No New Beginning

By David

Swimming New Zealand is spinning the “new beginning” line for all its worth. A couple of the speakers at the opening of the National Championships referred to the “difficult times” of the past and the exciting prospect of this Championship’s “new beginning”. It is embarrassing how often main stream media outlets perform an advertising function for Swimming New Zealand’s corporate line. I would have thought there was more to good journalism than photocopying a Swimming New Zealand press release. For example Yahoo Sport clearly has a limited view of meaning of investigative journalism. On 15 March Yahoo published word for word the advertising hand-out distributed by Swimming New Zealand. This is what it said.

National Swimming High Performance Director, Luis Villanueva sees the State New Zealand Championships starting in Auckland on Sunday as a new beginning. “The Championships next week, I hope, will be the start of something exceptional.” In the last few months following a whole-of-sport review, Swimming New Zealand has a new Board, its new High Performance Director in Villanueva and new Chief Executive with Australian Christian Renford taking up his post last week. The final key building block is the new National High Performance Coach which Villanueva hopes to finalise next month, with the Spaniard taking up a direct interest on pool deck in the short term with renowned Australian coach Bill Sweetenham contracted as temporary coach.

There is no validity, no merit and no truth in the argument that swimming is experiencing a new beginning because the personnel occupying the roles of High Performance Director, Chief Executive and Head Coach have changed. New actors reading the same script, new clerics preaching the same religion, new management following the same corporate plan will not lead the organization to a new state of swimming grace. New beginnings are the product of new policies – not new people.

The Prime Minister of New Zealand, John Key, has reshuffled his cabinet several times. New people occupy ministerial positions. But that’s not a new beginning. The government’s core policies stay the same. The sale of Mighty River Power and the introduction of charter schools are still firmly on the agenda. Only when policies significantly change is there a new beginning. When David Lange’s Labour Government assumed power in 1984 there was a new beginning. Rogernomics was introduced, the exchange rate was floated, farming subsidies were abandoned, public assets were sold and New Zealand became nuclear free. In these and a dozen other ways New Zealand changed. Like it or not, there most certainly was a new beginning.

But nothing like that has happened at Swimming New Zealand. At best, Peter Miskimmin, the Prime Minister of New Zealand sport has reshuffled his swimming cabinet. The government (that’s Sport New Zealand) has not changed; the Prime Minister (that’s Peter Miskimmin) is the same; the old policies are still firmly in place. Peter Miskimmin’s policies still steadfastly rule the direction taken by swimming in New Zealand. The idea that there has been a new beginning is pathetic. By suggesting otherwise, Luis Villanueva is treating his constituents with contempt; assuming we are all brain-dead. He would be well advised to stop those sorts of “con-job” claims. His predecessors ran aground on the same integrity issues.

Because there are no new policies. There is no new beginning. This is business as usual. Miskimmin’s Swimming New Zealand is at work pursuing the same old Cameron policies; identical plans and ideas to those that failed this sport for almost two decades. You may not believe that is true. Then how would you explain this. The Millennium Institute still exists. That hasn’t changed. Millennium Institute members turn up at National Championships in their fake uniforms. On the front page of every day’s national program their names are recorded in some sort of ritual roll of honour. 0.2% of Swimming New Zealand’s members get 72% of the organization’s money. That is the same. Every year we give Swimming New Zealand $3.22 million and we get nothing in return. Yes, nothing new there. Swimming New Zealand is still Pelorus House and the Millennium Institute – period. The rest of us don’t count; don’t even exist.

Just look at the publication of the Millennium Institute swimmer’s names on the front pages of each day’s National Championship program. What make their names so special? Why do they get roll of honor mention ahead of New Zealand star swimmers such as, Hayley Palmer, Sophia Batchelor, Nielsen Varoy and Samantha Richter. The message of unearned privilege that the publication of those names sends to New Zealand’s young swimmers is repulsive. It is putrid in the context of the sport’s obligation to nurture well-adjusted, young New Zealanders. It is the reverse of what is needed to produce champions. Laing, Jelley, Lydiard and Allen would have had none of it. To the band of foreigners Miskimmin has employed to run the sport of swimming in New Zealand I can assure you the publication of those names, the presence of that Institute with its fake national uniforms is as anti-everything kiwi as I can imagine.

This is not a new beginning. This isn’t even quite a continuation of past Swimming New Zealand policies. This is the old policies embellished. This is out of the frying plan into the fire. Luis Villanueva only makes himself and the organization looks silly when he paints it as anything else.

Incidentally where is Bill Sweetenham? I haven’t seen him at the National Championships for two days now. Has he abandoned another employment contract? Or has David Lyles come, seen and declined Swimming New Zealand’s offer of employment? If Lyles has any brains he would be well advised to stay in China. Could it be that Swimming New Zealand is without a replacement coach – perhaps Bill is resting up in Australia before extending his “standing-in” coaching role at the Millennium Institute? Either way, it seems like a bit of a tangled web.

Sweetenham’s trip here has been an expensive exercise. Has it worked? Swimming New Zealand, of course, is spinning the success of the National Championships for all it is worth. But, there are features of real concern. The meet is small and has all the atmosphere of a retirement village sitting room on a wet Sunday morning. This report is being written at the end of day three. Fifteen events have been completed. Of these, ten events have been won in times slower than the winner’s personal best time. That’s an appalling ratio. At the prime domestic event of the year Miskimmin’s chosen ones, with their lavish coach, cannot swim as fast as they did years ago. No new beginning there.