The CEO of Swimming New Zealand

By David

I see Swimming New Zealand have advertised for a new boss. The published specification is full of the usual management speak, demanding the services of a management diety. They tell us they are looking for, inspirational leadership, a proven track record in managing change and building a culture of excellence, strong relationship-building skills, high integrity and the ability to inspire confidence and trust. The new leader will have strategic ability, business acumen and political capability, intellectual ability with a down-to-earth management style and personnel engagement and management skills. He or she will need to have a strong focus on stakeholder service excellence and be passionate and knowledgeable about the sport of competitive swimming and its importance to New Zealanders. And finally the appointed one must demonstrate superior presentation and communication skills able to reach a diverse range of stakeholders and capable of representing Swimming NZ to the New Zealand swimming community and to the international swimming community.

If that’s what Sport New Zealand want in the new guy, one has to wonder why Miskimmin sat around dealing with the old guard for so long. Surely he realized that the skills he wants now were in short supply. Of course that’s the lie of sport in New Zealand. Miskimmin wanders around the country lecturing financially dependent group after financially dependent group. Power, he says, belongs to each sport. There is no way Sport New Zealand will interfere in the internal management of a sport. And then, to the sound of Jericho trumpets, he proclaims that decentralized sport is winning sport.

It’s an old ploy of course. Just keep telling the masses a consistent story. Even when it is a bald-faced lie, those who rely on you for every penny of their income will believe anything. That, now famous, quote of Kim Dotcom about the New Zealand Prime Minister applies equally to Peter Miskimmin, “He is running naked and telling people he has clothes on.”

Remember that all the time Miskimmin was preaching independence, he had two underlings sitting in on every Swimming New Zealand Board Meeting; underlings who manipulated Board votes and threatened financial ruin. Remember that all the time Miskimmin was preaching independence he had hired hands imposing a take it or leave it constitution on swimming. Remember that all the time Miskimmin was preaching independence he was approving a centralized constitution for swimming that Stalin would have welcomed as the founding document of any Soviet satellite state.

But of course that’s the point isn’t it? Through the ruthless use of financial power Miskimmin’s organization has imposed a constitution that cedes political power. Miskimmin owns Swimming New Zealand lock, stock and barrel. Through to the Rio Games nothing will happen at Pelorus House without Miskimmin’s knowledge and approval.

Which makes the advertisement and appointment of a new CEO all a bit meaningless. Whether Swimming New Zealand appoints a budding Lee Iacocca or a desperate Bernie Madoff as their new CEO, is of no consequence. Swimming is owned and controlled by Miskimmin. The culture of central control, the socialism of command, will render whoever they appoint powerless. The new CEO is not going to manage the affairs of Swimming New Zealand. This appointment is simply about finding a puppet to action Miskimmin’s demands.

One of the most prominent administrators in New Zealand sport told me, “David, let there be no misunderstanding, the enemy is Peter Miskimmin.” A member of the Board of the Olympic Committee told me that, “Sport in New Zealand cannot exist without the largess that Peter Miskimmin provides.” What did they mean? They meant that Miskimmin alone has converted sport into a welfare state, dependent on him for financial survival. Every Olympic sport in New Zealand is compelled to pay homage to the trinity of state welfare, gambling addiction and booze. And that’s not healthy. Nor is it a recipe for long term sporting achievement.

Yes, of course there will be sporting successes. Just like the Soviet centralized structure provided its share of champions, the Peter Miskimmin machine will find a great coach like Dick Tonks and will grind out some medals in rowing. But that bought and paid for sporting takeaway, drive-through success is so different from the creation of a strong stand alone successful sport that is Miskimmin’s real purpose. His job is to create success out of independence – not buy medals from sports that can’t exist without his state welfare check. His job is to see sports mature into independent strong stand alone successful enterprises. But he doesn’t do that. He doesn’t even want to do that. He finds the very thought of independent national sporting organizations abhorrent.

A strong independent sport, should also the principal task the new CEO of Swimming New Zealand. But it won’t be. Independence means getting rid of Peter Miskimmin; getting him and his influence out of the sport of swimming. Remember “he is the enemy”. But there is not a candidate alive in New Zealand sport with the balls to take on that task.

Actually, no, that’s not true. I know of two who could do it, both male, both well educated (one of them earned his degree at Auckland University meaning the term “well educated” might be a little over the top); both vastly experienced and successful in the commercial and swimming worlds. Both have occupied CEO positions before. Both would be perfect for the position of CEO in most commercial or sporting organizations. And that’s why Miskimmin would never allow either of them to be selected. Like all weak people he prefers “yes” men. The last thing Peter Miskimmin wants is a person running swimming that might be better than him. And therein lies the paradox that will continue to be a primary cause of the failure of swimming in New Zealand. The sport needs a CEO that is a way better executive than Miskimmin. But Miskimmin controls the selection and he’s never going to allow that to happen. Here at Swimwatch we hold out little hope for a quality appointment to the position of CEO. Not when the selection process is in the hands of the enemy.