FINA And Swimming New Zealand

I have just read the following report in the November 13 2011 issue of the New Zealand Sunday Star Times.


World Aquatics body Fina is to contact Swimming New Zealand over long-term administrative hostility.  Executive director Cornel Marculescu has confirmed Fina will be seeking information over prolonged governance issues blighting Kiwi swimming.   Extensive problems have included calls for the Swimming NZ board to resign en masse, debate over potential constitutional breaches by senior officials and high performance structural inadequacies.  But it appears Swimming NZ has not communicated its difficulties to Fina.  “Fina is not aware of any problems within Swimming New Zealand,” Marculescu said.  “We will contact Swimming New Zealand asking for any information.”  Swimming NZ general manager Mike Byrne said he was not in a position to make public comment.

Recently Swimming New Zealand has had all the openness of a 1960s Soviet Politburo. Normally sources close to Swimwatch find out what’s going on and tell me all they know. I’ve told you before about my contact in Australia who knows a Swimming New Zealand staff member and a close friend in Italy who has a relative involved in the SPARC organization. I asked them for more information about this item in the Sunday Star Times. All they could tell me is that no one is talking. My Italian friend did say that she had heard that SPARC had influenced the Board of Swimming New Zealand to reappoint Butler and Wrightson as independent Directors. SPARC’s pressure was applied, she thought, after the Board had initially voted against the reappointment of Butler and Wrightson.

I realize all this is not much information to go on, but if it is true the Board of Swimming New Zealand and SPARC have acted in clear breach of FINA Rule BL13. Certainly the rumours I was hearing make it worthwhile laying a complaint with FINA and having FINA determine the truth. Because, if there is merit in the accusations being made, SPARC and the Board of Swimming New Zealand are leading this sport into a very dark place indeed.

Here therefore is the complaint I will be sending to FINA tomorrow morning. It sets out the information I have on some very corrupt deals in the Swimming New Zealand and SPARC Board Rooms.



This complaint asserts that at the Board Meeting of Swimming New Zealand held on Sunday 6 November 2011 the New Zealand government agency known as SPARC exerted undue financial and political pressure in order to alter a constitutional vote of the Swimming New Zealand Board and secure the reappointment of two independent directors to the Board. This complaint argues that the political and financial pressure applied by SPARC in order to alter a proper vote by the Swimming New Zealand Board was in breach of FINA Rule BL13.

FINA Rule BL13 reads as follows:


By Laws

When the autonomy of a NF is being, or is, compromised the FINA Executive is entitled to take any appropriate decisions in order to protect the benefits of Aquatic Sports in the Country or the Sport Country of a NF. These measures include the suspension or the expulsion from the FINA membership if the constitution, law or other regulations in force in the Country or Sport Country of the NF concerned, or any act by any governmental or other body provokes the activity of the NF or the making or expression of its will to be hampered. The procedure shall be as established in FINA C 12.

In particular this complaint contends that the action taken by SPARC is in breach of the section of this rule that says, “These measures include the suspension or the expulsion from the FINA membership if any act by any governmental or other body provokes the activity of the NF or the making or expression of its will to be hampered.”

In this case the Board of Swimming New Zealand had expressed its will and had declined to reappoint two independent directors. That “will” of the Board was then “hampered” by the intervention of a “governmental” agency.


  1. The Annual General Meeting of Swimming New Zealand was held on Sunday 30 October 2011.
  2. At that Annual Meeting two new members were elected to the Board – Suzanne Speer and Nevill Sutton. The two new Board members were joined by four returning elected Board members Mark Berge, Ron Clarke, Alison Fitch and Humphrey Pullon.
  3. The following Sunday, 6 November 2011, the Board of Swimming New Zealand met for the purpose of considering the appointment of two independent Directors to the Board and to appoint a Chairman of the Board. The business of this first Board Meeting following an Annual Meeting is covered by Rule10 of the Swimming New Zealand Constitution. Rule10 says:

10.1 The board shall comprise of:

(a) Six elected Directors.

(b) The elected Directors may appoint up to two appointed Directors on the basis of specific knowledge or skills, for a term no longer than two years. Upon expiry of that term the Board if it thinks fit may reappoint such Directors for a further term.

10.2 President and Vice President

(a) The members of the Board shall immediately after the AGM, or as soon as possible in the event of an extraordinary vacancy, convene a meeting to elect the President and Vice President.

  1. Two independently appointed Directors were seeking the approval of this first Board meeting to be reappointed for a further two year period – Jane Wrightson and Ross Butler. Whether either of these Directors should have been seeking reappointment is open to serious doubt. Ross Butler had already served three, two year terms (six years) on the Board of Swimming New Zealand and Jane Wrightson had served two, two year terms (four years). It appears conclusive that the reappointment of both Directors therefore was in contravention of Rule10.1(b) which restricts independent Directors to two terms of two years. However, whether it is constitutional or not, both these Directors were seeking the approval of the new Board for further terms as independent Directors.
  2. Ross Butler was also seeking the approval of the Board Meeting to be appointed Chairman of the Swimming New Zealand Board and President of Swimming New Zealand.
  3. The meeting voted on the reappointment of Wrightson and Butler and on the appointment of Butler as Chairman/President. All the appointment remits were lost by four votes to three. The four elected members voting against the motions to reappoint Wrightson and Butler as the two independent Directors were Speer, Sutton, Pullon and Fitch. The three Board members voting for the appointments were Berge, Clarke and Wrightson. It needs to be noted that Butler was absent from this meeting.
  4. Once the vote of reappointment to the Board and appointment to the position of Chairman/President was lost, the three members who had voted for the appointments and the two SPARC Board observers (Kerry McDonald and Nelson Cull) left the meeting. I understand they left after expressing their disgust at the appointments being rejected by the Board.
  5. Fifteen minutes later the three directors and the two SPARC observers returned to the meeting. I understand that Nelson Cole proceeded to lecture and harangue the four negative voters and ordered them to change their vote. I understand there was a clear threat made that SPARC’s funding was at risk if the votes of the dissenting Board Members were not changed and the appointments proposed in these remits were not confirmed by the Board in a revote. The discussion took twenty minutes and was clearly a case of governmental/political interference in the management of a sporting organization. Cole called the Board dysfunctional and said he would report to SPARC that it was not capable of managing the sport. He would recommend that the current Review of the sport be discontinued. These were all clear threats to the Board of Swimming New Zealand by a New Zealand government agency; a clear case of intimidation using the power of the state.
  6. A second vote was ordered. Three of the four dissenting Directors folded and changed their vote to approve the appointments. Only Suzanne Speer continued to vote against the appointments.

10.  I believe that in the fifteen minutes the Board Directors and SPARC observers left the meeting they called Peter Miskimmin, the CEO of SPARC. I believe Miskimmin ordered his observers to bring the Board of Swimming New Zealand into line and to ensure the dissenting Directors fold to SPARC’s political pressure. I believe Cole and McDonald followed those instructions.


  1. The actions of SPARC and the Swimming New Zealand Board are a clear breach of FINA Rule BL13. Political interference of this nature has no place in a democratic society.
  2. FINA Rule12 covers the remedies available to FINA in the case of breaches of FINA’s rules.
  3. In this case I recommend FINA order SPARC to remove its two observers (McDonald and Cull) from the Swimming New Zealand Board. They have breached all standards of good behaviour and have applied powers they have no right to exercise.
  4. I recommend that FINA order the Swimming New Zealand Board to reinstate the original negative vote of the Board declining the appointments of the two independent Directors (Wrightson and Butler).
  5. I do not recommend that a second revote is ordered. The SPARC threat is still present and continues to prevent a fair and honest Board vote.
  6. I recommend FINA order the Swimming New Zealand Board to reinstate the vote declining the appointment of Butler to the position of Chairman/President.
  7. I also recommend that FINA lobby the New Zealand Government with a view to having Miskimmin removed from the office of CEO of SPARC on the grounds of gross misconduct. I understand that Miskimmin has said since the Board meeting that the requirement for “stability” of Board membership justified SPARC’s dictatorial intervention in this case. An individual holding these views has no place in sport’s management. The end does not justify the means.


  1. The behaviour of SPARC and the Swimming New Zealand Board in this case cannot be allowed to pass. It is important to FINA that the sport of swimming in New Zealand is run by an organization that is responsible to the world body.
  2. SPARC are not responsible to FINA. Their actions in this case need to be addressed by the sport’s governing body.


  • Rhi Jeffrey

    All I’m gonna say is it’s about f*cking time.

  • Tom

    Just when you thought the SNZ story couldn’t become any more, well, storied.

    On a brighter note, congratulations to Melissa Ingram.

  • James T

    Welcome back David. Nothing like a return with a bang.

    Ah, I was wondering what had precipitated FINA getting involved. We had also heard rumours about the Board meeting and the continued stand-over tactics of McDonald and Cull, and while it is about time FINA took notice, what an absolute indictment on our governing body.

    David, THEY CAN’T DO THAT. The SPARC advisors cannot come in and force a duly elected Board to change their vote. So the three that voted for Butler and Wrightson decided to be cry-babies. And why the hell is Wrightson being allowed to vote for herself? Because in fact, 4 out of 6 elected Board members voted against Butler and Wrightson. And I mentioned this before, but I don’t know what games Humphrey is playing, because remember, according to their Board minutes before the AGM he supposedly seconded their motion to support Butler’s nomination for a further term and as Chair. And then he votes against him after the AGM at this Board meeting. And then he caves in. WTF!! And in the end, the only one left standing and prepared to stand up to McDonald and Cull is Suzanne Speer, one of the new ones.

    Also David, the two appointed directors are not independent directors. The Constitution only stipulates that they be “appointed” directors, not necessarily “independent”, or by convention and custom, “independent from swimming”. The Constitution also says that the Board “may appoint” up to two appointed directors. In this case, by voting to not appoint Butler and Wrightson they do not have to replace them.

    What a shambles. We now have a Chairman running this sport who is not only unelected by the membership, but also it seems, unelected by his very Board. His appointment is unconstitutional having secured a 4th term, which is 2 terms beyond what is allowed in the Constitution. He has been there for 6 years, despite lying to the newspapers by saying that he had only been there for 4 years. Also remember, he has been a part of all of the bad decision-making of SNZ in this time. AND HE KNOWS NOTHING ABOUT OUR SPORT.

    So who running swimming knows anything about swimming? Butler … No. Wrightson … No. Byrne … double No. McDonald … Nope. Cull … Nah. Miskimmin … Nope.

    Bloody hell!

  • NSS Parent

    Hello again. I was just wondering, just as a side issue, there have been rumours flying around yesterday at the Ocean series Auckland Harbour Crossing that Swimming New Zealand is offering prize-money at our Open Water Champs in Taupo. Is that right? Can they do that?

  • David

    That Taupo thing is terrible. Byrne offers prize money to attract Australians to our selection meet, potentially preventing New Zealand swimmers attending the world Olympic selection trials – at the same time as Cameron’s ex husband, Don Talbot, kicks New Zealanders out of the finals of their selection meets.

  • Sensible Swimming

    OMG … This leaves me completely lost for words. If what you are reporting here is remotely close to correct then we are in a very dark place indeed. I am stunned.

  • Curious and Curioser

    NSS Parent. I heard Phillip Rush on Deaker (Sunday about 4:12 pm if any of you wish to listen to the week on demand) talking about this. He said they are offering significant prize money to ensure that there is a stronger field in Taupo.

    This is wrong at so many levels.

    1. SNZ has budgeted, presumably because they are ‘broke’ to double user pays contributions collected from our own swimmers this financial year. All open water swimmers have to pay their own way to attend any meets overseas because there is no world ranking system and presumably because one of them is Cara Baker who SNZ do not seem to like and the other has a last name of Radford. And those payments do not even get shown in the User Pays portion of the ledger because they do not get paid through SNZ!
    2. Being too broke to pay for our own swimmers SNZ now wants to pay money from public money granted by SPARC and intended to support our own swimmers preparing for London to overseas swimmers! What is going on here?
    3. It gets worse…to qualify to swim at the last chance meet in Portugal (at their own expense) our open water swimmers must be either the first or second NZ’ers at Taupo and also ranked in the top 5 at Taupo. By using NZ money to attract overseas swimmers SNZ is diminishing the chances of our own NZ swimmers being able to meet that pre-qualificatiojn criteria from our own championships to then spend their own money to qualify to attend a last chance meet to qualify for the Olympics!

    Confused? Shouldn’t be, this has the fingerprints of Koru the bird brain all over it. It is wrong at every level. Since when does an amateur sport offer prize money at a National Championships effectively doubling as a selection meet with the express purpose of attracting foreign competitors into the field to diminish the prospects of our own athletes? The Americans do not even let foreigners swim in their open water selection meet. Can you imagine the Australians doing that – our pool swimmers will not even be able to swim in the semi-finals of the Aussie Champs next year because it is the Aussie Olympic selection meet, and what do we do – we use NZL money to attract overseas swimmers, efectively making the National Champs a Grand Prix and making it more difficult for our own swimmers to qualify? Tossers!

  • Sensible Swimming

    Tom – I agree, big congratulations to Melissa Ingram. She seems to shine when she is free from the toxic surrounds of the SNZ HP world. She is showing great character traveling on her own and performing as well as she is.

  • NSS Parent

    Curious and Curiouser. Thank you for that. I have just listened to the talkback of Deaker on Sunday. Please tell me that they can’t get away with this. Surely not.

  • chhill

    If Butler was “appointed” (I use the term loosely) as chair on Sunday 6 November, can someone please explain the article in the Herald on the previous day, where he is clearly presented as SNZ’s new chairman (read opening line)? He was not even a member of the board at that point. Clearly he knew something the rest of us didn’t. Does he list crystal ball gazing as one of the countless skills on his CV?
    He has certainly been using the media to leverage himself and drive his agenda. Sneaky, underhanded, inappropriate, with incorrect information, call it what you will, it’s certainly a clever ploy. By contrast the silence from the opposition has been deafening. But I guess any sort of response would be seen as negativity or sour grapes for what is supposed to be a “fresh start”.

  • Brian

    Been reading for a long time from afar and hope that the tide is genuinely turning away from the cronyism favoured by the sports politicians and towards the real swimming community.

    Sad to say that you aren’t the only ones on the planet that have found yourselves in this sorry state.

    Please wish the rest of us well as you claw youselves back up and we are still looking for the light!

  • Northern Swimmer

    Welcome Back David,

    I had expected your first post to be on the experience of Singapore, or the WAQ success over the weekend (Nice work Rhi Rhi and Justin in the 50 Free), however instead we are greeted by that.
    Quite simply – They. Cannot. Do. That.
    What is the point of having a group make decisions if they are going to be told to keep trying until they reach the ‘right’ decision. We may as well save the cost of airfares and the Mirimar golf club boardrooms and tell Butler to do as he sees fit.

    And on the NZ Herald article that Chhill quotes – there is no author listed. It is purely a puff piece for Butler. I had not realised he could write so well. Or has SNZ paid someone to write it?

  • Beth Malyon

    Would someone from Swimming New Zealand please tell me that none of this is true.

  • David

    The complaint was emailed to FINA a few minutes ago. I will post any response on Swimwatch.

  • Ex-Swimmer parent

    Although it’s a few years since I was involved as a parent of a competitive swimmer, I was very involved at the time and continue to read Swimwatch with great interest and look at results of people I know.

    I thought Kane Radford was badly treated in 2008 in regard to World Champs/Olympic selection, but this news is appalling. How can a National selection meet work this way? It’s immoral and indicative of the way SNZ feel they can carry on, especially with as it’s not a 2 way street with the Aussies. Take a leaf out of their book – protect your own.

    I’m disgusted.

  • Beth Malyon

    A full 24 hours have passed since my genuine request for someone from Swimming New Zealand to pass a comment telling us that what David has written is not true.

    Either no one from Swimming New Zealand reads Swimwatch (which I do not think is true from earlier posts David has made about his work being read from computers which ID as being from Swimming Zealand), or maybe what you have written is correct.

    I still struggle to believe that the level of interference you have catalogued here is real. I want to believe it is not, but this now feels like it may not go away that easily. Surely what you have detailed cannot be right? Please someone tell me it’s not.

  • NSS Parent

    I know that it might be stating the obvious, but surely if SNZ have money to throw around as prize-money, wouldn’t that be better spent helping our swimmers to get to Portugal for the Olympic qualifier in the first place?

  • A step to far

    I wonder how the regional former renegades are feeling now.

    If they had not withdrawn their remits to theAGM, and assuming they had held together and passed them, then Swimming New Zealand would today have 2 new appointed “independent” Directors, and a swimmer would be President and Chair.

    I would have thought thehonourable thing to have done for

    (a) the three Board members who were on the losing side initially who could not support the decision of the Board would have been to have resigned (but perhaps knowledge that you have the public funder on your side changes the ethics of the normal decison);

    and failing that
    (b) the three who initially voted against the resolutions but who subsequently got strong-armed (if your recount of the events is correct – and have to say that as long as I have been following your site your info is batting pretty high) into supporting the rerun vote should have resigned as they should have recognised that in doing so they would lose their moral mandate from the people who had elected them.

    This story has to be the worst example I can think of of a Govrnment funding agency hi-jacking the operations of a sport in NZ. This has to be way worse than canoeing.

  • PK

    Prize money for any sporting event is a great idea!

    If a sports basic priorities have been meet then I reckon go for it, put a MILLION $$ up. Unfortunately this is not the case. NZ Swimmers don’t even have suitable starting blocks to compete on at trials 2012. These blocks would give alot of NZ swimmers from around the country an opportunity to achieve the Olympic standard for next year. If you know swimming, then you would have to be a complete idiot to disregard the dramatic disadvantage our swimmers face next year without these blocks. Starting block investment COST = 70K approx. (Cost of Vanguard and the 2,3,4th ??? review for 2010/11 100’s of thousands of $$) I have been asking ASA and SNZ for these blocks for over 12 months!

    The SNZ power brokers would rather spend money on a selected squad of swimmers (some of which are not Aqua Blacks) and send them on overseas camps at the cost of tens of thousands of dollars (with no guarantees) and they will then “review” the benefits, yet we still won’t have starting blocks at trials next year and we know factually that there is a guaranteed swimming TIME improvement from competing on them??? This is really doing my head in!

    I will also guarantee that swimmers and coaches of Open swimmers (outside of the SPARK funded program) who desperately need LC won’t be offered access to the space left sitting at MISH for the 1-2 months while those swimmers are in camp overseas. Can I also stress that this is not an attack or the fault of the HPC coaches, or a shot at the swimmers attending these camps, I merely want to stress that SNZ have zero foresight in elite sport event management .If you spend 1.6 million a year to get results, and you wanted to succeed then you would expect that the governing body would want to put on a world class opportunity and event. Olympics is the biggest event for our sport, Our sporting body (SNZ) owe it to the swimmers, coaches, volunteers, officials and the tax payers to at least create world class conditions at ALL TIMES for our swimmers to competing in. The last 3 Open events (2011 SC Wellington, 2010 SC trials Tauranga, and World trials 2010 Auckland) were well below “World Class\ events. (and still no blocks)

    SNZ tried hard to ban me from swimming for NZ many times, (as you have mentioned David) but I can live with that. As a coach I do my best and create opportunities for the swimmers, without assistance from SNZ. And I can live with that too. To be honest, I really don’t give a shit what SNZ, the Regions or SPARK do with the sport (its been stuffed at the political level for decades anyway), no dealt they will end up getting something’s right and something’s wrong and we will all have a different prospective depending on the level of sport we participate or work in. (NEWS FLASH – the sport is going to continue)

    What I can’t stand thou is seeing pathetic power games hold back the performances of ALL our athletes. (not just the choosen few) These swimmers dedicate their youth and early adulthood to the dedication and challenge of competing for NZ. These athletes are future leaders, role models business leaders for our communities. We are involved in the sport because we want to serve these swimmers, our jobs are to create as many opportunities for these athletes to achieve at the highest level. we all know the benefits to the country when the country wins….LIFE GETS BETTER! So ALL I would want SNZ, the Regions and SPARK to do is “on behalf of our swimmers” PLEASE make sure you deliver on the mission statement that attends all SNZ events. The SNZ container says something like ‘Yet another world class event” By investing in the sports infrastructure “like Olympic Omega starting blocks”, SNZ would, for the first time in decades make a long term benefit for ALL our swimmers now and in the future…Once the performance comes, we won’t give a shit about who is or isn’t the chairman of SNZ – we will be focused on enjoying the sport again!

  • James T

    Paul (PK) I presume. You are right, that prize-money for sporting events is good, certainly in terms of publicity, exposure for sponsors, for a sport’s profile, for winners obviously. We have grand prix type events all the time where prize-money is offered. From little club meets right through to FINA World Cup events, there is prize-money and inducements all the time.

    But for a selection meet or qualifier? Absolutely not, and most certainly where it can get in the way of, influence, or obstruct selection. It would seem in this case, prize-money could hamper the very integrity of the meet in terms of fairness and equity. Philip Rush says as such, that the prize-money was to effectively strengthen a field and presumably make it “tougher” for our swimmers. That is hardly fair or equitable. And while I have no doubt that Kane Radford and Cara Baker would still get through, potentially a 2nd Kiwi male and female swimmer could have their chances of getting through severely hampered.

    No, I tell you what has happened here. Yet more SNZ comedy and farce, with Mike Byrne coming up with another little scheme, and where there is not one sane voice saying “Hang on a minute. That’s a stupid idea. We can’t do that, and we won’t do that.” Isn’t it a shame there hasn’t been more of that lately? Maybe Suzanne Speer will pick this up. She seems to be the only one standing their ground lately.