The Public Purse

By David

I wonder how things are going over at Miskimmin’s Millennium Institute. Is the new coach, David Lyles, settling in okay? It can’t be easy. There must be some stresses and strains. After all Lyles came to us from years spent in China; coaching the disciplined sons and daughters of the People’s Republic. Auckland’s North Shore is not Shanghai. Oh, the organization Lyles works for, that’s Swimming New Zealand’s high performance (excuse the false advertising) institute, is fully state owned. That’s the same as China. But is the state owned sameness a problem for David Lyles. With the power and money of the New Zealand state behind him Lyles may feel that his Chinese coaching style is appropriate here. He would not be the first person to make that mistake.

Environment is important and David Lyles is a novice when it comes to New Zealand’s culture. Our values, visions, norms, working language, systems, symbols, beliefs and habits are unique. We perceive things, think and feel differently from others. Our culture affects the way we interact with one another, with clients, and with stakeholders. Has Lyles got to grips with all that?

I ask these questions because I’ve heard that the Millennium program may be having difficulties. It’s all good old pool deck gossip but is Lauren Boyle unhappy? If she is – it would be understandable. The way she’s been treated would challenge the patience of Mother Teresa. Coming from arguably the world’s best swimming program, Cal Berkley, to arguably the world’s worst must have been difficult. And then Swimming New Zealand provided Boyle with a revolving door of coaches; two Spaniards, two Australians and a pom. She must appreciate that all alone she is carrying the future of Swimming New Zealand on her shoulders. The jobs of Renford, Villanueva and a dozen others depend on how well she swims every day. Is this responsibility putting a strain on the relationship between Lyles and Boyle? Is the stress of it all beginning to unravel Swimming New Zealand’s carefully cultivated image? Many programs have come to grief for less. Certainly it is becoming difficult to see Boyle’s relationship with the New Zealand government’s swim team lasting another three years, through to the Rio Olympic Games.

But Boyle is not the only strange happening at the Millennuim Institute. I have mentioned before my concern that the boss of High Performance Sport New Zealand, Alex Baumann, arranged for his son to swim in the New Zealand Millennium program. Alex Baumann is Canadian. His son swims for Canada. The Millennium program is funded by the New Zealand tax payer to assist good New Zealand swimmers. And at that, it has been a stunning failure.  However it was built and is being paid for by New Zealanders to help New Zealanders. I simply cannot imagine why all of us are paying for a facility to help a Canadian beat our best swimmers. It gives the impression of a misuse of state funds. Certainly the presence of Baumann’s son in the Millennium program needed to be explained. I doubt that any New Zealander agreed to pay the huge cost of what goes on over in Mirangi Bay in order to improve the performance of the Canadian swim team.

The impression it leaves is worse when the beneficiary is the son of the guy responsible for handing out the New Zealand government’s money. Because it’s public money and because it’s the bosses’ son the need for an open explanation is critical. The perception of privilege at the New Zealand tax payer’s expense needs to be addressed.

Especially when I have just been told that Baumann has recently added his daughter to New Zealand’s state swim team. Like her brother, Tabitha a good swimmer. She has competed for Canada at a junior level. All the questions that apply to her brother apply equally to Tabitha. Why is she there?

We know she packed her fins and goggles and left the North Shore Club program. Whether the North Shore Club coach asked her to leave or she decided to leave or she simply could not stand the North Shore Club program is clouded in mystery. But, for whatever reason Baumann’s daughter needed to find somewhere else to swim.

It is difficult to imagine a young teenager wandering into New Zealand’s National Swim Program and asking to join David Lyles and Lauren Boyle for a bit of training. It seems more likely that Daddy made a phone call. How did that conversation go? Hey Renford, it’s Baumann here, you know the guy who provides the government’s money to pay for just about everything you do. My daughter needs somewhere to swim. Any chance of her joining the Swimming New Zealand team at the Millennium Institute?

Obviously I have no idea what was said in that conversation, or whether the conversation even took place. I do know that Canadian, Tabitha Baumann, has ended up swimming in a New Zealand state funded program. I have been told that she is struggling to keep up with the other swimmers. Is she out of her depth – excuse the pun? Is she in a New Zealand tax payer funded program because of who she is rather that what she is? Has birth been more important than merit? I do know that the impression her presence leaves is not good; not good at all. And in these sorts of things the perception that something might not be right is what’s important.

When foreign representatives join a New Zealand tax payer funded program and when the swimmers involved are the bosses’ children, then the New Zealand public and Swimming New Zealand members need an explanation. The circumstances need to be clarified. Everything could well be beyond reproach. But we need to be told that. Swimming New Zealand has just started publishing a newsletter that’s full of “feel-good” prattle. Melissa Ingram is the editor. She should use the next edition to explain something that really matters – like why we are paying to coach members of the Canadian swim program.

  • David

    Anyone with an interest in sport should read the following report in today’s NZ Herald. How come the foreign children of the NZ High Performance Sport boss can use the Millennium Institute and its high performance coaching and New Zealand’s best tennis player gets nothing? What the hell is it with these people. They should be sacked.

  • David

    It would be interesting to hear Baumann explain how his Canadian daughter ranked 76th in the world merits a place at the millennium institute. When a New Zealander ranked 47th in tennis gets told she is not good enough.