Archive for July, 2013

Not A Penny Spared

Sunday, July 21st, 2013

By David

That’s right. The Miskimmin 2012 coup d’état at Swimming New Zealand saw the introduction of several novel innovations; the autocratic form of government favoured by Sport New Zealand replaced a century of Regional democracy, a management team of foreign imports assumed power and money became no problem at all.

Miskimmin invested a huge amount of personal capital to acquire control of swimming. The sport had to be successful. If it wasn’t Miskimmin would look stupid. Swimming was his baby. Success or failure was down to him alone. And so, what did he do? He did what he does best. He threw money at the problem. Sports that fail at three or four Olympics in a row are normally cast adrift. But not swimming.

Swimming had a World Championship coming up and Miskimmin’s men were on a mission to buy success. A tax payer’s grant of $1.4 million, plus PEG’s payments of $300k were approved. Surely, Miskimmin must have thought, $1.7 million should be enough to buy success. His Swimwatch critics were about to see the power of the government’s money; were about to experience the rewards of sport’s management, Miskimmin style.

And did Miskimmin’s minions spend? Did they ever? Like drunken sailors they worked their way through Miskimmin’s $1.4 million grant. On a per-swimmer basis this team will be the world’s most expensive. It has cost New Zealand $1.7 million to send fourteen swimmers to the 2013 World Championships. That’s a stunning $121,000 per swimmer. The world’s richest economy, the United States of America won’t spend half that amount. The fourteen swimmers will compete in about 30 races. Each race; each time a New Zealand swimmer dives into the Barcelona Palau Sant Jordi Pool, the cost of preparing for that dive will have been $56,600. The average annual wage in New Zealand is $57,158. The opulence; the extravagance of this exercise has been stunning.

But Miskimmin is aware his reputation, his decision making, his credibility is on the line. Money is of little importance when the CEO of Sport New Zealand has pride and position at stake.

In addition to the normal cost of running the Wellington Centre and the Millennium Institute, the 2013 World Championship swim team wanted for nothing. Here are a few of the add-ons.

  1. Bill Sweetenham was flown in from Australia to coach half a dozen Millenium swimmers. I have no idea what that exercise cost but Bill never comes cheap. For three months coaching, an all-up cost of $150,000 would not surprise.
  2. Lauren Boyle and Gareth Kean were sent to a Spanish High Altitude Camp for two week; were flown back to New Zealand for a month and then back to Spain for more camps and finally the Championships.
  3. David Lyles was flown from China to New Zealand twice. Once to inspect the Millennium Institute and then to begin coaching.
  4. The team’s pre-game’s preparation in Europe has wanted for nothing – Mare Nostrum competition, double return flights to New Zealand, high altitude camps in the Sierra Mountains and sea level training in the Catalan sun. It did seem to be a case of – if it might help get it, if it might work do it.

There is every reason to expect stellar results from this team. New Zealand has provided generous funding. Swimming New Zealand has spent it, without restriction. We have been told Miskimmin and his selected foreign imports know what’s best for swimming; can do it better than independent club coaches. Well, Swimming New Zealand has had the money and free rein to do it their way. If Miskimmin is right only a bounteous haul of medals will suffice. Nothing less will do.

But what does a bounteous haul of medals mean. Well this is the first year after an Olympic Games. World Championships held at this time are always less competitive. Many great swimmers have retired (Phelps, Veldhuis and Adlington) and others are having a quiet year (Schmitt and Soni) gathering their resources before pushing on to the next Games in Rio.

Lauren Boyle has been especially fortunate. The retirement of Rebecca Adlington and Allison Schmitt’s quiet post-Olympic year means two of those ahead of her in London will not be in Barcelona. What that means is that just to maintain her London position Lauren Boyle needs to return with at least a silver medal. Progress requires a win. A return on Miskimmin’s investment requires a gold medal from Lauren Boyle. That is the minimum.

Glenn Snyders was 20th and 16th in the London Olympic Games. However the World Championships include Snyders’ favourite 50 meter breaststroke event. To repeat his London performance Snyders will need to make a final in Barcelona. For Miskimmin to claim his plan for the sport works, Snyders will need to return to Los Angeles with a medal.

Matthew Stanley was 15th and 18th in London. He will benefit as much a Boyle from post-Olympic retirements. To just stay where he was in London, Stanley will need to make a final in Barcelona. Only a medal will show a return on Miskimmin’s million.

Gareth Kean was 29th and 13th in London. He too will need a medal in Barcelona to demonstrate that the decision to form a Swimming New Zealand training club in Wellington and the investment in round the world trips to Spanish high altitude camps was justified. Anything less and Miskimmin’s money will have only bought the status quo.

Progress will also require Kane Radford and Cara Baker to medal in their open water swims.

If the others on this team, that’s Sophia Batchelor, Shaun Burnett, Nathan Capp, Mitchell Donaldson, Samantha Lee, Samantha Lucie-Smith, Emma Robinson and Phillip Ryan are going to perform to a level that justifies Miskimmin’s policies and our investment of $56,600 per dive, $121,000 per swimmer they will all need to make a final; they will all need to be in the top eight in Barcelona.

Anything less than a gold medal, five other medals and eight finalists at this World Championships will not be a failure by the athletes involved. This has never been about their application or effort. Anything less will be a failure by Miskimmin and those at Swimming New Zealand charged with implementing the policies of Sport New Zealand. Any team result in Barcelona that falls short of these results and Swimming New Zealand will have wasted another $1.7 million of your money and mine. And for that Miskimmin, Renford, Villanueva, Layton and Lyles should be held responsible. And because we warned them their policies were flawed they should be asked to leave, sacked without notice.

Renford Takes The Piss

Friday, July 19th, 2013

By David

Swimming New Zealand has just excelled itself. It would be hard to find a better example anywhere of bad taste, deception and hypocritical insincerity. On their website SNZ has just made the following announcement.

CAMPAIGN TO THANK SPORT VOLUNTEERS KICKS-OFF

17th July 2013

We want as many people as possible to show their appreciation for the Sport Makers, who literally make sport happen, by sending them a thank you e-card available here.  Sport Makers who receive a thank you e-card can enter a monthly draw to win $500 worth of sports merchandise for them or their club.  Nationally there will be 34 winners a month, with at least one winner from each RST region. The ‘Thank a Sport Maker’ campaign is part of a partnership involving the Lotto Volunteer Foundation, RSTs and Sport NZ.  It will see sport volunteers sharing in over $1 million of quality clothing and sports gear over the next three years.

I’m sure many readers will be thinking that sounds really good. Swimming New Zealand is getting behind its volunteer army; thanking them for “literally making the sport happen”. And if that was all there was to this story then SNZ’s call to arms would indeed be admirable. But alas, there is more.

For some reason the new open Swimming New Zealand no longer publish Board Minutes on their website. Not only that, the Minutes of Board Meetings before the Miskimmin revolution have been removed from the website. The whole thing reminds me of a week I spent in Moscow during the Soviet era. Our guide refused to discuss anything that happened in Russia prior to the revolution. The Tzars? What Tzars? It seems like the new Swimming New Zealand has also “sanitized” the organization’s history.

I’ve always been a bit suspicious of “public” organizations that make deals in secret – the Millennium Institute behind closed doors. What do Layton and Renford have to hide? What is it that the membership is not allowed to know? The new Swimming New Zealand is clearly an organization where the members will only be told a Layton and Renford sterile version of how the business is being managed.

However one resolution Swimming New Zealand did pass recently and did publish was the decision to start charging administrators and officials an annual membership fee. In fact that rapacious decision was one of the first decisions of the Layton, Renford era. This is how the Swimming New Zealand website describes the new owner’s decision to financially rip-off those “who literally make sport happen”.

Membership

The following shall be the Members of SNZ

Regionally or higher qualified inspectors of turns, officials and nationally or higher qualified time keepers. The board shall set criteria and fees for any new classes of membership. These fees are detailed below. Affiliation fees are set annually by the SNZ Board however the board has confirmed that the fees detailed below will apply for 2013/14 and 2014/15.

Fee type

 

SNZ fee

 

Regional fee

 

Total fee

 

Technical official

 

$15

 

-

 

$15

 

 

I imagine there are few readers unaware of what I am about to say. On the one hand the wonderful organization that is Swimming New Zealand says that they “want as many people as possible to show their appreciation for the Sport Makers, who literally make sport happen, by sending them a thank you e-card.” And on the other hand Swimming New Zealand sends the organization’s thank you card out in the form of a new, unprecedented annual membership invoice. It certainly is a new way to thank volunteers – charge them a fee for volunteering their time.

If Swimming New Zealand is so concerned about showing their “appreciation for the Sport Makers” perhaps they should start by dropping their usury fee. And all swimming’s Sport Makers should consider whether holding on to their $15 but continuing to work at swim meets may be in the best interests of the sport they have served for a very long time. Just don’t pay the fee until Layton and Renford realize the immorality of their decision and drop the whole thing.

Thanking volunteers with an e-card and charging then a membership fee; the whole thing is typical of a morally bankrupt and desperate organization. Anyone capable of that con is capable of anything. In New Zealand I’ve been fortunate enough to know some fine administrators; men and women of impeccable integrity. Beth Meade, Jill Vernon, Jo and Allen Draisey, Tony Cooper – the list is huge. The very thought that these men and women should be charged for what they willingly do or did is repugnant beyond belief. Sending them an e-card just compounds the travesty.

Numerous people involved in swimming have said Swimming New Zealand’s new bosses should be given a chance to prove themselves. Renford, they say seems like a nice guy. That could very well be true. Layton and Renford may be the most personable characters you could ever want to meet. However it counts for nothing when they represent and stand behind decisions like this one. While that sort of behaviour is typical of their management they will get no support from this website. Human history is littered with example of good people doing some very bad things. Motivated by greed or fear or servitude or misplaced loyalty they betray their judgement and sanction scandalous behaviour. The decision to charge swimming volunteers a membership fee is fairly described as scandalous behaviour. The decision to then thank them with an e-card is worse – perhaps offensive disrespect gets close.

Heartland

Tuesday, July 16th, 2013

By David

I’m not very confident about writing this story. Critics will take it as proof positive that the author of Swimwatch is a swimming dinosaur; committed to a world that has had its day. Certainly that will be the conclusion of Miskimmin, Leyton and Renford. I’ll explain why shortly.

I spent this weekend at the Greerton Swimming Club’s Winter Championship meet at the Baywave Pool in Mt. Maunganui. And it was good – very good. I’ve never been to the meet or the pool before. The pool is terrific – ten lanes wide, two metres deep, open and spacious. A good pool like this one could maybe do with a modern set of starting blocks, but the ones they have are good versions of the old style. The meet is really well run – no marshalling, now that is progress, good officials who patiently explain where to collect the West Auckland programs, what time the café opens and the skin’s qualifying rules. Before I left Auckland I was warned about a lack of seating. But that isn’t true. There is plenty of space.

The standard of competition is good. Swimmers on our team won the women’s 50 and 100 breaststroke and the 200 backstroke. We also did well in the woman’s 200 breaststroke (2nd), 100 backstroke (2nd), 50 freestyle (3rd, 4th and 5th) and 100 freestyle (3rd). All in all, if you’ve never been, the Greerton Meet is well worth the trip. I just love the atmosphere of these occasions. Done well, and Greerton is done well, they represent all that’s good and proper about sport. They stand for the principles and ideas that are important; honest competition, heats and finals, efficient and fun. Greerton Meets around New Zealand are where Danyon Loader, Toni Jeffs and Anna Simcic learned their trade. More Olympic medals were nurtured at meets like the Greerton Winter Championships than ever graced the Millennium Institute’s pool. And at a fraction of the cost. Greerton’s running equivalents (the Tauranga Twilight Meet and Hasting’s Easter Show were two of them) nurtured Walker, Quax, Dixon, Snell, Halberg and Magee. It is not too extreme to say that even Hillary learned how to conquer Everest on Greerton size mountains in New Zealand. And before any Layton or Renford act-alikes mutter on about that being in the old days and times have moved on – remember this.

Loader still holds two New Zealand Open short course records and after fifty years Peter Snell is still the New Zealand 800 meter record holder, set at a track meet in Christchurch not unlike the Greerton Swimming version. My wife, Alison has run in plenty of “Greerton type” track meets and for thirty-five years has held the New Zealand open 1000 metre record. If Greeton really is a throwback to a past era – how come the modern Millennium way can’t produce athletes who can swim or run faster than those nurtured in meets like Greerton.

Of course you won’t find Layton or Renford at places like Greerton. They are much too important for that. They are busy in the Millennium Institute’s coffee shop, texting Peter Miskimmin, asking him to approve the new style of uniform for Swimming New Zealand’s pampered “elite”. A bit more time in Greerton and a whole heap less Millennium coffee would do them and New Zealand swimming a heap of good.

After all Greerton is where the next Loaders and Kingsmans are on display. But, and Donna Bouzaid take note, I certainly hope tomorrow’s best swimmers are not in some 2013 Greerton shop window waiting for your attention. If the best swimmers on show at Greerton want to succeed; if they really want to conquer swimming’s Everest, they would be well advised to scorn not the base degrees from which they did ascend. They would be well warned to stay loyal to Greerton – the place that taught them their trade and nurtured their talent. The contrast is as stark as it is obvious. Greerton exists to further each swimmer’s journey. The Millennium Institute uses swimmers to further Swimming New Zealand’s journey.

You see – it works like this. If you are too important for good meets like Greerton, if Greerton is below your status in life, then you will never be any good at this sport and you will be even worse at the activity called life. From what I’ve been told Miskimmin got rid of Justin Grace, New Zealand’s best cycling coach, because Grace chose to base his cycle training in an east Auckland garage ahead of Miskimmin’s posh new velodrome. New Zealand cycling needed that garage. New Zealand swimming needs Greerton.

It has long been part of my problem with the Millennium program. From the time Jan Cameron came up with the idea, the program has promoted actions and beliefs way above its status. You must know what I mean. Millennium swimmers don’t need to enter national meets the same way as the rest of us. Millennium swimmers get New Zealand national look-alike uniforms. Millennium swimmers don’t sit or mix with their old team mates. And Millennium Institute, as a team, doesn’t swim at the Greerton Swimming Club’s Winter Championship. It’s more than they can manage to tackle the drive across the Harbour Bridge to swim in the Auckland Centre’s monthly Level One swim meets. I’m sure the idea of following their GPS to the Bay of Plenty – Bay of where – fills them with mortal despair. Their way is not the New Zealand way. Hopefully it never will be. Greerton is where New Zealand sportsmen and women prosper and grow.

So thank you Greerton. Thank you for a fun and beneficial weekend of swimming. Your swim meet represents all that this coach enjoys. West Auckland’s swimmers benefited from being at your meet. If it’s okay with you guys, we’d like to come back next year.

 

Pie In The Sky

Tuesday, July 9th, 2013

By David

Is swimming about to be cast adrift by Sky Sport? Yesterday this comment was posted on the Swimwatch blog.

David, how about a united call to arms for Sky to change their mind and cover the World Champs later this month? We have had coverage for years and to go back to this is a major step back in this day and age. They will be feeling vulnerable having lost other sports. Please tell all your readers to protest to sky. It is a shame that no such campaign has come from SNZ headquarters, I bet they do not even know.

It is entirely appropriate that a Swimwatch reader has highlighted, what seems to be, a change in Sky’s coverage of swimming. For several years swimming has enjoyed a pretty special relationship with Sky Television. World Championships have been well covered. Even the New Zealand Championships received a full Sky Television service. I have often wondered how much New Zealand National Coach, Jan Cameron, had to do with swimming’s position of privilege in the Sky corridors of power.

Until recently Cameron’s husband, Kevin Cameron, was the director of sport production at Sky Television in New Zealand. Did that relationship have anything to do with swimming’s wall to wall television coverage? There was certainly something odd about Sky’s involvement in the Swimming National Championships. It must be the only sporting event covered by Sky where their employees outnumber the spectators, where Sky vehicles occupy more parking space than the cars of spectators and competitors and where most of the sport on show is as dull as watching grass grow.

The spectacle of ex-All Black, Ian Jones rushing around the pool, breathlessly interviewing race winners is better entertainment than anything in the pool. Usually his frantic questions die without trace. Jones clearly does not understand he’s interviewing the new Swimming New Zealand generation; youth tutored in the art of saying nothing, skilled in use of the platitude and well aware of the Swimming New Zealand directive that no one speaks “to any media in a negative way regarding Swimming NZ Inc.”

If Sky is in the process of pulling the plug on swimming in New Zealand then Miskimmin, Layton and Renford have only themselves to blame. The sport they run is boring. The athletes in their Millenium Institute are programmed automations; strangers to the stuff of exciting television. Television looks for two things – close races involving domestic athletes who win international sporting events and athletes with exciting, interesting personalities. Television needs a good story.

I think it is probably true that Jan Cameron’s relationship with the boss of Sky papered over the sport’s shortcomings. But now swimming must stand on its own two feet; unaided by close family ties. And I suspect the product of swimming in New Zealand will not sell. Sky Television will move on; just as I would in their position.

Several years ago I coached Toni Jeffs. There were a hundred things television found interesting about Toni – her night club sponsorships, her Lydiard based training, her successful international swimming resume, her fictitious reputation for enjoying a party and her outspoken opinion on swimming administrators. At her farewell party, the night before Toni left for the Barcelona Olympic Games, two New Zealand and one Australian television network turned up to film the occasion. Kerry Ann Evans took us to dinner. Peter Williams and Mark Sainsbury were at the party. No current swimmer could generate that interest. Miskimmin’s Swimming New Zealand would never allow it to happen.

In the week before each year’s Auckland Swimming Championships I received a call from Television New Zealand. They asked, “Was Toni coming up to Auckland for the Championships?” If she was going to be in Henderson Television New Zealand would send a film crew to the meet. At the meet Toni would be interviewed. In the morning, David Myer, the CEO of Swimming New Zealand would call me, suggesting that Toni should attend one of his media programs. His call was all we needed to confirm the success of Toni’s interview. The truth was Toni had forgotten more about handling the media than David Myer ever knew.

Swimming today does not have the sort of media appeal generated by Toni Jeffs. Responsibility for swimming’s poor public profile lies squarely with three bureaucrats; Miskimmin, Leyton and Renford It is difficult to imagine they have the skills, personality or wish to correct the sport’s media shortcomings. Can they produce several swimming Walkers, Quaxs and Dixons; domestic stars capable of offering world class competition in New Zealand? Not at the Millennium Institute they can’t. Can they nurture interesting, vibrant personalities, capable of connecting with New Zealand’s television audience? That’s the last thing Swimming New Zealand want. What say Swimming New Zealand can’t control those with personality?

While the Miskimmin, Leyton and Renford sport performs poorly; while the participants are dull, groomed automatons; while Sky Television is no longer being swayed by family connections, of course the network is going to look for more attractive places to send their trucks. Sky want viewers watching their broadcast not switching to Coronation Street at the sight of Ian Jones holding some dripping robot, hostage to his microphone.

The Swimwatch correspondent, quoted at the beginning of this story, is right. It is sad Sky Television has lost interest in the sport of swimming; sad but understandable. Our “call to arms” however should not be addressed to Sky Sport. The target of our “call to arms” should be Swimming New Zealand, should be Miskimmin, Laytin and Renford. It will be interesting to see what they do about it. It will be even more interesting to see whether they are capable of doing anything about it.

 

Trouble At T’Mill

Friday, July 5th, 2013

By David

I can never tell which Swimwatch topics are going to attract attention. Quite frequently issues that I have found fascinating have had little or no popular appeal. And then a story comes along that clearly rubs an exposed nerve; that is unmistakably of significant interest. Two statistics seem to measure the weight of a story – the number of readers and the type of comments.

The Swimwatch article that questions Donna Bouzaid’s intentions has scored high on both counts. Clearly Donna Bouzaid’s raison d’etre needs explanation. For example, in the four days since Bouzaid was asked to tell us whether she was a Millennium talent scout, the number of visits to Swimwatch has increased by 43%. There is no possibility a surge of that significance is a statistical anomaly. Neither does it mean that the New Zealand swimming community agrees with the position taken by Swimwatch. But it does mean Donna Bouzaid’s purpose is of wide interest. Is she going to help those of us involved in delivering swimming to New Zealand or is she a hired one person press gang working for an elite coterie led by Miskimmin and Renford? The interest shown in the Swimwatch story demands that Donna Bouzaid answers that question.

The vitriol of reader’s comments is also an indication of a story’s interest and accuracy. How did Shakespeare describe the same idea – “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” We have had one classic example of this sort of wild reaction. A Bouzaid supporter expressed his or her frustration by saying, “You are such a wanker Wright, I am surprised no one has taken to you with a baseball bat.” The comments posted by Jane and JamesT are serious and important observations about this sort of nonsense. I recommend you read them both. Until I read Jane’s note, I had never considered that the comments section of Swimwatch and similar swimming blogs may be an indication of the communication maturity of those involved in the sport. But it is a good thought. Sadly this comment says that some of Donna Bouzaid’s supporters are infantile idiots.

However their overreaction could also indicate that Renford and Bouzaid have something to hide. Do you remember when Chris Moller attacked Brian Palmer at the Swimming New Zealand Special Meeting? Moller was in a corner so he played the man. He attacked the messenger. Is this Swimwatch comment an example of the same thing? Perhaps Bouzaid does not want to explain herself so arranges for attention to be diverted to the story’s author.

But the purpose of Swimwatch is to prevent that sort of behavior. I might be all the things Bouzaid’s supporters have called me. I might even be lucky to have missed having my brains crushed by Renford and Bouzaid admirers. But that does nothing to avoid the central issue of this story. Is Bouzaid employed by Swimming New Zealand to recruit swimmers for the Millennium Institute? Is she going to wander around New Zealand selling the tale that young swimmers from Gisborne, Napier, Nelson, Dunedin and West Auckland Aquatics will be better off living and swimming at the Millennium Institute?

Is she going to try and convince us that the theft of club swimmers; that poaching our club’s best talent is good and proper and will produce better individuals and a stronger sport. East German Stazi agents used to make the same claim.

Coaches in New Zealand should be told the answers to these questions. Donna Bouzaid needs to tell us and she needs to tell us now. Why? Because Bouzaid’s silence and the reaction of her followers is ominous. I have a feeling Bouzaid is as guilty as all hell.

There will be many who think this negative opinion is premature. But to these generous souls I say, it’s all a matter of trust. In the past three years dodgy deals and sharp practice have become the norm at Swimming New Zealand. Because the people at the top are new does not mean the practices of a generation have changed. In fact there are signs Swimming New Zealand still cannot be trusted.

A Swimming New Zealand Special General Meeting held on 28 July 2012 approved the recommendations contained in the Moller Report. That approval meant the recommendations became “shareholder” instructions to the Board. The new Board was compelled to act in accordance with those instructions. But this new Board doesn’t care about all that. Here is the instruction the Regions gave Chairman Layton and his new Board.

SNZ will no longer deliver the “teach the teachers” learn to swim programme. The Board will need to manage an orderly transfer of the existing programme to an appropriate New Zealand organisation.

Less than a year later Layton told the Regions his Board has decided to ignore this instruction. Swimming New Zealand will keep the learn to swim function. I’m not here to debate the rights and wrongs of whether Swimming New Zealand should be involved in learn to swim. I am here to highlight the utter contempt the decision of the new Board shows for the members of Swimming New Zealand. Layton and his Board do not have the authority to overturn a decision of a General Meeting. That can only be done by another General Meeting.

The new Board clearly believes they can act in any way they like; with no regard for rules or process. The environment they live in is toxic and it’s getting worse. In the new Swimming New Zealand the rule of law is antediluvian; today there is only the exercise of power.

In these conditions; in this morally bankrupt setting, would you bet the house that Donna Bouzaid has not been employed to pillage New Zealand clubs of their best swimmers. I certainly wouldn’t. In this Swimming New Zealand world “trust but verify” is irresponsible. Don’t trust anyone from Swimming New Zealand an inch until they prove their intentions in triplicate. And that certainly includes Donna Bouzaid.