June Update

By David

“Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.” Isn’t that so very true? The various battles fought through the pages of Swimwatch have assumed some prominence in the very small world that is competitive swimming in New Zealand. That prominence has had a personal spin-off. On many occasions I have been at swimming competitions in New Zealand where those that know me scurry past, avoiding eye contact, afraid they may be associated with that hideous David Wright. Those that don’t know me scurry past as well, thankful for their innocence but ready to tell their friends about the bad deed of which I am guilty and they know to be fact.

The concern of those I have met is not without foundation. A well known swimming administrator told me she was accosted by Mike Byrne at this year’s National Age Group Championships and asked why she had been seen talking to me. Fortunately this administrator is made of stern stuff. The disapproval of Mike Byrne was of little consequence. Shortly after I arrived back in New Zealand from the United States another swimming administrator told me that I would be watched; my behaviour was being monitored. I felt like a serious offender being screened by a zealous parole officer; an uncomfortable position for someone in his sixties still to face his first criminal offence. Gossip, of course, was the motive. My coaching record of Olympic and World Championship swimmers, Oceania, Pan Pacfic and Caribbean Championship medallists, 22 NZ Open Championships, 19 NZ Open Records, a master’s world record and the like meant nothing. Surveillance was the primary concern. Gwenda Cowlrick once described me to the Annual Meeting of the Aquahawks Swim Club as that “horrible David Wright”. Being as we had never met I thought that judgement was a little rash for someone who teaches Hawke’s Bay’s youth at Napier Girl’s High School.

That sort of stuff has gone on for so long I have grown used to the political cold shoulder. It really doesn’t worry me anymore. In fact, I’ve found the behaviour of swimming people towards me is a pretty accurate measure of their character; much more than mine. Gary Hurring, for example lives and coaches in a highly charged political environment and yet since I returned from the USA has always stopped to say hello and chat without the slightest sense of fear. The same goes for Jon Winter, Paul Kent, Horst Miehe and a few others. Horst even invited me over to his office on my first weekend back in New Zealand for a cup of coffee and a chat. The fact that Jan Cameron and some other Swimming New Zealand principals didn’t like me seemed to be of little concern. These coaches are also made of sterner stuff and I appreciate their kindness. At this point, I must say that the fact that West Auckland Aquatics offered me the opportunity to coach their team speaks volumes for their courage. I hate to think of the stories they had to investigate or ignore.

And so, does this have any relevance to the Moller Report? Strangely, yes it does. At first I thought Moller was a person of character and courage; unafraid of the truth wherever it was found. After all he invited me to Wellington for a one on one meeting. That must have taken some resolve. Certainly I was flattered to be invited and impressed with the content of our discussion. And I said so in the Swimwatch story describing the meeting.

 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. After Wellington, here at Swimwatch, we do have hope.

I was a bit less impressed a few weeks later when Moller and Suckling called me to interrogate my motives for filing a protest about the depth of the Kilbirnie Pool. They appeared to have the view that I was the ringleader of some sort of conspiracy aimed at bringing down Pelorus House. Was I using the Age Group Nationals to ferment civil disorder? Perhaps Moller and Suckling were beginning to believe the “horrible man” stories? Of course the protest was based on a real concern that Swimming New Zealand officials were asking swimmers to dive into a dangerous pool. I would have thought Moller should have been concerned about that as well. Certainly the same protest will be filled at this winter’s short course Nationals in September. I want my protest to be on the record when someone seriously injures themselves diving into that pool.

And then last week the Moller report was published. I glanced through it quickly and came to the section headed “Table B.2 Parties interviewed as part of the Review process.” Naturally I looked for my name. I’d been in Sydney at the New South Wales Championships when the Auckland interviews were being held but because of the importance of Moller’s work had flown to Wellington to attend one of the Wellington interviews. But my name isn’t there.

I want to stress that whether my name is on a list in the Moller Report is of no concern to me. What I am interested in is the motive behind its exclusion. Does the omission speak to the character and integrity of the authors? Have they joined the ranks of the “scurry past” in case we are seen consorting with the enemy. I think that’s exactly what’s happened. And if it is, that is very serious indeed.

You see the most fundamental problem facing Swimming New Zealand has little to do with structures or constitutions or strategic plans. The real problem has always been the character and competence of its leaders. All the structural tinkering in the world will count for nothing if the character of the leadership is found wanting. For exactly the same reason the Moller Report and its recommendations count for little if the character and courage of its authors are suspect. Until I am convinced otherwise Moller and Suckling have been tested and have been found wanting; not because they deleted my name but because of the reasons they did it. And that is a terrible shame. I hope I am wrong.