Archive for October, 2013

True To Form

Wednesday, October 30th, 2013

By David

Some readers may remember that I filed a Disputes Tribunal claim asking that Swimming New Zealand be ordered to refund the protest fee I paid questioning the legality of the Wellington Swimming Pool. I argued that Swimming New Zealand had rejected my complaint but had immediately altered the pool in line with my protest. Their words said “No” but their actions said my protest was valid.

However the real motivation for my Tribunal claim was the hurt inflicted on a Raumati Swimming Club member by Swimming New Zealand continuing to use the shallow end of that dangerous pool. You may remember the ten year old who lost her front teeth diving into the Wellington Pool. My protest was aimed at preventing just that sort of tragedy. I’m told that the damaged teeth will not be fully repaired until this young lady is twenty years of age. Well done Swimming New Zealand.

If my claim caused Swimming New Zealand some disruption; some upset; cost them money; pissed them off a bit; then I would be well pleased. There is no way that young girl should lose her teeth while the hierarchy of Swimming New Zealand continued to drink their lattes in the Millennium coffee shop oblivious to her condition. Swimming New Zealand deserved some discomfort. Winning was not the point. Being a thorn in their side was all that mattered.

Well, here is what happened. I filed the claim and this week received an email from a Tribunal Case Manager, Nicole Gordon. The news it contained was as disappointing as it was expected.

The Tribunal wishes to advise Mr Wright that the Tribunal is unlikely to have jurisdiction to hear this matter. The Tribunal can only hear matters relating to contract and to destruction or damage to property (see section 10 of the Disputes Tribunals Act). It appears that your claim does not fall under those headings. In addition, the Tribunal cannot hear claims that fall under an enactment (as appears to be the case here) nor claims that are purely for economic loss (as appears to be the case here).

But most dark clouds have a silver lining. And this one was no exception. Swimming New Zealand had commissioned the Affordable Lawyer to prepare an “OBJECTION TO JURISDICTION OF THE DISPUTES TRIBUNAL TO DEAL WITH DISPUTE, AND DEFENCE.”

It was only a couple of pages and certainly would have cost Swimming New Zealand less than repairing a set of front teeth. But there’s probably $500 worth of time in the defence document. And that’s the important bit. In my view Swimming New Zealand ignored my advice; they made a decision that cost a member her teeth. The pain of $500 is well deserved.

Swimming New Zealand’s defence said the following.

The respondent objects to the jurisdiction of the Tribunal to deal with this dispute. Further, in the event that the Tribunal considers it has jurisdiction to consider the dispute, the respondent denies that it has any liability to the applicant or that the Tribunal may award the relief sought by the applicant. The decision of the meet director is final, and there is no right of appeal in respect of it. The decision reached by the meet director was correct. As explained by the meet director in his response to the protest, FINA Rules FR1.3 and FR1.4 are applicable. FR1.3 refers to the requirement that events held under FINA Rules:

The meet director determined that the Wellington Regional Aquatic Centre complied with Rules FR1.3 and FR1.4. He was correct to do so. For the reasons outlined above, even if he was not correct to do so, the Tribunal has no jurisdiction to find in favour of the applicant in respect of this dispute.

All that still begs the question – if the Wellington pool is so bloody fantastic why do Swimming New Zealand members lose teeth diving into it and why did Swimming New Zealand pay to have the pool altered for national events?

But the real message from this defence document is that not much has changed in the management of Swimming New Zealand. In my opinion the same insufferable arrogance that ruined the sport of swimming for ten years is alive and well today. Nothing has changed. We do no wrong, we have all the answers, don’t question our excellence, don’t challenge our integrity and don’t expect accountability.

You don’t believe me? Then think about a little girl in Raumati for a moment and then read their lawyer’s opinion one more time. You bet I’m delighted I cost them their $500 lawyer’s fee.

And so what’s next. Well another protest, is the answer. At the next event I attend at the Wellington Pool I’m going to ask for the event to be shifted to Auckland. My protest will be based on FINA Rule FR 2.11. This Rule says

During competition the water in the pool must be kept at a constant level, with no appreciable movement. In order to observe health regulations in force in most countries, inflow and outflow is permissible as long as no appreciable current or turbulence is created.

My protest will be based on three facts.

  1. A comment on this site, received from Swimming New Zealand’s long time ex National Coach, Clive Rushton that says, “There is a current. There always has been a current. It’s a strong current. It’s a different strength of current on the stand side to the window side. Next time you’re there, between sessions when the pool is empty, scrunch up a piece of paper and drop it in the window-side shallow end. Watch.”
  2. My experience of the Rushton test. Yes, I scrunched a piece of paper and dropped it in the window-side shallow end and I watched. Clive is right. With foils my scrunched paper could have won the America’s Cup.
  3. The practical experiences of watching New Zealand’s best swimmer, Lauren Boyle, compete in two 200 metre events. Each length “against” the current took Boyle an extra stroke compared to the length where she was swept along by Wellington’s favourable tide. Before any of this was discussed on Swimwatch, other swimmers were mentioning the feeling of a current in the pool.

The new Swimming New Zealand asked us to monitor their performance. I have done that. The results are not much different from the old version. Let’s see how they respond to this next little test.

Can’t Beat Them, Join Them

Thursday, October 24th, 2013

By David

What does it take to succeed in New Zealand sport? What qualities does Miskimmin look for when he appoints a suit to the Boards of Cycling, Rugby League, Swimming, Marbles and Tiddlywinks? Is there a special talent or feature that Miskimmin holds dear? Is there a unique detail that marks a person as suitable for power in the Board Rooms of New Zealand sport?

Well, I am going to let you in on a secret. I think I have the answer. I think I can disclose why some of the best administrators in New Zealand sport are overlooked; despatched into a bleak, sporting wilderness. I think I also know why some characters I wouldn’t put in charge of a student party in Speight’s Brewery end up as sporting VIPs. Be very careful what you do with this information.

But if you want to be anything at all in the Miskimmin empire you have to be a member of the Institute of Directors. It is as simple as that. If you can’t put “Member of the Institute of Directors” on your Resume, the corridors of sporting power are not for you. If you are a member of the Institute then three years in power and a junket to the Rio Olympic Games beckons. Membership of the Mezzanine Floor, Tower Building, 50 Customhouse Quay, Wellington and “Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it.” At least that’s the way it seems.

Just look at the evidence. The hired guns Miskimmin used to have planted in Swimming New Zealand Board Meetings were both members of the Institute of Directors. I’m not sure whether he still is but a couple of years ago Kerry McDonald was President of the place. On the current Swimming New Zealand Board Brent Layton is a “Fellow” of the Institute, Margaret McKee is a member, Bruce Cotterill is a member – Bruce Cotterell has more companies in his Director’s Resume than most of us have hot dinners – and Geoff Brown doesn’t say, but the number of his directorships strongly suggests Institute membership. Swimming is not the only sport that Miskimmin has populated with Institute members. Chis Moller is a favorite and, of course, Moller is a fully-fledged member of the Institute of Directors.

But, perhaps I should test my theory. After all, I’d be very interested in a position on one of Miskimmin’s Boards. It doesn’t have to be swimming; although I do have a fair bit of international experience in that sport. However to misquote Tim Shadbolt, “I don’t care where as long as I’m there.” After all I’ve got an impressive list of directorships. Not quite as many as Bruce Cotterell. No one has as many as Bruce Cotterell. But I have been on the Board of some pretty big companies, scattered around the world. So this is what I’ll do.

Tomorrow I’ll call on my past and go off and have lunch at the Head Office of the British Institute of Directors, 116 Pall Mall, St James, London SW1. Surely that’s going to be enough to get me in Miskimmin’s good books. Surely that will lift me into the McDonald and Moller clique. Surely I will become a candidate for New Zealand sporting prominence. To assure you that I’ve actually been welcomed in for lunch, I will finish this post tomorrow with full details of the food, the conversation and the company. I wouldn’t want Miskimmin thinking I was padding my Resume with any unearned status. In the meantime here’s a photo of where I’ll be at 12.00noon tomorrow afternoon.

… And now it’s tomorrow. My lunch is over. From 12.00noon to 5.30pm it’s only just over. My contact with the British Institute of Directors has been confirmed. I am expecting a call from Miskimmin at any moment. Lunch was a lot of fun. Two old mates of mine were there. Until recently Richard was the CEO of Britain’s largest meat company. Stephen owned his own lamb business until he sold it for many millions of pounds and retired into the Yorkshire countryside.

Actually Stephen is famous for another reason. Most Swimwatch readers will be aware of the children’s rhyme – The Grand Old Duke of York. You know the one.

The Grand Old Duke of York

He had ten thousand men

He marched them up to the top of the hill

And marched them down again

Well Stephen owns the castle at the top of the Duke of York’s hill; all sixteen bedrooms and fourteen bathrooms of it. He says the castle is becoming a bit much for him and his wife. In case he sells it I’ve included a photo of Stephen beside an Institute of Director’s statue of the Duke of York.

For lunch I had an entrée of English Rabbit and a main course of Welsh Lamb – deliciously washed down with far too much Chardonnay. As usual the occasion, the food, the company and the location were all you would expect from the British Institute of Directors.

Of course much of our conversation centered on what we had been doing since we last met. It is interesting that these self-made directors have little time for the socialism promoted by Miskimmin. And when you think of it – New Zealand must be unique. Here we have members of the New Zealand Institute of Directors, responsible for preserving and promoting the health of free market place economics, happily accepting Miskimmin’s invitation to sit on Boards that pillage the resources of private businesses like ours in West Auckland. Adam Smith should be their guide. Instead it seems Leon Trotsky is their leader. Never let there be any misunderstanding. The appalling condition of swimming in New Zealand that prompted the most recent changes was the direct consequence of central control. A free enterprise market in swimming would have done things so much better. Our problem is that the recent changes increased Swimming New Zealand’s central power. The feature that caused our problems has not been addressed. And the result will be the same. At least that’s what they tell me at the British Institute of Directors.

But hey, Peter you haven’t called yet. What more can I do? What more do you need?


The Sublime And The Ridiculous

Monday, October 21st, 2013

By David

For ten years the United Kingdom was my home. And I loved the place – especially Scotland. On this trip back a phenomenon I’ve noticed before has been starkly evident. Some readers may have observed the same thing. After a long period away, when you revisit a place of personal importance, somewhere full of special memories, it is wise to be prepared. Time can cause irreparable damage or bestow unimagined benefits. Seldom are things the same. Revisit the past and the memories you treasure are about to be broken or, if you are lucky, raised to new prominence.

After eight years coaching in Florida the National Short Course Championships in Wellington provided an opportunity to visit my favourite New Zealand restaurant; Il Casino in Tory Street  The place was lovely; a big open fire, soft leather couches and chairs, food to die for and a welcoming owner. When I worked in Wellington I had dinner there every Wednesday night. For old time’s sake I had to go back. Alas, Il Casino is no more; the owner has passed away, the old Victorian building has gone, replaced by a glass and steel office block. Italian salads, tender steaks and fine European wine have been ousted by harsh flat face computer screens. There really was no going back.

With a heavy heart I drove away, certain that the other Wellington restaurant of my past, the Green Parrot would have suffered a similar fate. But at the bottom of Taranaki Street there was still a sign that said Green Parrot. It even looked like the same sign. In 1968 Pru Chapman and I ate at the Green Parrot after training on a Sunday evening. Yes, even in 1968 there were some of us who trained seven days a week. Pru was preparing to swim for New Zealand in the Mexico City Olympic Games. I walked in and the tables looked the same, even the “windy” one close to the door was still there. And then I knew that all was well in the world. The waitress brought out a plate of thinly sliced white soggy bread. For 45 years every meal at the Green Parrot meal has begun with a plate of white, soggy bread. I had a huge steak and toasted Pru’s memory. 1968, them were the days and at the Green Parrot they still are.

Swimming New Zealand was a huge disappointment. After the years in Florida I came back to New Zealand and the sport was a shambles. The centralized model that was being built when I left was in total control. The Millennium Institute commanded all the resources; demanded all the attention. The rest of New Zealand was a swimming waste-land bereft of ideas and starved for attention. The jury is still out on whether the new lot are going to be any better. The centralized model has not been dismantled. People like Christian Renford have not started well. After an early junket around New Zealand he made some scathing comments to Radio Sport about the standard of New Zealand coaches. How dare he do that. How bloody dare he. It was his predecessors that bled us dry. It was the policies of Australians that cost two generations of swimmers their careers. Christian Renford has much to make up for. A little humility, perhaps too much to expect from an Australian, would go a long way. Swimming New Zealand is a long, long way from regaining my trust. I think it would be wise if they were just as far from regaining yours.

This trip to the UK has been a very “sentimental journey” full of surprises and disappointments.

The meat plant I built in Perth is fantastic. Well managed, bigger – 500 cattle a day – and better than when I left it thirty years ago. It has become everything I ever imagined and more. Selfishly and personally it is very rewarding to see something that I began – I shot the first steer killed there – grow and prosper.

Time has not been kind to the Station Hotel in Perth. Once the scene of fashionable afternoon teas, lively Scottish Young Farmer’s Club dances and serious business lunches, the Perth Station Hotel is now tired, in need of some tender, loving care.

Gleneagles is full of memories. In the 1980s Alison ran hundreds of miles around its four golf courses. Its steep green hills and long manicured fairways prepared her to win UK, Scottish and NZ National Championships and set NZ and Scottish records. Today Gleneagles looks spectacular. In 2014 the Ryder Cup will be held there and it shows. The tees, the greens, even the club house breakfast are perfect.

If you need a reason to avoid living in London, travel on the Underground at 5.30 any week day afternoon. Thirty years ago it was awful, crowded, hot and uncomfortable. That has not changed. The town is lovely. Its subterranean transport is a “cruel and unusual punishment”.

And then there is the Grenadier. Thirty years ago it was my local. The Grenadier was simply the best pub in the UK. This is how it is described on the “Traditional English Pubs” website.

Tucked away down exclusive Wilton Mews, on the corner of Old Barrack Yard, the patriotic Grenadier is painted red, white and blue. A bright red sentry box tells you, if you hadn’t guessed, this is a pub with a military history. The Duke of Wellington’s Grenadier Guards used it as their mess.

Inside it is small, dark and cosy; the ceiling coffee black, the walls dark panelled. The bar counter has an original pewter top, maybe the oldest of its kind.

The walls are cluttered with military memorabilia; bayonets and sabres, a breast-plate and bear-skin. If you’re lucky you may even see the ghost, said to be that of an officer who was flogged to death for cheating at cards. The Duke is said to have played cards here too. This is a gentlemen’s pub.

On this visit I was especially cautious. The memory of Il Casino tempered my optimism. But the Grenadier looked the same. Inside was still “small, dark and cosy”. The menu was promising. I ordered the double Guineafowl and Venison. It was fantastic. The Grenadier was all that I remembered; was all that I could have hoped. Getting there may have taken thirty years and thirty hours on an A380 but it was well worth the effort.

Now, Swimming New Zealand why couldn’t you be like that.

In The Spirit Of Drake

Friday, October 18th, 2013

By David

The town of Plymouth is in the far south west of England; three hours by very fast train from London’s Paddington Station. It is also a town of huge historical importance. It was here in 1588 that Sir Francis Drake was playing bowls on Plymouth Hoe when he observed the Spanish Armada sailing up the coast preparing to invade England. Drake, it is said, finished his game before sailing from Plymouth to defeat the Spanish scourge. The spirit of Drake was needed when Miskimmin invited the Spanish to take over swimming in New Zealand.

Yesterday I visited Plymouth Hoe. Two modern British warships were parked where Drake’s vessels once lay. I have no idea whose armada they are waiting to repel, but I do know that the sense of history here is demanding and loud.

Nowhere was that better shown than at the purpose of my visit; the Plymouth Leander Swimming Club. The work the Head Coach, Jon Rudd and his team are doing there is remarkable. Jon began coaching in Plymouth twenty five years ago in a four lane 20 metre pool. His club was not even the largest in Plymouth. Today Plymouth Leander is one of the largest in Britain, operates out of several town pools including the new eighteen month old ten lane 50 metre facility known as the Plymouth Life Centre and is the club that the current breaststroke Olympic Champion and World Record Holder, Ruta Meilutyte, calls home.

I decided to visit because I’m always interested to see how successful programs operate. Are they Millennium Institutes that simply plunder the talented from local programs? Do they pillage the work of others to feather their own nest? Or, do they build and create? Are they some Spanish conquistador or do they honour the memory of Plymouth Hoe and Sir Francis Drake.

Well, the Plymouth Leander Swim Team is no Millennium Institute; no Spanish Blackbeard. The Club and its coach operate in the spirit of Sir Francis Drake. They do their own thing and they do it well. The program I watched was similar to the schedules we swim during what we call the Trials and Co-ordination speed training period. Apart from the warm up and warm down most of the Plymouth Leander practice was swum at race pace. Rudd made the point that he preferred this pace as it conditioned swimmers to the speed they would actually be using in a race. Swimmers were not practicing something artificially fast or slow.

There was a difference though. Rudd’s practice was longer and harder than we would normally do during the speed work period at West Auckland Aquatics. For example our swimmers often do a set of 6×50 hard on one minute. Rudd did the same thing but followed it quickly with another hard 6×50 with fins. Every set was the same; our set but more. Clearly this is something I am going to have to ponder. Do we need to increase the quantity of the speed portion of our training?

I didn’t see anything that would convince me to drop the tough aerobic, 100 kilometres a week portion of the West Auckland Aquatics’ training. In fact, I think if we are to follow the Plymouth Leander lead of tougher speed sessions, the importance of a good aerobic base of conditioning is enhanced rather than diminished. Speed work done to the standard I saw at Plymouth could only benefit from having a well-conditioned base.

I was interested to watch Ruta Meilutyte. Some Swimwatch readers may know that I have been fortunate enough to coach three good breaststrokers. A few years ago Jane Copland was a National Open Champion and record holder. She swam for New Zealand in the Oceania Championships and in the Yokohama Pan Pacific Games. At West Auckland Aquatics, Jane Ip is the current New Zealand short course open woman’100 metre breaststroke champion. Abigail Frink may not be as fast but has improved very quickly from quite humble beginnings.

Ruta’s slow breaststroke in the warm up was quite normal; five strokes for each 25 metres, a count Jane and Abigail can easily manage. Even at a slow speed the power and thrust from Ruta’s kick were very apparent. At faster speeds, however there were differences. First of all Ruta is fast. From a dive all her 25 meter swims were below 15 seconds; probably averaging 14.7. Compared to Jane and Abigail I thought Ruta’s breaststroke was very busy; almost verging on ugly as she drove hard from one stroke to the next. There were no pauses. Ruta’s swims were a constant drive as she crashed angrily from one powerful stroke to the next. Swimming fast, Jane and Abigail look nicer. But that’s not really the point is it?

I was interested in the relationship Rudd has established with the Plymouth Council run learn to swim program. The most advanced learn to swim class is taken by a club trained teacher. The purpose is to ensure continuity. When a swimmer is ready to leave the learn to swim program, as Rudd said, “You came here this Monday you go over there next Monday.” That has the twin benefits to the learn to swim program of promoting those ready to move and makes space available for younger swimmers wanting to progress. Years ago in Wellington where our club controlled both the learn to swim and the competitive program there was a similar easy transition from school to club. The advantages to the Club are of course obvious. Smoothing this transition is an enlightened approach that in Plymouth is yielding spectacular results to both the learn to swim program and the Club. It is a relationship model that could be of benefit to many New Zealand learn to swim and competitive programs.

So thank you Jon for your welcome and for an interesting and rewarding afternoon. I learned and I was impressed.

The Two O’Clock From Kings Cross

Wednesday, October 9th, 2013

By David

Never believe a word they say. How many British comedians have made a living at the expense of British Rail? Reggie Peron was always late for work because of ice on the points at Clapham Junction. Les Dawson’s mother-in-law was said to be the cause of numerous rail misfortunes especially in the buffet car. I suppose, in the interests of honesty, there have been occasions when British Rail has caused me grief. When it was my last and only way home, they cancelled the last train to Sunningdale one night. On another occasion they didn’t stop at my station. As you can imagine, “British Rail apologize for any inconvenience” was hardly sufficient.

Only Swimming New Zealand is capable of matching the reputation of the British rail network. But there is a difference. British Rail may have the reputation of being a Monty Python Flying Circus. Swimming New Zealand is the real thing.

While Swimming New Zealand may more than merit their reputation, the stereotype of British Rail is most unfair. Normally things go according to plan. Today, for example, I arrived at Kings Cross and bought a return ticket on the 2.00pm service to Perth (that’s the original Scottish version of Perth). At 1.45pm, as promised, the train was ready to leave from Platform 2 and at 2.00pm exactly to the sound of whistles that would have done an Olympic swimming referee credit, our train pulled smoothly out of Kings Cross Station.

Right now it’s 2.43pm and our train is well on its way. It’s a warm, sunny day. On these occasions England truly is a green and pleasant land. What, you may ask, am I doing here? Well I’m going to Perth to have a look at the meat plant I built and managed for four years. I’m also having dinner with my secretary from those days, Audrey, and her husband. It should be fun. Audrey loves a good gossip as much as her old boss. I’m booked into the wonderfully Scottish Perth Station Hotel; the scene of many a wild and drunken Scottish Young Farmer’s Club Burn’s occasion. More than once I’ve booked a room for the night rather than risk the sixteen kilometre drive to our home at Gleneagles – that’s right, the town of golf course fame. Even from this distance, from the other side of the world, I’ve heard there is currently a prominent Swimming New Zealand employee, Philip Rush, who should have booked a room somewhere rather than drive himself anywhere.

What is Swimming New Zealand going to do about that? They call out the best sport’s administrator in New Zealand, Brian Palmer, in their Annual Meeting and demand his resignation. For years they have rubbished the author of Swimwatch. And all that time one of their own; one of their favoured sons, is accumulating four aces in a poker game called DIC. If it turns out that the NZ Fire Service consider him no longer safe to put out a house fire, Swimming New Zealand needs to explain to its members why he continues to have their confidence as an official caring for young swimmers. The recent history of Swimming New Zealand is littered with stories of drunken athletes; of swimmers throwing up in toilets, in bedrooms and on foreign streets. Swimming New Zealand may consider a call of, “Do what I say, not what I do” to be just fine. Personally I think it’s just another example of hypocrisy; of one rule for them and another for the rest of us.

After a week spent visiting my daughter Jane and indulging in a bit of Scottish nostalgia, next week I’m going to visit some swim programs around Europe. One of the problems of spending time in New Zealand is that you can quickly lose touch with what the rest of the world is doing. The Gods at Swimming New Zealand never do anything to address that pretty serious Antipodean problem. I’ve been back in New Zealand for three years and not once has a member of the SNZ high and mighty said hello or suggested areas where I could improve the tuition I provide at the West Wave Pool – not bloody once. So, as usual, I’ll have to go out and do it for myself. I’ll visit good European swim programs. I’ll discuss and watch their training. I’ll ask them to “teach me something”. And from it all I hope desperately that I will learn.

When Lydiard was alive I used him as a sounding board – Arthur this has gone wrong what do you think I should do? I used to call Duncan Laing in much the same way. In the United States Mark Schubert was available to provide similar guidance. His opinion was very valuable; often harsh, often embarrassingly direct, but always in the best interests of me and my swimmers. Today I bounce ideas off master track coach, Arch Jelley. He is a source of sound experience. Brian Palmer has also been a willing provider of intelligent criticism. All that is good but a coach needs more. And that’s why I’m here. Next week, when I’m done with my tour, I’ll let you know of the things I’ve learned.

And so it’s now 4.30pm and we’re pulling into Darlington. A four year old boy two seats in front of me, with a broad Scottish accent, has just asked, “Mummy is this going to take forever. Now that the train is moving can I go to the toilet?” The conductor tells me we’ve got Newcastle, Berwick upon Tweed and Edinburgh to go before reaching Perth. It’s getting close. In the play Macbeth, Shakespeare asks, “Stands Scotland where it did?” Right now the signs are good. Outside there’s sheep and cows, green grass and stone walls for fences. Scotland is near. Just wait a few minutes and I’ll tell you exactly when this Scottish nationalist scales Hadrian’s Wall. “Oh Flower of Scotland. When will we see your likes again?” Well our train has passed a sign that says we are now in Scotland. So the answer is 5.45pm on Tuesday 9th October, 2013.