Trouble At T’Mill

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.

  • Northern Swimmer

    Was whoever called for violent action with extreme prejudice wrong to do so? Yes
    Was their visceral reaction to your article wrong? Not necessarily so.

    David, you are judging Donna Bouzaid on an alleged future sin of which you give us no details – “two prominent members of the swimming community have told me they are convinced that [talent scouting and poaching] is exactly what Donna Bouzaid has been hired to do”. Who has told you this? On what facts do they base their assumption?

    As you mention Donna fought tooth and nail with Jan Cameron to avoid the scourge that was the Millennium Institute and the stranglehold that it had upon swimming in New Zealand. She has fought this fight for over a decade. Last year at the Olympic prep camp disgruntled swimmers and coaches alike were beating a straight path to her door. Do you really believe that given this position she is immediately going to flip becoming ‘the gamekeeper turned poacher’?

    Yes she says that there are positive changes that have taken place, and a shared vision (or whatever PR rubbish it is this week), but what else could she say? If she were to call them vermin and say that it is the same old structure just with different puppets she would not be allowed any where near Pelorus House. Furthermore, you completely ignore what she states as her goal in her new role – turning coaches and athletes into high performance coaches and athletes. The fact that she mentions coach development as well as athlete development surely signals she still believes in long term coach and athlete relationships and development. This is a markedly different approach to the previous cash-cropping – with occasional visitation rights at the Millennium Institute – which Jan Cameron believed was ‘ coach and athlete development’.

    While i do not share the violent sentiment against you, I can empathise with whoever’s emotion. Donna has done no wrong. You are not giving her a chance – she starts her role in September. That is when we may judge her by her actions.

    So maybe not a baseball bat for you David, but i would suggest a brickbat in this instance.

  • David

    Your argument is sound and is the reasonable way a reasonable person would look on the appointment of Donna Bouzaid. The problem at SNZ is that Sport NZ and SNZ enjoy nothing more than exploiting the generosity of reasonable people. The WW2 comparison with Chamberlin has some validity. The ultimate betrayal was The Coalition of Regions; shamelessly shafted because they were reasonable.
    I don’t know what Bouzaid is going to do – but because of who she works for now, I am not going to trust her an inch until she earns that trust from scratch. Because if we start off trusting, as you suggest, by the time we find out she has changed sides it will be too late. Like the Coalition of Regions we will have been shafted as well.