Archive for April, 2013

Rent-a-Businessman and Aussie Cast-offs

Monday, April 8th, 2013

By David

I don’t usually agree with the Yahoo sport’s reporter who uses the by-line, “Man in the Stand”. But this week “Man in the Stand” wrote a super commentary on the turmoil in Chris Moller’s cricket empire. How odd that the two most dysfunctional sports in New Zealand have Chris Moller in common. “Man in the Stand”‘s report included the phrase that is the title of this week’s Swimwatch blog. It seems that some of us involved in swimming are not the only ones beginning to identify the Moller and Miskimmin management formula. It seems that a Wellington suit or a foreign import is their answer to every problem. As an example, look at swimming in New Zealand. There’s a Canadian in charge of something at High Performance (excuse the irony) Sport. An Australian is now the boss at Pelorus House. A business suit is the Chairman of Swimming New Zealand. A Spaniard is responsible for High Performance (excuse the extreme irony) swimming.  And a pom called David Lyles has been asked to be New Zealand’s new National Coach. If he has any brains he won’t come anywhere near New Zealand. Certainly he should speak first to the procession of really good people, starting with Clive Rushton, who have come to New Zealand to be the National Coach. They have all struggled and left, sadder and wiser as a consequence of their brush with New Zealand sporting bureaucracy. Our message to those who love cricket is simply – we know what you mean.

The parody that passes as High Performance swim coaching in New Zealand assumed new heights this week. When you read about the chaos remember this is the sport that Miskimmin is running around the country telling everyone what a grand job he has done, reorganizing swimming. Well, here is a sample of the state of Miskimmin’s new swimming.

  1. After four years swimming at Cal Berkley; a program that must rate as one of the world’s best and most stable, New Zealand’s finest swimmer, Lauren Boyle, has had four coaches in three months. Boyle has had to accept instructions from the previous National Coach, Mark Regan, an unknown Spanish Coach at a high altitude camp somewhere in Spain, the expensive and seemingly elusive Bill Sweetenham and coaching newcomer Luis Villanueva. If David Lyles accepts the National Coaching job, he will be Boyle’s fifth coach and still inside three months. When Boyle signed up to join Miskimmin’s SNZ program, the organization had a duty to look after her. They have not done that. No one will convince me that having five coaches in three months is good for one of the world’s best swimmers. The “fruit salad” of coaching techniques she has experienced will be causing irreparable damage. Miskimmin and SNZ are in the process of losing another talented New Zealander. Just think about it. If the Committee of the Wairoa Swimming Club in Hawke’s Bay came up with five coaching changes in three months, parents of their ten year olds would be asking for the Committee to step down. But at Swimming New Zealand, Miskimmin is proud of what he has done. He keeps telling everybody how good it is. Truth is Swimming New Zealand’s performance isn’t up to running the Wairoa Swimming Club, let alone the country.
  2. Swimmers are leaving the Millennium Institute. Ingram has retired. Snyders has escaped to Dave Salo in Los Angeles and two others are planning to move across the Tasman. Would the last swimmer leaving please switch out the lights? Soon there won’t be much for the new National Coach to look after. David Lyles, go home, all the swimmers have left. Certainly a huge sum of money is being spent on a Miskimmin/SNZ extravagance on the North Shore that is rapidly becoming smaller and slower than a good club’s program.
  3. Bill has been found. Evidently the elusive Bill Sweetenham is being brought back to fill in until David Lyles is ready to tell his Club in China that he wants the New Zealand job. This is how Swimming New Zealand recently spun the story.

The CEO confirmed the appointment of the High Performance Coach commencing in early May. There remains a delay in announcing the name of the new coach until all contractual obligations have been fulfilled in China where the coach is presently appointed. Discretion was requested until this appointment is made public.

Bill Sweetenham will continue in the interim period to provide the consistency in program delivery until the arrival of the new coach.

I almost died when I read their last sentence; the bit about Bill Sweetenham providing “consistency in program delivery.” Swimming New Zealand wouldn’t know the meaning of consistency. Remember their record of five coaches and vanishing swimmers. Bill is hardly a model of constancy either. He abandoned the UK a year before his contract expired, a year before the Beijing Games and decided to skip the second half of this year’s New Zealand World Championship trials. That sentence in the Swimming New Zealand minutes isn’t accurate reporting. That sentence is just “covering-your-arse” spin.

  • And while all this has been going on Luis Villanueva has been standing in coaching the Miskimmin and Swimming New Zealand elite program; the program that’s costing us $3.2million a year. But Villanueva is not a coach. He’s an administrator, an aquatic suit, a swimming bureaucrat. He’s the guy who gets the Aqua Blacks to fill in forms about their emotions and feelings. I imagine, the CEO of NZ Rugby, Steve Tew, would not think it wise to start coaching the All Blacks. But this is not rugby. This is swimming. And in swimming if you worship St.Miskimmin, if you tow the party line, if you are foreign and can blow bubbles underwater, you’ll be fine to coach Lauren Boyle.

Swimming New Zealand has come up with one new initiative. Their plan is to introduce a zone based competition in which four zones around New Zealand compete against each other, representing their areas. The proposal will be discussed fully in our next Swimwatch report. However the problem with any proposal of this type is that it will always be seen as window dressing. While the core of the sport is rotten, while swimmers like Lauren Boyle are not being coached properly, while 80% of the country’s national titles are being won in times slower than the winner’s personal best, while a fortune is being spent propping up a socialist swimming empire, while the number of spectators at the Nationals would fit into a Mini Clubman, there is no merit in a promoting a huge advertising budget. Swimming New Zealand – you need to address the basics before you get involved in zone competitions. Otherwise, all you are going to display is the deficiency of your product. No new paint job is going to mask the fact that the swimming hull is riddled with rust.

Lydiard attracted 50,000 to Western Springs to watch track and field athletics. Some years later Dick Quax attracted the same number to Mt.Smart. They did this because the sport was genuine. It was not run by Wellington suits and foreign cast-offs. Colourful, privately coached New Zealanders were beating the world; were setting world records; were making news. People wanted to see them perform. Quax, Walker, Dixon, Snell, Halberg, Magee and Baillie were household names. None of those factors apply in swimming. The product does not appeal – and in those circumstances all the presentation in the world will not make any difference. Do not promote a product that is in its current state of disrepair. Most New Zealander’s know swimming is in a bad way. Don’t prove it by holding up what we’ve got now for all the world to see. Presenting a Communist era Lada as a new Mercedes will fool no one.

Bill, Won’t You Please Come Home

Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013

On Monday 3 September 2007 the BBC ran the following report.


Controversial British Swimming performance director, Bill Sweetenham has stepped down after asking to be released from his contract early. The Australian was contracted until after the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Sweetenham released a statement. “My request for release from my contract was for various reasons that will remain personal to myself.” Last week, Sweetenham admitted he was still bitter at his treatment in the UK, claiming: “They brought me in to change British swimming but when it got tough, British swimming wanted to change me. It was heart-breaking.”

That report was a bit of a bomb-shell. Only three months earlier on Thursday 31 May 2007 the BBC had reported that:


Bill Sweetenham is set to stay on as a consultant after he steps down as British Swimming’s performance director at the end of the 2008 Olympics. Bill has indicated he still wants to have some sort of role after Beijing.

What was the swimming community in the UK thinking? Was Bill staying or was he leaving? Did he love the UK or hate the place? Was he going to honour the last year of his contract? Was he going to guide British Swimming to its greatest challenge at the Beijing Olympic Games? The sanest observer would be excused for wondering. In the end, one year before Beijing, with one year of his contract still to run, Bill slumped into his first class airline seat and headed home. The effort of it all had taken its toll. He even said, “Many times I felt like this is not worth it, that I am trying to do an impossible job.” Surely UK swimmers must have wondered how Bill’s vanishing act tied in with his calls for them to sacrifice; for them to work harder and to never yield. Was this a case of do what I say, not what I do? When the going got tough did Bill piss off?

I was reminded of these pre-Beijing events on the third day of this year’s New Zealand National Swimming Championships. Because on the third day, one week before Easter, Bill did not rise again – Bill disappeared. You may recall Sweetenham had been hired to coach Miskimmin’s chosen few over at the Millennium Institute for the month between Miskimmin’s previous National Coach Mark Regan leaving and the 2013 National Championships.

We will never know the full cost of the Sweetenham’s New Zealand sortie. My guess is that the cost of the Miskimmin funded, gold plated, coaching month was in excess of $55,000. Miskimmin and Swimming New Zealand will never make the actual cost public and I can’t be bothered using the Official Information Act to find out. However the month was most certainly one of the world’s more expensive coaching experiments. How was it possible that the coach that Swimming New Zealand told us was so important to the success of the Millennium’s privileged few was not present for most of the National Championships? Remember what Mark O’Connor said at the time?

It is an important time for our swimmers preparing for the upcoming State New Zealand Open championships which double as the trials for the world championships. It is important to have a coach who understands the swimmers, the country and what is ahead of them.

And yet at the pinnacle domestic event; in the middle of the meet that had cost us a fortune in coaching fees, Bill disappeared. Had he returned to his roots? Had Bill gone walk-about? Was his dreamtime act part of his contract and known to Swimming New Zealand from the beginning or had Bill simply gone bush, “done a runner”? We do need to be told the answer to that question.

Either way it is a disgrace. If Swimming New Zealand knew Sweetenham was not going to be able to stay for the National Championships he should never have been employed. According to Mark O’Connor, “Bill is one of the most credentialed swimming coaches in the history of the sport and we are pleased he is stepping in to help us out.” Well he wasn’t there to help anyone out during most of the all-important World Championship’s trials. If Swimming New Zealand knew Bill Sweetenham was on his way before the Nationals were even half way done, their initial press release, reporting his appointment, was on the brink of dishonest. It does not take an American Swim Coaches Association Level Five coaching qualification to know that a coach employed to prepare a dozen swimmers for a major meet should be at the meet. It would look a little strange if Graham Henry decided to skip the Rugby World Cup final or Mark Schubert had stayed home in Colorado during the Beijing Olympic Games. In New Zealand swimming though, nothing ceases to amaze.

If Swimming New Zealand did not know, and part way through the National Championships Bill just up and left, Swimming New Zealand should be asking for our money back. Strange as it may sound, I think it is unlikely, but possible, that Swimming New Zealand did not know of Bill’s departure. Perhaps like us Bill Sweetenham had had a guts-full of Pelorus House and the Millennium Institute. Perhaps he was all done with the shambles that passes as Miskimmin’s elite swimming regime. Like us, did he find the culture of unearned privilege too much to bear? Perhaps he was even upset by the comments on this blog. Certainly he disappeared and my contacts have no idea where he is right now. Like a convoy of coaches before him, a month of Swimming New Zealand may have proven too much for “one of the most credentialed swimming coaches in the history of the sport.” Perhaps he is on an island somewhere in his personal Aboriginal Dreamtime resting; recovering from the trauma of his visit to swimming in the Land of the Long White Cloud.