Them And Us

Swimming New Zealand is a world of inequality; the haves and the have nots; the privileged and the deprived; the rich and the poor; Robin Hood and the Sherriff of Nottingham. The Wellington office of Swimming New Zealand spends thousands of dollars spreading “One Team” propaganda and millions on promoting avarice and division. There should be no misunderstanding; the New Zealand Olympic Trials are about far more than 34 swimming races. There is more at stake than selection for the London 2012 Olympic Games.

Swimming New Zealand has never been “One Team”. Swimming New Zealand is two teams; their team and the rest of us. The gulf between the two is as deep and wide as the Grand Canyon; certainly as stark as anything that will separate national teams at the Olympic Games.

The New Zealand Olympic Trial meet is a competition of ideologies. Good will compete against bad. Private enterprise coached athletes will contest each event with the fat cats from the state funded socialist empire at Auckland’s Millennium Institute. Those of us who have done it ourselves, who have paid our own bills, will contest the championships against those who have had government welfare checks pay for their swimming training, their gym membership, their massage, their medical bills and their lives. Swimmers who have bought their own uniforms and paid for their entry fees into the championship will pit their skills with those who have had the New Zealand taxpayer meet those costs.

I was disappointed to learn that Gary Hurring had sold out and joined the empire. The men who taught Gary to swim and employed him in his early coaching career would never have made that decision. They valued character, independence and strength. However, Gary has made his choice. So now there will be three “socialist” state coaches preparing swimmers for the New Zealand Olympic Trials, Hurring, Talbot-Cameron and Regan. Hell bent on beating them should be every other coach in the country.

The only way to bring about change is to beat the socialist swimmers in a swimming pool. Perhaps then Byrne and Butler will wake up to the reality that private enterprise competition does it best. Perhaps then the fortune being spent on the cosseted and secluded Millennium few will be distributed across the country according to ability and performance. Perhaps then a good swimmer can be financially rewarded for elite performance wherever they live. Perhaps then the blatant poaching of good New Zealand swimmers will stop. Perhaps then the system will be fair.

Byrne and Butler will fight reform all the way. The last thing they want is the rewards for effort being distributed to private enterprise coaches. They want to be in control of an empire. They want to “own” New Zealand’s best swimmers and three average swim coaches and call them their Aqua Blacks team. The opium of ownership is their drug of choice. They have no idea what’s involved in winning a swimming race. They know plenty about accumulating power and status. They have spent a life time doing just that.

Beating the state funded elite will not be easy. For ten years the best talent in the country has been pillaged by the national organisation. Using our money Swimming New Zealand has cherry picked the most talented. Very, very few of our country’s most talented were allowed to flourish in their natural environments, but were instead taken under the state’s wing and made to conform. Using our money Swimming New Zealand has laid waste to our sport. Using our money Swimming New Zealand has killed internal competition. Thank God for those determined few, especially those from Invercargill, who have stood firm against Mike Byrne’s socialism. Any economist or good business person will tell you that a strong industry is best founded on a strong, competitive domestic market. Swimming New Zealand has never understood the importance of domestic competition. Instead they sought and they bought a state funded monopoly. And it hasn’t worked. Their monopoly has never won anything in a decent international swim meet.

Swimming New Zealand has however made it difficult for us to beat them in a domestic competition. Swimming New Zealand’s team has so many financial advantages. There they will be at the Trials, dressed in their silver fern uniforms that we paid for, sitting in their privileged seats beside the New Zealand selectors, swimming with entry fees paid for by my parent’s registration fees, training in lanes bought with my taxes. But if money made you fast, no Kenyan would ever have won an Olympic track race. Swimming New Zealand’s swimmers have had access to all the resources of this sport. But the rest of us operate in a private enterprise environment best suited to winning. The way we do it is harder and more difficult. But it is better. Nine times out of ten, in this clash of ideologies, private enterprise independence prevails.

I am not aware of how many Swimwatch readers will be at the New Zealand trials. However, if you are in Auckland in the last week of March and if you do call in to watch the trials the swimmers you support will matter more than normal. If a swimmer from New Plymouth or West Auckland takes down a Millennium swimmer in the women’s 800, that’s a victory for all of us. When the women’s 200 and 400 medleys are won by a swimmer from Invercargill, New Zealand swimming will be that little bit stronger.  And every time a Millennium swimmer wins a race, the fabric of the sport in New Zealand will be damaged.

The management of elite swimming in New Zealand needs to be changed. The best way to do that is to beat the socialists in the swimming pool. Show them that their ideology is wrong. Show them that there is a better way. Every Swimming New Zealand defeat is a victory for swimming in New Zealand.