Mark Berge

By David

The internet tells me that the “possibly-not-for-long” SNZ Director, Mark Berge, has the following skills and expertise:

Project Portfolio Management, Strategic Planning, Benefits Realization, Governance, Board, Sports Admin and Governance, Strategy Execution, Group Work, Value Stream Mapping, Organizational Change, Change Leadership, Business Outcome / Benefits Mapping, Facilitation and Training and Strategy Development

It is ironic that someone who claims this impressive resume of talents should be a long term member of a Board that is about to be voted into oblivion. The performance of the Swimming New Zealand Board does not appear to have benefitted from Berge’s expertise in governance. I suspect the only skill that may have immediate relevance is “strategy execution” – especially the execution bit. The resume may be impressive but Berge’s deeds at Swimming New Zealand have not measured up to the hype. “Ye shall know them by their fruits.” In this case, we certainly do.

Yesterday Berge added another dark chapter to the acts that have brought Swimming New Zealand to its knees. He published the selection criteria for the 2012 World Short Course Championships. The times required by Swimming New Zealand to get on the team are tough but not unreasonable. The times required to be on the team and be fully funded however are much tougher. They are based on achieving a time equal to the eight placed swimmer at the Dubai World Short Course Championships in 2010. Here is a table that shows both the New Zealand qualifying times and the times needed for a swimmer wanting to have their journey to the championships paid for.

The times, published by Berge, are not too bad. I’m all in favour of swimmers having to work hard to achieve fast times. Representing your country is not something to be done on the cheap. It is not, however, the times that tell us why Swimming New Zealand will be a better place when Berge is away doing something else. It is the selection criteria surrounding the times that reveal Berge’s incompetence.

But, before dealing with these issues, I do find it upsetting when Berge appears to distort the truth. We’ve had too much of that stuff coming out of Pelorus House. This is what the selection criteria, published under his name says.

Funding: Swimmers who meet the Selection Criteria as above and achieve a time, in an Olympic Event, that would have placed them in the final (top 8) at the 2010 FINA World Short Course Championships, will be fully funded by SNZ.

For swimmers who meet the Selection Criteria as above and achieve a time that would have placed them in the semi-final (top 16) at the 2010 FINA World Short Course Championships, SNZ will distribute any remaining funds on a declining graded scale.

The bits that I object to are those that say, “will be fully funded by SNZ” and “SNZ will distribute”. The impression is that Berge’s hard working Board is generously providing the funds for New Zealand’s swimmers to compete in Istanbul at the end of the year. However, as I understand it, the reality is that FINA pays the cost of qualified athletes attending this event. It appears Berge may be as good at gilding the truth as Coulter and Butler were before him.

However the real injustice; the item in this document that highlights the importance of getting rid of people like Berge is the one that says:

Selection Events – New Zealand Short Course Championships, Wellington, 30th September to 4th October 2012.

Having said we agree with Berge that the selection times should be tough and internationally competitive, doesn’t Berge and mates feel any obligation to provide the athletes attempting to achieve those times with a facility that meets internationally competitive standards. Instead they provide the tired old Kilbirnie Pool. That’s a bit like asking Usain Bolt to qualify for the Olympics running up the South Col of Everest.

The time standard of eight in the Dubai 2010 World Short Course Championships was set in a new pool that was three meters deep and had the latest “back-plate” starting blocks. It was, in all respects, an internationally competitive facility as the times of the eight fastest qualifiers confirm. What Berge is asking New Zealand’s swimmers to do, is swim the same times in a backyard paddling pool in Wellington. The Wellington pool does not comply with FINA minimum standards, it is slow and shallow and it has low, old fashioned starting blocks with no back plate. Without question the combination of the Kilbirnie Pool’s failings could cost a good swimmer 0.5 to 0.7 of a second per 50 meters. Just look at the disadvantages of swimming in the Kilbirnie Pool. The starting blocks are small, they have no back plate to assist the start and they are low to the water. Every swimmer’s start is going to be slow. The water entry speed is also going to be slow. The distance over the water, at the start, is going to be short and the critical initial underwater speed is going to be seriously slow. The shallow water will mean all good swimmers will have to change the shape of their normal dive, they will not travel as far under the water and because 70% of their race will be swum in shallow water the resulting drag will reduce their swimming speed. Over a 50 meter race Berge is asking New Zealand’s swimmers to give the world’s best swimmers half a second start and then beat them. Berge is either incompetent or has a really, really sick sense of humour.

Besides all that, FINA rules say the Wellington pool is not up to international standards. It is clearly not right to ask for international performances in a non-international facility. If we have to live by the rules, so must Mr. Berge. His job is to provide swimmers with proper conditions. He has not done that. He should go.

The solution? Shift the event to the West Wave Pool in Auckland. It has proper starting blocks and it is 1.8 meters deep.