SNZ Review

By David

I could well have made a mistake. Since the Coalition of Regions decided to negotiate with SPARC and the current Board of Swimming New Zealand I have questioned the Coalition’s sanity. Didn’t they realize? This Review was an expensive white wash; just another devious way of achieving Project Vanguard ambitions.

Of course that view may still prove to be correct. I am pretty sure SPARC have a master plan that involves the socialist delivery of all sport. Their building is full of government bureaucrats, what else could they possibly want? But for now, having met the leader of the review, I’m prepared to give the process a chance. I’m a supporter. I do hope that trust is not misplaced.

The invitation to meet with the Review leaders, Chis Moller and Sue Suckling, was a surprise. The normal behaviour of Swimming New Zealand leaders is to ignore people like me; to brand us as trouble makers, disloyal to the sport and to proceed as though we didn’t exist. The invitation to hear the views of one of the organization’s most vocal critics deserves recognition. They may dismiss those views as an expression of the lunatic fringe but at least they were prepared to make forty five minutes available to hear what this radical had to say. For that I am grateful.

The meeting was held in the Head Office of SPARC. The organization lives in a lovely old building on Customhouse Quay. In years gone by, I have visited an insurance company, a government department and a sports management company at the same location. Obviously I was a bit nervous going into SPARC’s lair. The receptionist helped. She asked if I wanted coffee, I declined, if she could look after my suitcase, I accepted, and agreed to recharge my failing cell phone. The workers, at least, were friendly.

The meeting with Moller and Suckling was held in a room up some very steep and quite long stairs. According to Moller, the process of meeting his guests was at least making him fit. My one trip certainly confirmed that view. Our meeting began with Moller introducing Sue Suckling and himself. I was impressed. They both have Resumes that include a long string of corporate directorships and sporting appointments. Moller has served in senior positions in both New Zealand rugby and cricket. No one could question their qualifications for this task.

Moller then asked for a brief description of my background. I explained that I once had a normal commercial career and for several years had been Managing Director of a company called Colyer Watson. Here again Moller surprised. “Is that,” he asked, “the large animal by-products exporting company?” “Yes it is.” I replied.

I may have misunderstood the moment but I thought I felt the mood change. Moller clearly knew that Colyers was New Zealand’s largest exporter of animal by-products and was now going to give me time to put my case. The remainder of the forty minutes was an excellent exchange of ideas on the role of a national sporting organization.

As you would expect I argued that the role of Swimming New Zealand is to provide a fertile environment for people like me to do our job. Swimming New Zealand has no expertise in producing champion swimmers. Good God, they’ve been at it for ten years; they’ve spent sixteen million dollars and still can’t win an Olympic swimming race. Swimming New Zealand and SPARC need to understand that it is not the function of the “state” to produce Olympic Champions. That’s our job. That’s the role of professional coaches like Kent, Winter, Duncan, Hurring, me and twenty or thirty others. In an individual sport like swimming I support a capitalist form of governance. New Zealand swimming has tried Jan Cameron’s state socialism. It has failed. It is time to move on. It is time to try something different and better.

I thought Moller and Suckling understood the point; maybe even had sympathy with the capitalist philosophy. Their corporate upbringing might be cause for optimism. Perhaps these people were not just hired SPARC sycophants, employed to listen, charm and then impose on swimming the party line of centralized delivery. Perhaps there was hope. Time will tell whether the hope that came out of the meeting has substance. Will Moller and Suckling produce a report that proposes the capitalist philosophy they appeared to find appealing in our discussion or will they comply with their paymaster’s orders and hand in another Project Vanguard look alike?

That was the heart and soul of our discussion. We did however cover one or two minor points. Moller seemed concerned that I was being denied entry to the New Zealand Olympic Swimming Trials. Clearly he did not think that the fact I wrote articles critical of Swimming New Zealand was sufficient reason for my swimmers to be denied access to their coach. He asked to see the ridiculous Swimming New Zealand’s rule that brought this into effect. Again there is hope. Will I be allowed to coach my swimmers at the Trials after all?

We discussed one view of the history of Swimming New Zealand. Perhaps there was merit in the view that the organization had once done very little for anyone. In that period strong coaches such as Lincoln Hurring, Hilton Brown, Duncan Lang, Burt Cotterill, Ross Anderson and Bret Naylor had coached Olympic medallists, world record holders and World Champions. They asked for nothing from Swimming New Zealand and that’s what they got. Then swimming fell under the Cameron spell. The organization changed quickly from doing nothing to doing everything. In just a couple of years swimming moved from lassie-faire neglect to iron fisted control. Any athlete wanting to represent New Zealand had little option but to walk the Cameron pathway. And it led nowhere. They won nothing. Worse than that, the standard of coaching in the provinces declined as Swimming New Zealand imposed its will on us all. Any coach who stood up to the monolith or who wrote for Swimwatch was mistreated and marginalized. The “state” knew best and we had all better tow the party line.

There is however another way. There is a way where the “state” observes properly defined limits and creates an environment where we all can do our jobs; where the “state” avoids the neglect and the dictatorial control that have characterised its performance in the past. I can only hope Moller and Suckling’s report reflects that middle ground. After Wellington, here at Swimwatch, we do have hope.

  • Wellington Outsider

    David, I was thinking about you and how you had got in in our fair city the other day.

    Your optimism may in time be proven as evidence of the triumph of hope over reality, but may I temper it with a sobering alternative? Some of the people from here (including SNZ employees) feel as though they were heard well and also listened to by Mr Moller. I even heard that Mr Byrne was given a hearing and that he saw you on his way out of the SPARC building.

    A word of caution. SPARC (no sorry, lets not forget, Sport New Zealand) has a vision which includes terms like ‘whole of sport’, ‘regional alignment’ and portrays a model for sport delivered through NSO’s that are co-joined with SPARC/SNZ instructing down to 5 or 6 subservient and compliant regional bodies. The latest catch cry is about ‘informal sport’ and the importance of capturing and defining that group. That means that every family who goes to the beach for a ‘swim’ or every kid who goes up to the local pool to dive bomb off the side will be captured as a part of the ‘informal side of the sport’ and in this SPARC vision will be a part of the ‘space which the(ir) NSO occupies’, given equal prominence and profile, not to mention more money than your swimmers in West Auckland. Did you not see the pretty photographs on the walls of their office depicting happy Kiwis at the beach, jumping off cliffs into the water?

    You should be worried, very worried, as the model of centralised delivery is very deeply ingrained here in Wellington. It is the only one that SPARC accepts and as they pay the piper, they get to call the tune. My thought to dampen your optimism is a question, Who is paying Chris Moller and Sue Suckling’s fees? Maybe they are doing this all for free and won’t need to come back for more consulting/review jobs with SPARC in the future? Now that could be the start of a Tui billboard. Yeah Right!

    Do not forget that SPARC is one of the few departments of State who have enjoyed substantial budget increases under this government. How much of their $160,000,000 budget do you receive to help you run your club in West Auckland David? Did they pay for your airfare to Wellington? Of course you were offered a cup of coffee and they did agree to charge your phone. Are you sure they did not copy your contacts list and messages while you were in your interview and your phone was connected to their computer?