Pie In The Sky

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.


  • Ringo Battersby

    Ok I think you have raised a seperate issue here. I can understand your points on the nationals, even if it indulges in a bit of self flagellation. The worlds is a seperate kettle of fish so to speak, it involves a one off payment, no production hassles etc. Swimming NZ inner turmoil aside, as a swimming fan I would still like to see these on TV whether the finals are awash with Kiwis or not. I am sure many swim fans would feel the same, so ring sky and tell them.