Archive for February, 2014

New Zealand Juniors

Friday, February 21st, 2014

By David

Far too much of what is written on Swimwatch is a complaint about something or another. This isn’t right; they did that wrong – on and on it goes. It’s hardly surprising, mind you. Miskimmin’s new Swimming New Zealand is a gift that keeps on giving. When SNZ increase fees without following corporate rules, when they write badly worded selection papers; when the best thing going for the sport is its fleet of Mazdas in the company car park – it’s hardly surprising someone is going to complain.

And today is no different. Except this time I promise to end this explanation of another Swimming New Zealand shortcoming with a light hearted sporting tale from 1972. But first the train wreck that is Swimming New Zealand.

Have any of you had a chance to read the item discussing the results of the New Zealand Junior Championships posted on the Swimming New Zealand website? For the benefit of foreign readers I should explain that the New Zealand Junior Championships are very different from the United States 18 years and under version. The New Zealand meet is for swimmers 12 and under. It has three age groups 10 and under, 11 and 12; three sets of qualifying times and three sets of national champions. In every respect it mimics the Open National Championships. In every respect that is except one. At the Junior meet the participants are still in primary school.

I think the whole thing is sick. It demonstrates all the appalling bad taste of those pre-teen girls’ beauty pageants. But some quotes from the Swimming New Zealand website explain this better than I can.

  1. The pair finished with seven gold medals each to top the individual medal count.
  2. Freesir-Wetzell gained two further wins today in the 10 & under division 200m medley and 100m freestyle. She was the leading medalist overall with nine medals, comprising seven gold and two silver.
  3. Tawa’s Jack Plummer had the most medals with nine comprising four gold, four silver and a bronze with today’s sole win in the 11 years 100m breaststroke.
  4. He played a pivotal role in helping the United Swimming Club to top honours on club points on 1003. Howick Pakuranga were second on 962 from North Shore 625.

Would you believe it – some lunatic at Swimming New Zealand actually sees merit in the news that a 10 or 11 or 12 year old child has been flogged through seven, eight, nine or ten races in two days. I think it’s child abuse. And as for the clubs that participate in the travesty; that too is a scandal verging on the exploitation of the young. I wonder what their committees think of the 18th century custom of using 12 year olds in British coal mines. Oh, I understand the motivation. I wonder how many parents are flocking to the winning club in the hope their child will be the next 10 and under national champion. As normal, I suspect the motive is money; Swimming New Zealand and clubs pandering to the parental greed for juvenile sporting fame see a fortune in selling an infantile dream.

There may be some who find my opinion less than persuasive. That’s fine. Let’s see what the experts have to say. Three Olympic Games ago the American Aquatic Research Centre in Boulder, Colorado scanned the hand joints of every member of the American Olympic team. Their purpose was to determine what portion of the swimmers had been early developers, on time and late developers. Evidently the rate at which the hand joints close can measure an individual’s physical maturity. Of the forty athletes tested only two had matured early, five had matured on time and the majority were late developers.

In New Zealand Junior Nationals terms what that data means is that only two members of the world’s most successful swim team would have been placed in a New Zealand Junior Championship race. The others would have been well down the field or wouldn’t have qualified for the event in the first place. The American scientists concluded that the probable explanation for the stunning failure of swimmers who develop early is the almost impossible burden of handling their early success, followed by the struggle to stay ahead of late developers who were such easy beats a few years earlier. For example how many of those lauded on Swimming New Zealand’s website this week are going to be able to hold off a late developing “Lauren Boyle” who was well behind this weekend in Wellington.

Over and over and over again it happens; Junior Nationals winners find it impossible to handle the “shame” of being beaten by slow swimmers who used to be miles behind; often didn’t even make finals. Interpreting it all as a failure on their part the early superstars go off to the local surf patrol or to a water polo team. And it’s absolutely understandable.

The aspect of all this that annoys me most is that Swimming New Zealand goes out of its way to encourage the failure of the sport’s early developers. They put on a “one-site” National Championship, they crown the winner as a National Champion, They award National Championship medals, they present a national best club award and they wax eloquent about the Olympian efforts of New Zealand’s best ten year olds. For example – “Manager Kent Stead said the new format for the championships proved a success. “It’s the first time in many years that the Junior Championships have been held at a single venue,” Stead said. “It made for some great racing with some excellent personal bests set across the board. This resulted in a fantastic atmosphere with spectators and swimmers cheering on fellow competitors”.

It may have been a fantastic atmosphere for Kent Stead. It most certainly was a funeral pyre for the swimming futures of many. It is also why the swimmers at West Auckland Aquatics who qualified for Wellington were encouraged not to go. None of them did and their prospects for a successful swimming career just got better.

It would be wise for Swimming New Zealand to learn from the American experience. USA Swimming dropped the whole idea of 10 year old national champions for all the reasons mentioned in this report. But Layton, Renford, McKee, Power, Hunt, Cotterill and Brown are going to do things Miskimmin’s way irrespective of what the Americans or the author of Swimwatch might think; regardless of the damage they inflict on the sport of swimming. You see, to them, the event has a redeeming feature trumping all others – it makes them money.

And now for a bit of nostalgia. The weather in Auckland has been so hot this week I decided to take a thermos flask of cold lime juice to the pool. After rummaging around in some old drawers I found a blue plastic and glass thermos given to me in 1972. I won it as part of the Victoria University road running team. In the 1972 Wellington to Masterton 100 kilometer relay our team won the handicap section. The prize for our victory was a thermos each. And so if anyone asks what Peter Snell, Murray Halberg, Bill Baillie and the author of Swimwatch have in common. We have all won the Wellington to Masterton Relay. My bet though is that I’m probably the only one who still has their first place thermos.


The Rule of Laws

Friday, February 14th, 2014

By David

The rule of law is such a terribly important concept. The World Justice Project described its significance. “The rule of law is the underlying framework of rules and rights that make prosperous and fair societies possible. The rule of law is a system in which no one, including government, is above the law; where laws protect fundamental rights; and where justice is accessible to all.” The Secretary-General of the United Nations defines the rule of law as “a principle of governance in which all persons, institutions and entities including the State itself, are accountable to laws that are publicly promulgated, equally enforced and independently adjudicated, and which are consistent with international human rights.”

New Zealand ranks among the world’s best performers in the World of Justice rule of law index, and best in the world in one of the eight categories – lack of corruption. But even in New Zealand there are events of concern. The government’s decision to raid Kim Dotcom’s Auckland home, the knowledge the Prime Minister seems to have of whose home a private individual like Winston Peters choses to visit are suspect violations of the rule of law.

In the New Zealand sport of swimming the rule of law is also at risk. The previous administration was unbelievable. It altered Annual Meeting minutes without approval, it ordered the Board to reverse democratic and lawful votes, it allowed directors to remain in office well past the end of their constitutional term and it manipulated selection criteria. It was disgusting and appropriately contributed to the regime’s demise. However, is Miskimmin’s new Swimming New Zealand any better?

Last week we saw Layton, Renford, McKee, Power, Hunt, Cotterill and Brown approve an increase in fees way outside the terms of the organization’s rules. I’m told Swimming New Zealand is trying to tell the world that their Regulations are not really laws; or at least not laws that apply to them – the excuse used by every tin-pot dictator. Last week in the new Swimming New Zealand, the rule of law took second place to the demands of the powerful. “We are above the law” is not an argument I would have expected to see expressed in writing by a New Zealand sporting organization.

And this week I heard another example that, I believe, shows the disdain Miskimmin’s new Swimming New Zealand has for the rule of law. Here is what the “law” set by Miskimmin’s new Swimming New Zealand and approved and signed by the Board says about the open water selection criteria for the Pan Pacific Championships.

It says swimmers wanting to be selected must compete in two qualifying events: one the New Zealand Open Water Championships in Taupo on the 11th January 2014 and, two, the BHP Australian Open Water Swimming Championships, swum in Perth on the 1st February 2014.

To be selected for the Open Water events at the 2014 Pan Pacific Championships the Swimming New Zealand selection “law” said swimmers had to perform at both the New Zealand and Australian events. In the New Zealand event a swimmer had to finish in the top 5 New Zealand eligible competitors. The Swimming New Zealand Board approved law then said that swimmers who met the Taupo standard needed to finish in the top 6 of all the Australian and New Zealand eligible competitors in the Australian event.

Now the words I would ask you to note carefully are “the top 6 of all the Australian and New Zealand eligible competitors”. Because this is what happened.

But before I tell you what happened I should say that this tale is about the New Zealand talented open water swimmer, Philip Ryan. However before anyone thinks that Philip has come running to Swimwatch with his problems, I must tell you that the source of my information was not directly from Philip. Rather his Waterhole team and our West Auckland swimmers frequently train together at the West Wave pool. Philip discussed the SNZ open water selection policy with my swimmers and they relayed the story to me. And so back to what happened.

Philip swam inside the SNZ selection standard at the Taupo open water event. He was the second New Zealander to finish, behind Kane Radford. Also ahead of him were an Australian and a swimmer from Japan. However they were not eligible to represent New Zealand at the Pan Pacific event and therefore did not affect Philips result. Philip then went to Perth to take part in the second leg of the selection process, the BHP Australian Open Water Swimming Championships.

In that race Philip finished ninth. However, on the basis of the selection policy he was sixth. Ahead of him in Perth were an American, a South African and an Australian who were all ineligible to compete in the Pan Pacific Games for New Zealand or Australia and therefore, according to the selection criteria did not count in determining Philip’s place in the race. With these three ineligible swimmers deleted Philip was the sixth “eligible” swimmer and qualified for selection to the Pan Pacific open water event.

Except SNZ didn’t see it that way and Philip was not selected. Philip asked why? After all the selection criteria published by SNZ said he was required “to finish in the top 6 of all the Australian and New Zealand eligible competitors”. Philip had done that. Ahead of him were two foreigners and an Australian who were as ineligible to compete in the Pan Pacific event as if they had been born in Outer Mongolia. The Australians name was Joshua Richardson. He finished 6th in Perth but was ineligible for selection to the Pan Pacific Games as he had performed poorly in the first Australian qualifying swim – the 2014 NSW Open Water Championships. As far as Australia was concerned that was reason enough to make him ineligible for Australian Pan Pacific selection. As far as Swimming New Zealand was concerned Joshua Richardson was eligible and counted as a valid swimmer finishing ahead of Philip. In spite of the fact that Richardson was not eligible for Australian selection and in spite of the fact that the SNZ selection “law” said only eligible swimmers counted, Philip was listed behind Joshua Richardson in the results and was not selected.

As I understand it, Swimming New Zealand sought to justify their decision to include Joshua Richardson by saying that excluding an ineligible Australian “was never the intent of the policy”. What they intended, they said, was that Philip “needed to finish in the top 6 of all Australian and New Zealand athletes.

Honestly, in my view SNZ couldn’t lie straight in bed. Their contempt for the rule of law is worse than the breeches themselves. In this case they have written a selection “law”. Philip Ryan has complied with that “law” and should be selected. Instead of learning a lesson and changing the “law” next time, SNZ just lie their way out of trouble. It has so often been their way. Whenever you read “honesty, integrity, accountability” on the bottom of a SNZ memo just remember what they did to Philip Ryan and simply recall the manner in which they imposed a fee increase on the membership. There is little point in saying the words if you can’t walk the walk.



Light In The Darkness

Tuesday, February 11th, 2014

By David

Since writing last week’s Swimwatch article on the decision of Swimming New Zealand to increase our meet entry fees I have had time to ponder the history of Swimming New Zealand prices and costs. I have also received several interesting emails suggesting fresh avenues of enquiry. In no particular order then, here are some thoughts that may interest those involved in Miskimmin’s new Swimming New Zealand.

Did you know, for example, that Swimming New Zealand’s own rules – “SNZ Regulation 2.3 to be exact” – says “entry fees shall be set by SNZ and shall be published no later than 31 July of each year”? What that means is that to comply with their own rules any entry fee increase for this year’s championships in 2014 was required to be published by 31 July 2013. Swimming New Zealand’s actual publication date was January 2014; five months late.

But of course, the rules are of little concern to those employed by Miskimmin to run the new Swimming New Zealand. Rules are for other people. In the new Swimming New Zealand the politburo of Miskkimin, Layton, Renford, McKee, Power, Hunt, Cotterill and Brown can do whatever they like. Or at least that’s the way it seems. What else can explain their disregard of Regulation 2.3. For the sake of a $500 filing fee I think the SNZ decision is well worth an appeal to the Sports Tribunal.

Spin is all about the use of words. Take this sentence from the Swimming New Zealand announcement – “We have for a number of years now refrained from increasing our entry fees”. The implication of this sentence is that the fine people at Swimming New Zealand have patiently absorbed cost increases for say, ten years, in the service of their members. Finally and in desperation, they must now, reluctantly, pass on some of these costs in the form of a price increase. As their announcement says, “increases in costs have left us with little option.” That is the impression Swimming New Zealand want to convey. And it is a lie.

At what I think was the SNZ Annual Meeting in August 2010, SNZ proposed that the entry fee for national meets be increased.  The increase was large. As I recall it was 20% bringing it to the level of $15. I think the previous fee was $12.50.  So 20% would be about right. And now Swimming New Zealand has imposed a further 16.6% increase. In 3.25 years Swimming New Zealand has increased entry fees by 36.6%. The New Zealand Reserve Bank tells me that the inflation rate in New Zealand for the same 3.25 years was 6.9%. It seems that, in order to pay for their Mazda SUVs and opulent lifestyle, Swimming New Zealand has increased our entry fees by 36.6% and want us to believe that it’s all to pay for a 6.9% increase in inflation. That is what is meant by the word spin.

When Swimming New Zealand imposed their last increase in entries the income effect was disastrous. It will be interesting to see whether the same thing happens this time.

In 2010/11 an analysis of the entries in Swimming New Zealand Championship events showed that entries for the subsequent year decreased to national events (Opens, NAGs, Division 2 and Juniors) by a percentage greater than the percentage increase in fees. The clever move of increasing the entry fee caused a net loss to Swimming New Zealand. One might be happy to think that, the greedy bastards got their just deserts. Sadly though it actually meant that the membership of the sport took another hit. Just perhaps, if you want to find the reason the participation in swimming is falling, look no further than the SNZ company car park.

One would have thought though that this most basic Economics 101 lesson in the relationship between price and demand would have been known to someone involved in the control of the new Swimming New Zealand. But I guess a background in state monopolies (the Post Office), economic interest groups (the Electricity Authority) and an expensive Wellington private girl’s school (Samuel Marsden) affords a disconnected elastic view of that relationship. It will be interesting to see how much damage the current price hike causes the sport.

However, when it comes to spin, nothing beats this line in Swimming New Zealand’s announcement; “Swimming New Zealand are being faced with increasing costs to stage events with many aquatic facilities increasing pool hirage for competitions”. On very good inside-the-organization authority I have been told that SNZ get full recovery of pool hire costs for National championships from community trust grants. It does not matter if the price of pool hire goes up – Swimming New Zealand get 100% recovery no matter what.

So, if pool hire is cost neutral, what costs are being covered by Swimming New Zealand’s 36% price increase in three years? Well you have probably guessed the answer. It is the direct cost of staff – including the Mazda’s, the fake national uniforms, foreign travel and a seemingly insatiable greed.

I had to smile when I read an announcement by the Chairman of the new Swimming New Zealand, Brent Layton, in his role as Chairman of the Electricity Authority. He was commenting on a finding by the Authority that the costs incurred by power retailers over the past three years rose 21.5%. Retail prices over the same period rose by only 12.5%. Brent Layton said the results showed competition was forcing electricity retailers to absorb cost increases. Layton said, “This is a very encouraging sign and indicates the changes in the structure and rules of the electricity industry following the 2009 ministerial review are now having a real impact on retail market performance.”

One can only wonder how Layton explains his new charge, where prices have gone up by 36% in three years while costs have only risen by 6.9%. Perhaps, “This is a very depressing sign and indicates that the changes in the structure and rules of swimming following the 2012 Moller Review have utterly failed the organization.”

Don’t hold your breath for that sort of honesty. The real story here is that the new Swimming New Zealand is unaccountable at any level.

Bigger and Bigger Barns

Saturday, February 8th, 2014

By David

The title of this story is an abbreviated phrase taken from the Bible; Luke Chapter 15 verses 15-21. The parable is intended as a warning to “watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

The biblical story came to mind when I heard Swimming New Zealand had decided to increase the cost of meet entries. In the twelve months the new regime has been in power this is the second significant price increase. Remember, the first decision they made was to increase the annual registration cost of every club and swimmer in the country. Worse than that Swimming New Zealand decided every volunteer official should begin paying an annual fee for the privilege of working for the organization. In my view, it was disgusting extortion.

And now Swimming New Zealand has decided that the payment to enter any of their meets will be increased. We received a comment about this a couple of days ago. Individual entries will increase from $15 to $17.50. Relay entries will increase from $30 to $35. The rest of the Swimming New Zealand announcement contains all the usual drivel about the “increasing costs” of pool hire and meet management and the cost of the Swimming New Zealand data base development.

It will surprise no one to know that I find the Swimming New Zealand announcement irritating. Actually irritating is way too nice a word; annoying, galling and nauseating are probably more accurate. Why?

Well the process of the announcement and what Swimming New Zealand spends our money on are my principal concerns.

Most of you will remember the good old days when Swimming New Zealand, constitutionally, had to consult and obtain the approval of the membership before imposing a registration price increase. It was a good process. It provided oversight and moderation. In the United States political system it’s called “checks and balances”. A small group of Swimming New Zealand Board members and executives could not charge members of the sport any amount that took their fancy. Chris Moller obviously thought that safeguard was unnecessary. The old constitution’s spending controls were certainly not included in the new Constitution. And now we are all about to pay and pay and pay.

Anyone complaining about the most recent increases needs to be very clear. The members of Swimming New Zealand – that’s you and me – approved the increases and imposed them on ourselves when we provided Layton, Renford, McKee, Power, Hunt, Cotterill and Brown with the powers given to them in the new Constitution; when we replaced a liberal Regional democracy with a centralized autocracy. In the future price increases will continue whenever Swimming New Zealand wish. The only way to prevent them is for the Regions to claim back the powers they so easily gave away. Every member of Swimming New Zealand, right now, is getting a first hand and expensive look at the cost of unrestrained power.

“I told you so” is such a bad mannered phrase. But Swimwatch did warn you that accepting Moller’s constitution would make swimming in New Zealand way, way more expensive. And it is.

The arrogance of power is further demonstrated by the timing of the Swimming New Zealand announcement. Within days of the National Junior Championships and weeks of the Division Two, Open and Age Group Championships Swimming New Zealand announced the price increases. Some of us, West Auckland Aquatics included, had even submitted our entries already believing the old prices applied. I’d be interested to see what the Commerce Act has to say about the legality of applying retrospective price increases. Can you imagine buying a t-shirt at the Warehouse for $10 and the company turning up a week later saying, “Sorry, those shirts are now $12. We need another two bucks.” It appears the morality of that is not a problem at the new Swimming New Zealand.

But the bit that really upsets me the most is what your money and mine will be spent on. Young people throughout the sport are paying for these registration and entry fee increases. How is it being spent?

Well, next time you attend a Swimming New Zealand event pop out the back and check the car park. For there you will find a fleet of new customized Mazda SUVs. Mazda says their cars “Make a fashion statement wherever they go”. At Swimming New Zealand they certainly make a statement about priorities. But the spending does not stop there. Two well-paid coaches looking after a pampered handful of swimmers. More altitude training camps in the Northern Hemisphere than you can wave a stick at. Free pool space; free weights, free medical attention, free massage, flash offices at the Millennium Institute; on and on the spending goes.

And it has to come from somewhere. I wonder where? Well either as a gift from Miskimmin’s tax income or as your registration and entry fees, the money to pay for Swimming New Zealand’s grand lifestyles, comes from you – every last cent. And do you get anything in return? Not really. If you find that hard to believe ask your club secretary, ask the secretary of your Region when they last received a penny of assistance from Swimming New Zealand. I can tell you, never is the answer.

Oh, of course, Swimming New Zealand will tell you all about their new clerical system for tracking swimmers and how your club can’t do without it. But in terms of the day to day reality that faces every club; in terms of providing lane space, of paying coaches, of assisting with travel of supplying kick-boards, fins and hand paddles and of paying the telephone account and the power bill, Swimming New Zealand’s duty of care can best be described as negligent neglect. Even that may be giving it unnecessary praise.

In the new constitution Swimming New Zealand allocated itself the power to impose price increases at will. If that power stinks, and it does, then what they spend the extra money on is putrid. It will only change when the beneficiaries of the extravagance leave our sport alone. There must be someone in Australia, the UK, Canada or Spain who values executives skilled in handling a Mazda SUV.

For Your Information

Tuesday, February 4th, 2014

By David

A few hours ago, Swimwatch received the following comment

“Is it true that Brian Palmer has left Auckland Swimming technically insolvent?? The rumour is that Auckland have major invoices that they are unable to pay and may need to be bailed out by SNZ?”

I posted the following reply.

“I have no idea of Swimming Auckland’s financial position. However I would be very cautious indeed of any story involving a SNZ financial bale out. Anything that organization does will come at a huge price. Several weeks ago I warned Auckland that SNZ would find a way of using the power vacuum created by Brian leaving to win power over New Zealand’s largest region. This story of the need for money could well be SNZ’s first step in that direction. AUCKLAND BEWARE.”

And now Swimwatch has received the following email from Brian Palmer.


May I firstly thank you for the generosity of your comments in this article.  I have done so privately on a previous occasion, but as I am now asking for my comment to be posted it is an opportunity for me to do so publicly.  I have never, ever wanted to be “the story” – if my service in Auckland was of some value to the swimming community and made a difference, then I am pleased.

Now, the reason I am asking for this comment to be posted!

David, I have always admired your honesty.  Whether I agree or disagree with what you write I have always respected the courage you display in putting your name to every claim you make.  Top marks to you.

The same cannot be said for the gutless and ignorant visitor to this blog who has just posted slanderous and malicious rumour attached to this article.

A question has been asked, is there any truth to a rumour that I left Auckland Swimming ‘technically insolvent’? The answer to this risible rubbish is absolutely not.  That there might even be such a rumour is farcical and where it might be sourced from, one could only guess.  But clearly one exists or it would not be repeated rhetorically in an effort to try and provide legitimacy to it.  Is there truth to it? Absolutely not.  To be ‘technically insolvent’ would mean that the ASA did not have sufficient cash, or near cash assets, to meet its obligations.  That simply is not true.  End of story.

Is there any substance to a claim that there is, or that there may be discussions taking place with SNZ relating to a supposed ‘bail out’?  Such a notion is almost too comical to warrant a reply, but certainly not on my watch and almost certainly not in the new Executive’s changeover.  The ASA most certainly was neither insolvent, nor technically insolvent at the time when I left its employ.  And I have been assured, in the strongest terms, that it is not today.

I am proud of what has happened over the past five years at Auckland Swimming.  My greatest achievement is that I have left it stronger than when I came, so taking a ‘pop’ at me is nothing new.  But taking a swipe at the ASA by extension – I will be very defensive.  The ASA is still a small, not-for-profit organisation, and in common with most grass roots organisations of its type is not endowed with great wealth and most certainly does not receive taxpayer support.  However, it does its job and meets its objectives.  A succession strategy was established and the ASA is currently led by an exceptional executive of outstanding past and present swimmers.  They have a feel for the sport in a way in which non-swimmers do not, and cannot.  They are doing, and will continue to do a fantastic job.  The ASA will be stronger under Sarah Thomas’ executive leadership than it has ever been.  I am absolutely confident of that.  She will lead the ASA in a way which surpasses anything that I might have been able to accomplish.  The only people who have anything to fear from that leadership are those who do not like the idea of a strong, competent and independent Auckland.

I would suggest that anyone who chooses to malign another’s reputation should at least have the courage to leave the cloak of anonymity behind.  Then and only then can your readers judge its merits.

Brian Palmer

Thank you Brian for your years at Auckland Swimming – it is sad that a response to this sort of stuff is required at all. Helping put the record straight is a privilege.