Swimming New Zealand Recent History

By David

The events of history are often dull and dusty. I have no doubt that this post will fit that description. However I believe there is merit in recording how I saw the events that have led to the current Swimming New Zealand.

But before doing that what has changed? Two things really.

  1. The people have changed. The Board, the Chairman Murray Coulter, CEO Mike Burn, High Performance boss Jan Cameron, and Coaches Scot Talbot and Mark Regan have gone – replaced by a new Board, Chairman Brent Layton, CEO Christian Renford (in Taupo I was told Renford has been awarded the nickname “Teflon”, presumably a reference to an ability to avoid accountability, an important skill in New Zealand sport these days.), High Performance boss Luis Villanueva and Coach David Lyles.     .
  2. Power in the organization has been formally transferred from a federal regional democracy to an authoritarian oligarchy controlled by Sport New Zealand and the new staff members.

The position taken in Swimwatch has often been misunderstood. The people doing these jobs, at Swimming New Zealand, have always been of little or no interest. The Swimwatch position was never personal and still isn’t. In fact I have never met any of the new owners. At all costs they avoid me. I’ve spoken to Swimming New Zealand staff who have been reprimanded for just talking to this corrupt author of the revolution. When Jan Cameron finally packed her bags and left Swimming New Zealand several news outlets asked whether I was pleased Jan had gone. I said then that I couldn’t care less. The debate was not about Jan Cameron. My concern was the structure of Swimming New Zealand and the method used to deliver good coaching to the members.

In summary – change number one is of no interest here. Change number two is of considerable concern.

So how did we end up transforming a reasonably democratic federal structure of regions into the centralized authoritarian structure so favoured by Miskimmin and his Sport New Zealand?

Well, when I came back to New Zealand after coaching in Florida the Chairman and the CEO of Swimming New Zealand, financed by Peter Miskimmin, were deep in the throes of a campaign to convince the members of Swimming New Zealand that the central organization should be given more power. It was all called Project Vanguard and it cost Miskimmin and the sport about $600,000. A road show travelled the length and breadth of the country selling the message of centralization. I went to the Auckland meeting. What a farce. I’ve never seen a more blatant grab for power, all dressed in a cloak of greater efficiency. Fortunately the Regions saw through the façade. Under the guidance of Brian Palmer from Auckland and Bronwen Radford from Bay of Plenty, a Coalition of Regions was formed to put an end to Project Vanguard.

And they were brilliantly successful. Project Vanguard died. The Coalition of Regions then demanded that the Swimming New Zealand Board that had promoted the idea resign. And that’s when Peter Miskimmin from Sport New Zealand intervened. There was no-way Miskimmin could allow the democratic expression of the membership to be successful. How was Sport New Zealand going to run swimming if a rag-tag bunch of its members exercised their constitutional right to govern? This regional rebellion had to be stopped.

Miskimmin did what he always does; he rang Palmer and Radford with an offer of help. Would they like to come to Wellington for a meeting with Sport New Zealand to see if all this could be sorted out? Being reasonable people Palmer and Radford agreed. Several days later I met Brian Palmer at a swim meet and he told me about Miskimmin’s invitation. I told him not to go. I said he was about to be conned out of the family silver. In Wellington he would accept a deal that would make Project Vanguard look like a Mary Poppins’ tea party. If Brian Palmer and Bronwen Radford went to Wellington ten years of debate defending the rights of the regions to manage the sport would be lost in a day.

But Palmer and Radford did not listen. They went to Wellington and were done like a dinner. They did a deal that got rid of the old Board and that saw the end of Mike Byrne and Jan Cameron. And in return they sold the sport down the river. As a result of what Palmer and Radford agreed to in Wellington the cause they were charged with defeating, Project Vanguard, was imposed on swimming plus plenty. I don’t know whether it was the chance to rub shoulders with the power brokers of New Zealand sport or the attraction of seeing Byrne and Cameron down the road that caused Palmer and Radford to act with such stunning naivety. Whatever it was, I am of the view that swimming in New Zealand will pay for the errors and gullibility of that day in Wellington for a generation to come.

Palmer and Radford eventually witnessed first-hand the behaviour I warned them about before they went to Wellington. While Sport New Zealand needed Palmer and Radford all was sweetness and light. But the minute that changed; as soon as Miskimmin’s hired gun, Chris Moller assumed power he demanded Brian Palmer’s resignation; his head on a plate. The chances of Palmer being employed in New Zealand sport just became nil. If you lie down with dogs, you get fleas. Palmer and Radford should never have gone to Wellington. Those of us left behind will pay for their blunder.

And so a new gang of Miskimmin minions has been appointed to run the sport. My advice to them is to be cautious; to be very, very cautious indeed. Right now there is ample money, comfortable offices, generous salaries, plentiful overseas travel and lavish Mazda corporate cars. But the story I have told is littered with the remains of those who either crossed Miskimmin or who failed to implement the plans and power of Sport New Zealand. I am picking most of you, that’s Layton, Renford, Villanueva and Lyles, are looking down the barrel of a similar future.