One On One Submission

By David

I have been asked to prepare a submission and attend a meeting of the Swimming New Zealand Review Committee. Set out below is a copy of the document I propose to submit to the representatives of the Committee. Your comments and suggestions would be most welcome.



Philosophical Background

It is instructive to look at some aspects of the political philosophy surrounding the administration of sports, both to understand why individual sports are different from team sports and why the management of sport is different from the management style relevant in other major sectors of society.

In a compassionate society there are very good reasons for the state to care for its weaker members – its young, to provide them with an education – its sick, to provide them with medical attention – its elderly to provide them with care. A socialist approach in these areas is appropriate and proper.

However international individual sport does not involve the care of society’s weakest members. In this area we need a method of management and control that is best at nurturing the sporting world’s strongest and most able. Historical evidence and current empirical examples unanimously support the view that the philosophy known as “libertarianism” produces the best results. In particular the version of libertarianism called “consequential libertarianism” employed to govern swimming in the United States works best. The United States has won 214 (44%) of the 489 gold medals awarded for all the Olympic Games swimming events. In swimming, at least, private enterprise competition has consistently outperformed centrally managed socialist programs.

Libertarianism includes diverse beliefs, all advocating strict limits to government activity and sharing the goal of maximizing individual liberty and political freedom. Consequential libertarianism refers to the view that liberty leads to favorable consequences such as prosperity, efficiency, or superior performance and for those reasons should be supported, advocated, and maximized.

The Last Decade in Swimming New Zealand

In spite of having an clearly identifiable federal constitution the past decade in Swimming New Zealand has been characterized by a high degree of central control – especially in the management of international competitive swimming. All the financial resources made available by the state have been spent in one program, at one pool, by one Head Coach, Jan Cameron. This sector of the sport has been run lock, stock and barrel by Swimming New Zealand. Socialism; the method of management best suited to caring for the needs of the nation’s weakest members, has been applied to providing for it’s strongest.

  • For ten years SNZ has actively poached swimmers from regional clubs using the lure of access to state funds. Currently the Swimming New Zealand website asks swimmers based in New Zealand regions to apply for membership of the Millennium Institute and leave their home club and coach. Swimming New Zealand happily indulges in a practice that would bring severe censure to any other club.
  • Only swimmers at the state funded Millennium Institute can receive individual financial assistance.
  • Last month Swimming New Zealand extended its control of international swimming by establishing a Wellington elite training facility. Given the current Review of Swimming this was a disgraceful piece of political deception. It is a clear attempt by Swimming New Zealand to control and influence the outcome of the Review process.
  • New Zealand’s regional coaches have abdicated responsibility for producing champion swimmers. Coaching international swimmers is something New Zealand does up at the Millennium Institute. As a result the standard of coaching in New Zealand has seriously declined.  Fine domestic coaches like Lincoln Hurring, Ross Anderson, Duncan Laing, Hilton Brown and Brett Naylor have gone and they have not been replaced.
  • Swimmers attending the Millennium Institute have been treated with privilege and license not enjoyed by their club counterparts; special silver fern uniforms, exclusive seating at national championships, select meet entry procedures – and none of it earned.
  • Elite swimmers refusing to attend the Millennium Institute have been excluded from New Zealand team meetings and generally treated as inferior to their Millennium based colleagues.
  • Competition; the life blood of international success in an individual sport, has been sucked out of swimming in New Zealand.
  • With the exception of Alison Fitch, who has considerable management shortcomings, no one on the Board of Swimming New Zealand has any significant product knowledge. Many of the organization’s bad decisions reflect poor swimming input.
  • The current method of preparing elite swimmers produces a very real them and us environment; the haves and the have not’s, the privileged and the poor, Robin Hood and the Sheriff of Nottingham. “One team” will never exist in that unfair environment. We, the grass roots of swimming, will make sure of that.


For the money applied (maybe as high as $16million) that is simply not good enough. Centralism and socialism have had their day. It hasn’t worked. More of the same is simply not an option. So what should happen?

The Next Decade in Swimming New Zealand          

Socialism in the management of elite swimming needs to be replaced by consequential libertarianism. New Zealand needs to get the state (Swimming New Zealand) out of the management and coaching of elite swimming. Competition needs to be restored as the driving force behind the preparation of elite swimmers. A private enterprise club based structure needs to be encouraged. Constitutional federalism needs to be strengthened; not abandoned.

How should this be done?

Fortunately we have examples to copy; the management of elite swimming in the United States and the program Arthur Lydiard used so successfully to put Finnish middle distance running back on top of the world.

The United States National Team is coached by approximately thirty different club or university based coaches who are employed by teams scattered all over the United States. Salo coaches a sprint based program in Los Angeles for the University of Southern California. Bowman coaches a distance based program for the North Baltimore Swim Team. Ryan Lochte is coached at a university in Florida. Amanda Weir trains with a club team in Atlanta, Georgia. The United States cultivates excellence wherever it is found. They have long recognized that a winning relationship like the one that existed between Loader and Laing is special and important. Unlike New Zealand where a decade of effort has gone into destroying those relationships (for example, Hind from Wellington, Quilter and Thomas from Hawkes Bay) and moving our best swimmers to Auckland, the United States does all it can to provide an environment for elite relationships, formed in private clubs, to prosper.

Lydiard did the same thing in Finland. He recognized it was impossible for him to coach several winning Olympic runners. It was more than one or two men could manage and there was not the time available. He resolved to harness the resources of all Finland’s running coaches and educate and encourage them to prepare world class runners. The result was medals in the steeplechase, the 1500, the 5000 and the 10,000 at the Munich and Montreal Olympic Games. Lydiard raised the standard of running, and especially the coaching of running, throughout Finland; not just on one track in Helsinki had he tried to do it all himself. When Lydiard said excellence on every track, he meant it. At two Olympics his coaching and club based libertarianism produced five Olympic Gold Medals and a Bronze.

There will be those who will tell you it is impossible to produce an Olympic champion out of the proverbial Eketahuna pool. Don’t you believe it. Rod Dixon won a bronze in the Munich 1500 meters living in Nelson. Loader lived and trained in Dunedin. Dave McKenzie won the Boston Marathon living and training in Greymouth. Nick Willis was based in Ann Arbor, Michigan when he won an Olympic silver medal in the 1500 meters. Valerie Adams lives in a small village in Switzerland. Excellence is not restricted to the North Shore of Auckland.

Swimming New Zealand’s role is to encourage local coaches to do their job better. Ironically Swimming New Zealand spent some effort promoting the very good slogan, “Excellence in every pool” and then proceeded to pour $16million of SPARC money into just one pool at the Millennium Institute.

The Millennium Institute program and the Wellington newcomer should be closed – that is completely closed, nothing at all left. The swimmers and coaches should be assisted to find positions in club teams.

An experienced Head Coach should be appointed to Swimming New Zealand. His brief should not involve coaching swimmers. His job should be to coach the coaches of New Zealand’s best swimmers; to assist them prepare world class swimmers capable of winning Olympic medals. The net needs to be excellent and it needs to be broad, so that world class talent can be nurtured even when it is discovered in Eketahuna.

Resources currently paid to fund the Millennium and Wellington programs should be paid directly to swimmers and their coaches irrespective of where in the world they are being prepared. Every swimmer and their coach who is say the national champion and is ranked in say the world’s top ten should receive a living wage and their coach should also be paid a similar amount. That funding is guaranteed each twelve months and is based on the results at each year’s National Summer Championships. The funding for swimmer and coach should be administered through the swimmer’s club but should all go to the swimmer and coach involved without administration deductions. Payment should be based solely on performance; not membership of an institute or geographical living location.

The National Coach’s job should be to ensure that every coach in the country is aware of their responsibility in the area of coaching world class swimmers; excellence in every pool. The National Coach should assist every coach to prepare the funded athlete’s swimming in their local program. This should include preparing annual training plans and competition and travel budgets. Done properly the country ends up with a team of maybe fifteen or so coaches working to produce an Olympic result rather than Reagan, Talbot-Cameron and Hurring as we have now – with the rest of us hell bent on proving them wrong; determined to upset and overturn an unfair and flawed elite swimming management structure.


When I received the invitation to meet with representatives of the Review panel, I did consider declining the opportunity. There is much evidence that representatives of SPARC and Swimming New Zealand are not conducting this Review in good faith; that the process is simply a means of imposing a predetermined organizational blueprint on the sport. Minutes of meetings have been altered, lies have been told and the will of the shareholders has been bitterly opposed. The leaders of the sport have not acted honourably. The Coalition of Regions knew that I opposed the decision to negotiate with SPARC and Swimming New Zealand. I said so often in my swimming blog.

By participating in the same charade, was I giving legitimacy to a corrupt process? The answer to that is probably yes. I should not be here. I am because of the thought that even if there is less than one percent chance that the management of elite swimming in New Zealand can be changed, I owe it to the swimmers I sit and watch swim 100 kilometres every week; to those men and women I see bleeding from harsh chlorine burns; to those athletes who lie awake at night painfully coughing through inflamed breathing passages. I owe it to them to give this opportunity a shot; no matter how slim the odds. That is why I am here. The case I have argued will produce a better, more successful outcome. It will produce Olympic medallists. It is a method of management that is in the best interests of those I serve. However, I fear “consequential libertarianism” will not see the light of day. The current centralized structure is deeply entrenched. The influence of SPARC bureaucrats is so pervasive and the mistrust of sporting liberty so engrained, my guess is that the freedoms proposed here will be seen as irresponsible. Sport’s administrators in New Zealand have tended to favour centralized power and bureaucratic process ahead of competitive results. I suspect they will do so again.

  • Chris

    Excellent David.

    Unfortunately, I suspect no one involved in the review will be brave enough to unravel a monster. To do so would take immense vision, intelligence, determination and strong leadership. Qualities that are in short supply at SNZ.

    Sadly, what will transpire is a SPARC version of Project Vanguard, millions more wasted in centralised pools, and we will languish for another decade tinkering around the margins of World swimming.

    At least no one can say that you didn’t warn them.

  • Tom

    Best of luck with this David. I find it remarkable SNZ still want to plough forward with Vanguard (or One Team or whatever they call it this week), given the unmitigated disaster that is Surf Lifesaving’s more-or-less identical Project Groundswell.

    It went a little under the radar, but late last year SLSNZ voted in a new board (you will recall the entire board resigned earlier in the piece). You can read about it here:

    Time will tell if the new board can restore the organization’s credibility and financial stability. Some of the issues created by Groundswell won’t be easily rectified. Surf Lifesaving Northern Region (of which I am a member) continues to monitor developments with justifiable caution.

    SLSNZ’s Annual Report ( does its best to slap a positive spin on last year’s events. It’s instructive as a look at what could likely happen to SNZ if it chooses to adopt Vanguard. Ineffective governance without oversight may endure when times are good. But when the tide goes out – failings are quickly shown for what they are.