Mr Price’s steamboat”. Dickens in The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1870) keeps the sense of conveying passengers when he describes Mr Crisparkle, Minor Canon of the Cathedral and previously a private tutor in Latin and Greek, as lately “Coach upon the chief Pagan high roads.”

So a coach is someone with whom you travel, who is a means of conveying the student or athlete along a rough road to a difficult destination. There is a moral in the dry dust of the dictionary. If we think of coaching as a means of travel, we may perceive more clearly both the importance and the limits of the coach’s role. The coach has indispensable functions: to instruct, to motivate and to inculcate strategy, especially that long-term strategy which no young competitor can know by instinct. The coach should also observe clearly defined limits: not to intrude into the ultimate aloneness of the competitor nor to diminish the essentially individual satisfaction of sporting achievement. The coach’s achievement and satisfaction are equally real, equally valid, but different. The means of travel is not the traveller. I am made uneasy by coaches who speak of “we”, as if athlete and coach were a composite being.

Arthur Lydiard recently told the story of a question-and-answer session with a group of middle-aged joggers in Chicago. Arthur was asked “What is occurring today that will benefit US runners generally?” Someone answered “Most of the older coaches are retiring.” He meant that the satisfaction of running would be enhanced by the end of the rigid interval training and excessive inter-college competition, which were the means of many post-war American coaches subjugating the athlete to their own domination and to the success-record of the team, usually the College team. It is a relief to see their day passing. Even the antiquated British bucket-and-sponge method left more space for fulfilment for the individual who was actually competing. Arthur Lydiard viewed our recent past in swimming in exactly the same light. So do I.

As coaches gain more confidence in their status, and as more weight is given to individual fulfilment as against the team’s, or worse, the coach’s success, so we may hope that the proper role of the coach will be acknowledged. As a vehicle, as the essential means of transport along the high road, both for the growth of the individual engaged in sport and for the development of the body of knowledge associated with the event, the coach has a vital and satisfying role.

For what it is worth the relationship described here must be the core principle guiding the structure that replaces the Millennium regime. The Auckland proposal seems to include this set of values. It has the athlete as its centre of attention and views the coach relationship as a guide and facilitator of an elite athlete’s unique journey. Coaches, like me, are here to assist. David Wright, NZSCTA and its members must never attempt to run the show.

One other word of caution. I notice that the Athlete’s Federation has played a role in developing the Auckland plan. That is a good thing. They have much to offer. Their advice and protection is essential to a healthy sport. But beware, they are a trade union and like every similar organization can quickly develop ideas well above their station. By definition the Athlete’s Federation is a socialist collective in a world that performs best as free market, private enterprise. We would do well not to replace a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie with control by the proletariat. The journey here belongs individually to Melissa Ingram, Rhi Jeffrey, Hayley Palmer, Glen Snyders, Daniel Bell and their colleagues. It does not belong to, nor should it be dominated by, Rob Nicol, Heath Mills and Helen Norfolk.

Jan Cameron: Through The Looking Glass

Tuesday, September 6th, 2011

By David

I was in two minds whether to write this piece. Cameron has gone. She is yesterday’s news. In just a few days her career will be wrapping Friday’s fish and chip orders. Besides, how much time should you spend looking back? Isn’t the way ahead more important? Then I read a report on Cameron’s departure in today’s New Zealand Herald. Journalist, David Leggat, is clearly a Cameron sycophant. Perhaps he is hunting for a job with Cameron’s Sky Sport husband. However, good journalism does demand a higher standard of independence than he has shown here. There are four specific items of Leggat worship I would like to address. A balanced look at the Cameron years requires that his adulation does not pass as the truth. Here is Quote One.

“Look, in life you only really have to look in the mirror,” Cameron said yesterday. “That’s your judge of how you’ve done and what you’ve done. If you do that and you’re happy that’s all you have to be. I look in the mirror and can be pleased with what I’ve done.”

My principal complaint with Cameron is her coaching philosophy. She favours a central control method of delivering elite sport. I favour a diversified free enterprise method of delivery. Cameron’s coaching philosophy suits her personality. For years swimming in New Zealand revolved around Jan Cameron. It was all about her. The sport was paralyzed unless Cameron gave her approval. Swimwatch and the Ineson Report recorded hundreds of examples of swimmers in fear of Cameron’s wrath. Ineson labelled it accurately and for eternity as a “climate of fear”.
Leggat is right. Cameron would say, “Look, in life you only really have to look in the mirror,” The problem is, that’s all she did. Every decision was made in terms of its effect on her legacy, her power, her image. For a decade it was all really about Jan Cameron. Swimming in New Zealand became the coach’s journey. Swimmers were accessories to the main event taking place in Cameron’s mirror.

However on one topic she rolled up her sleeves, labelling the Ineson report as “rubbish”. “Poorly written, poorly done, rubbish,” she said. Elements within the 32-page report released in June were “speculation, opinion and unsubstantiated stuff put there as facts.”

A few months ago I wrote a Swimwatch story that said Ineson would be incapable of writing an honest report. He was too involved with the Wellington circle of sporting power to be truthful about the condition of elite swimming. I was wrong. I have already apologized to Ineson in Swimwatch and do so again now. I can see why he is an Olympic Gold medallist. He does have courage. He reported on Swimming New Zealand honestly and without favour. He did our country proud in Montreal, Canada and again when he tabled this Ineson Report. For Cameron to turn around and dismiss Ineson’s work as “rubbish” is rich beyond belief. Of course it is typical of the dismissive attitude she takes to anyone who crosses her path. Yet another of my county’s best athletes has just earned the Cameron label of “rubbish.”

I do love the bit where Cameron accuses the Ineson Report of being “poorly written”; this from the woman who sent us the following gem from the New Delhi Commonwealth Games. “I believe that this was a successful campaign with further learning’s which can and will help us even more going forward:” I imagine few of you will have read a worse hatchet job of the English language. Who in this world ever told Jan Cameron that the verb learning could be used as a noun? In comparison Ineson’s report is positively Shakespearian.

“One point which clearly hurts is that Cameron is adamant the sport is in far better shape at top level than it was when she began. If it were not, then you might accept a need for change more easily.”

We are forever hearing this tale. But is it true? We know that Cameron and Byrne are masters of spin, so I thought I’d test the assertion. Let’s see if Leggat is a real journalist who tests the information he is given or has he simply parroted back Cameron spin. So here is what I did. I took each current World and New Zealand swimming record and calculated how much the New Zealand records were behind. I then calculated that as a percentage. I found that the current New Zealand men’s records are 4.5% behind the World records. The women’s records are 4.9% behind. Eleven years ago New Zealand’s records were 4.6% and 4.9% behind. Effectively there has been no change. Cameron tells us the sport is in “far better shape” and it is just not true. Byrne says we are in danger of going back twenty years. He must mean back to the time when Loader, Moss and Kingsman were winning Olympic medals, when Simcic was breaking world records and Kent, Bray, Langrell, Jeffs and others were winning world short course equivalent championship medals.

I was surprised at how far we are behind the world. Cameron has had plenty time and consumed huge taxpayer resources and we are still over 4% behind the world. Given that the American Swim Coaches Association believes 3% per annum is a good rate of improvement – we are about 16 months of improvement behind the world’s best. Unfortunately the Olympic Games start in 11 months. That’s called being up Cameron’s creek without a paddle.

Cameron’s passion is firmly intact. It’s just a suspicion, but it’s unlikely swimming has seen the last of her. The sport cannot afford to turn its back on people with her skill, energy and knowledge. “Now a door is closing, I’m sure [others will] open,” she added.

Jan Cameron – you have used our time, you have exploited the talent of our best athletes, you have spent our money – and you have failed to deliver. Your nepotism and rough shod management has caused embarrassment and hurt. We are done with you and those who supported your Millennium folly. We are moving on to a future that, I hope, does not include you. Leave swimming alone and I promise Swimwatch will never mention your name again.

Jan Cameron Resigns

Sunday, September 4th, 2011

By David

She has gone; her coaching philosophy is discredited and in ruins; a failure. She spent around $10 million and earned nothing; not a single medal at a World LC Championships or Olympic Games. Of course I am pleased to see her go. Not because I have anything against Jan Cameron, the human being. I have only spoken to her twice. On both occasions the conversation barely got passed the, “Hello, it’s cold (or warm) today” stage. No, this was never personal. This was because the philosophy she sold Swimming New Zealand and SPARC was never going to work. Jan Cameron was the architect, but SPARC and Swimming New Zealand gave her the resources and the power. They are as guilty as she is for the human and financial waste that is the legacy of the Cameron years. Miskimmin and Coulter were told. They were told by Swimwatch and they backed Cameron.

On November 26, 2006 the following story appeared in Swimwatch.

In the last few weeks the Florida High School Swimming Championships have been held and Jan Cameron has been appointed to head New Zealand’s high performance swimming effort. Readers outside New Zealand are probably not aware that sport in New Zealand is a social welfare beneficiary equal to any of the state’s unemployed, infirm or uneducated.

In Florida I was invited to an after match dinner paid for by two working families while Cameron pondered how to best employ her career’s advisors, nutritionalists, physiotherapists, masseurs, ear specialists, doctors and orthopedic specialists. I’m sure you get the point. The differences reflect the contrast between a planned socialist attack on world swimming and a high school curriculum option alongside Chemistry and American History. My God, the resources of a nation at her disposal and Cameron can do no better than our local high school; one win. She’s made some pretty big promises about Beijing. I’m beginning to think Florida will beat her there too.

And of course she did lose in Beijing and Florida with Ryan Lochte and Dara Torres did not. Then in December 2006 the following quote appeared in Swimwatch.

The best part of all this is the quote from one of New Zealand’s “elite” swimmers. It is typical of what they are learning in the era of Jan Cameron’s leadership; any excuse will do. “We trained and trained for the Commonwealth Games so we were pretty flat for our next meet.” Your next meet, whoever you are, was the World Championships. What on God’s earth are you doing going to a World Championships, representing a proud little country, feeling “pretty flat”. Why is it only now, when it has cost you money, that you realize the World Championships are pretty important? The fault of course lies in those who lead whoever said this. To Cameron and the bureaucrats in Wellington, is this quote what you have brought the sport of swimming to in New Zealand?

Whoever said this needs to be told, “If you went to a World Championships, feeling pretty flat, not realizing it was an important event and admit that to us now, I’m afraid you do not deserve to be funded, you have not earned that money. And those who taught you all this should resign.”

After battling for five years to have those in power recognize the wantonness of Cameron’s ideology, her passing is most welcome. It has come five years too late – but better late than never. However there is a major concern.

World history has demonstrated many times that when tightly controlled dictatorships end, a power vacuum is created. Chaos and hurt can occur until a sound system of governance takes its place. When tight Communist rule lost control in the USSR, there was a period of near anarchy while the nation’s leaders sought to build a democratic, free market system in its place. We do not want to see the same chaos occur in Swimming New Zealand.

Jan Cameron has ruled over her empire as effectively as any Soviet dictator. She has gone and she has left behind a power vacuum. Good people are on hand to build a free market system of elite swimming in New Zealand. But there is a road block. There are the remnants of the Coulter Board and a CEO, Mike Byrne, who have no idea what we are talking about. For the love of God you guys, get out of the bloody way so those who do know how this sport should work in a democratic, free market environment can get on and put a new structure in place; a structure to replace the old Cameron single party dictatorship.

If Butler and Byrne stay where they are and stubbornly prevent new systems replacing the old, then the chaos, they predict, will occur. Responsibility for that will rest with them. But they will not be hurt. The people who will pay for their obstinacy will be the swimmers who have been cut adrift by Cameron’s departure. We have lobbied for five years to see the end of this woman. She has gone now. We have a responsibility to every swimmer in New Zealand to ensure that a new system of governance fills the vacuum she has left behind. That system will be different, it will be tougher, it will be less comfortable and it will be better. It will be called democratic, free enterprise. It will be New Zealand rugged individualism.

Ross Butler – I know you have no idea what I am talking about. And even if you did, you have voted against the sporting philosophy proposed here for all your time on the Swimming New Zealand Board. The departure of Jan Cameron makes you a road block to progress. For as long as you stay, there is a real danger those who do know the structures that should best replace the dictatorship you and Coulter and Cameron built are not going to have the power to put democratic structures in its place. Please leave now and take your six other Directors with you. There is work to be done.