And Now The Enabler

By David

Good manners require an explanation as to why Swimwatch has been silent since March. It is simple. I was oh so very tired of Swimming New Zealand politics. I had better things to do with my time, looking after some very talented people in the West Auckland Aquatics Swim Club. I am sure the preparation of our fastest swimmers for the New Zealand Olympic Trials was compromised by the time I devoted to the reform campaign. That should not happen and will not happen again. My first responsibility is to a dozen young New Zealanders who toil up to 100 kilometres a week in a west Auckland swimming pool. For two years, the charlatans in Swimming New Zealand’s head office had been a distraction. It was time to address that imbalance. It was time for Swimwatch to get out of the way.

Besides, a Review of Swimming New Zealand had been ordered. Until its findings were reported there was very little for Swimwatch to say. Well, today that changed. Chris Moller reported on the Review’s conclusions. He said that Mike Byrne and the Board should go. A trimmed down Board and a new Chief Executive should replace the old guard. Swimming New Zealand should be controlled by a Board of three elected and three appointed directors. Swimming New Zealand should get out of learn to swim. The federal system of independent regions should be retained. The regions should be governed by updated and similar constitutions. Clearly it was time for Swimwatch to express and opinion.

Three months ago I went to Wellington and met Chris Moller. I wrote a Swimwatch story about the encounter. The story concluded by saying, “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 characterized 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.”

Today that hope was rewarded. In full measure Moller’s report is a victory for Jessica, Justin, Abigail, Lara, Rhi, Alex, Reka, Jane, Amelia, Billy and a thousand other swimmers who want to succeed in this sport. Moller has just given every swimmer in New Zealand a chance. The people he has sacked, the structure he proposes and the reforms he recommends should mean the next generation of New Zealand swimmers will not be limited by their master’s failings. I feel almost biblical with relief, “The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

There is a concern. The reforms proposed are good and necessary. Those directly affected however have seen off half a dozen similar reports in the past. They are experts at the art of deception and survival. Moller has done a good job, a very good job of talking the talk – but can he walk the walk? Can he deliver on his recommendations? Will Mike Byrne actually clear his desk? Will the Board resign? Will project Vanguard disappear? We now know what’s been written. We have yet to find out if this report has more substance than all those that have gone before. We still have hope, but, with good reason, we are very cautious.

There is one leading actor who is going to come out of this exercise “smelling of roses”. Thanks to Moller’s wisdom Peter Miskimmin, the CEO of Sport and Recreation New Zealand will look like the great redeemer; the man who commissioned the Review that saved the sport of swimming. And all that is not true. This Review was forced on a reluctant and obstinate Miskimmin by the Coalition of Swimming New Zealand regions. Miskimmin was dragged kicking and screaming into the Review process. He agreed to fund the process only because he had no option. Swimming New Zealand was falling apart. The Review recommended by the Coalition of Regions was the only way out. The price tag of $600,000 was a small price to pay to save Miskimmin’s hide.

Miskimmin has seen reports on Swimming New Zealand come and go. His hired guns on the old Swimming New Zealand Board have defended and preserved the Board that Moller now wants to sack. Miskimmin has long been a supporter of central socialist management in sport; a long way from the federal regional government recommended by the Moller Review. There should be no misunderstanding of the role of Miskimmin in the saga of Swimming New Zealand’s woes. He was the great enabler. He provided the political and financial support that founded and preserved a system of swimming management that Moller now calls “dysfunctional”. The sport of swimming in New Zealand has struggled for a decade because Miskimmin actively encouraged and supported its poor management.

Moller’s report is effectively a condemnation of Miskimmin’s management. Miskimmin had personal representatives on the Swimming New Zealand Board. He approved Swimming New Zealand’s corporate plans to expand into learn to swim. He supported directors who stayed on the Board beyond their constitutional licence. Everything that Moller censures was approved and paid for by Miskimmin. If it is right for Byrne to be putting his personal belongings in a cardboard box this weekend and closing the door of his office for the last time; if it is right for a dozen directors to leave the Swimming New Zealand Board Room for the last time – then it is certainly essential that their founder and funder leave with them. The Captain has a responsibility to stay with his sinking ship. The old Swimming New Zealand is Miskimmin’s ship. He designed it, he paid for it and he captained it. He was the enabler. He has a responsibility to leave with his discredited regime.

In his Auckland meeting Moller asked the audience to “play the ball not the man”. That might sound noble. However Moller knows full well that the problems at Swimming New Zealand are manmade. There is nothing wrong with the ball in this sport. It’s the team that needed replacing. That’s why Moller is getting rid of the Board and the CEO. That’s also why Miskimmin should be told to go as well. When it comes to Peter Miskimmin, playing the man is entirely appropriate. He, after all, is the problem.