Archive for April, 2014

Through The Looking Glass

Monday, April 28th, 2014

By David

I know Swimwatch is hated by some and treated with huge suspicion by many. And that is probably the way it should be. However perhaps we are beginning to see signs that the basic concerns expressed here might be gaining some main stream momentum. Perhaps there are problems in the Sport NZ and Swimming NZ house that need to be addressed.

Main-stream journalist, Simon Plumb, seems to think something’s not right. Here is a deeply interesting article posted on the Stuff news website today. Ominously it was titled, “Sport NZ silent on tax-payer funded review.”

Sport New Zealand is trying to stop information being released on the state of the government’s second-biggest Olympic investment and the findings of a review into Bike NZ’s capabilities. Taxpayers will foot a bill of $70,500 after Sport NZ commissioned a review of Bike New Zealand – who received $18.3 million in public funding for its last Olympics campaign — and which looked at the national sport organisation’s financial state including the loss of its major sponsor, its relocation to Cambridge and high-performance planning in the wake of the sudden departure of successful national sprint coach Justin Grace and chief executive Kieran Turner.

Under the Official Information Act, Fairfax Media has requested details of the review. Sport NZ confirmed it had spent $70,500 on the review which was “initiated by BikeNZ” and “conducted by Martin Jenkins”, a domestic consultancy firm owned by former Sport NZ boss Nick Hill. However, present Sport NZ chief executive Peter Miskimmin refused the newspaper’s request for details of the report into the troubled national sports organisation. Miskimmin said one of the reasons for his refusal came after considering whether there is “an overriding public interest” in making the document public.

“In deciding to withhold this information I have considered whether there is an overriding public interest in making this information available to the public. I am satisfied that the balance of public interest is in Sport NZ’s ability to carry out its functions effectively,” Miskimmin said in a written response.

Rowing was the only sport to receive more public funding ($19.1m) than cycling for the London 2012 Olympic Games. Last year, BikeNZ received a further $3.9m in high-performance support from taxpayers. That funding is projected to increase to $4.3m annually to the next Olympic Games in Brazil in 2016.

At an operational level, BikeNZ has been under serious pressure over the past two years.  Last year the taxpayer-funded organisation avoided “a relatively large” financial deficit only by “capitalising” $200,000 spent on redeveloping a website (moving a $200,000 expense into an asset instead) and the organisation is still trying to replace the loss of its prime commercial sponsor which left two years ago.

Last year successful sprint coach Justin Grace and chief executive Kieran Turner both suddenly quit BikeNZ ahead of an impending relocation to a new, multimillion- dollar velodrome in Cambridge. Recent Star-Times investigations have also included claims a BikeNZ junior development coach has tried to influence young riders to take pain pills before races.

When offered a further opportunity to provide more detail on the BikeNZ review, Sport NZ staff admitted there are “a number of challenges facing the organisation” including “financial issues”, “development of BikeNZ’s high-performance programme” and “relocation to Cambridge”. But the organisation only provided a bullet-point “summary” of less than 250 words on the review. Fairfax Media has filed a complaint with the Ombudsman.

So what are the points in Simon Plumb’s article that should cause us concern? Well first and foremost is the overall impression that something is not right; the facts in an event funded by the public purse are not as open and transparent as they should be. It is exactly the same with swimming. North Korean-style elections, a car park full of expensive new cars, the impression of them-and-us perks handed out by the organization and the appointment of officials loaded down with anti-constitutional conflicts of interest all contribute to a similar impression to the one Plumb has found in Bike NZ.

Peter Miskimmin’s decision to decline the request by Fairfax Media for a copy of the Bike NZ report is typical of this outfit. Have you noticed how minutes of Board Meetings are no longer published on the SNZ website? Swimwatch readers may remember when I used the Official Information Act to request a copy of the minutes of the meeting Miskimmin had with Brian Palmer and Bronwin Radford. I was certain that meeting had been bad for swimming. And I still think it was. Miskimmin, you may recall, declined my request for pretty much the same reasons he has declined Fairfax.

“In deciding to withhold this information I have considered whether there is an overriding public interest in making this information available to the public. I am satisfied that the balance of public interest is in Sport NZ’s ability to carry out its functions effectively,”

I do so dislike that argument – our interest is the public interest. What is good for us is good for the public. Some really terrible people have tried to hide behind that entitlement argument. President Nixon did it all the time. The Washington Post did not need to know about Watergate because the President’s interests were the public’s interests. Well, New Zealand sports people, Nixon was wrong and so is Miskimmin. The very fact that Miskimmin is making that assertion is proof enough that we must know what is going on behind Miskimmin’s closed doors. I do hope the Ombudsman understands that imperative.

I also dislike the impression of favouritism created by the appointment of the firm to look into the affairs of Bike NZ.

Sport NZ confirmed it had spent $70,500 on the review which was “conducted by Martin Jenkins”, a domestic consultancy firm owned by former Sport NZ boss Nick Hill.

What on God’s good earth is that all about? Paying a former Sport NZ boss $70,500 may be as pure as the driven snow. But the impression of favouritism, of paying your mates is not good. Was there a competitive tender for this work? Who else quoted for the job? Given the history, we need to know that all was above board in the selection process. The public’s money does not belong to any civil servant.

The following item in Plumb’s article is also cause for deep concern.

Last year the taxpayer-funded organisation avoided “a relatively large” financial deficit only by “capitalising” $200,000 spent on redeveloping a website”.

What that means is Bike NZ spent $200,000 on their website and, instead of calling it an expense, Bike NZ said it was an intangible fixed asset. Now, in my view, capitalising the cost of altering a website is an accounting stretch. I suspect it is technically quite okay but, for me, altering a charitable sporting organization’s website is more prudently treated as an expense. It would be interesting to know whether Miskimmin knew and approved of the website expense being treated in this way.

As an aside where on earth did the $200,000 go? Some Swimwatch readers may know my daughter, Jane, has spent her working life around the internet and some of the world’s biggest websites. I haven’t asked her but from my observation of the Bike NZ website I don’t think Bike NZ got $200,000 worth. I do hope they are amortizing the value of their asset pretty sharply in this year’s accounts. It will be interesting to see.

Note from Jane: There are some ridiculous price tags attached to web development and design projects (my agency was once told by a client that if their web development company were to implement a small series of 301 redirects on their website, it would cost the client £10,000, or $20,000 New Zealand dollars). This doesn’t mean that the price tags are worth it, and my experience over here is that more companies are becoming aware of what they do not have to pay for this stuff. I would be curious about the breakdown of $200,000, including employee hours and how many agencies were involved. I can understand, and have seen, large e-commerce sites or flagship sites for big brands cost many times more than this to develop / design, but a website for a sports organisation should not cost nearly that much. It’s worth noting that while the website work just fine, there are little issues like URL structure, title tags, duplicate versions of the site depending on small URL changes, etc. that haven’t been tailored: for $200,000, you’d expect the site to be absolutely perfect. I don’t work in the New Zealand design / dev community so I am not sure what this should have cost in the local market, but I definitely agree that $200,000 seems like it’s on the high side.

And finally there is this gem.

“The organisation is still trying to replace the loss of its prime commercial sponsor which left two years ago.”

I wonder who else has lost its prime commercial sponsor recently? Oh yes, State canned SNZ. Is the Miskimmin socialist empire falling to bits? Surf, Bike, Swimming – it may just be bad luck of course. But, and Swimwatch critics take note, it may also be more than that. It may pay us all to treat what Sport NZ and Swimming NZ say and do with caution. At least that’s the message I think comes out of Simon Plumb’s story.

Spot The Difference

Friday, April 25th, 2014

By David

I guess the swimming world, and perhaps even the wider world, has identified the Mesa Grand Prix swimming meet in Arizona with the return of Michael Phelps. The public relations effect of his return has been truly remarkable. This morning his very good 52.84 swim in the heats of the 100 butterfly made the sports news on TV1, Maori TV, Sky Sport and Al Jazeera. Phelps deserves the acclaim. In a sport like swimming, making a comeback is very difficult. I would have said impossible. Clearly one swallow does not a summer make. Success in Rio is going to take a lot more than a 52 second heat swim at a domestic Grand Prix meet. Michael Phelps knows that better than any of us.

However, just as interesting as the result of the men’s 100 butterfly, was the following poster included on the Mesa meet’s website.

On Swimwatch we have spoken before about the difference between the recognition and treatment of coaches in the United States and New Zealand. You don’t believe me? Well just pause and read the poster again. A “social” for coaches at the “Arizona Golf Resort” from “8.30pm to 12.00am”. In New Zealand that alone is an impossible dream. Swimming New Zealand would never approve of a swim coach staying out until after midnight.

A few years ago, at the National Short Course Championships in Rotorua, Ross Anderson, Keith Stewart, Toni Jeffs and I were having dinner in the China Town Restaurant on Amahou Street. You should try it. It’s still there. Anyway, we were having a great time. Keith Stewart is one of New Zealand’s leading wine journalists. He was determined to see what New Zealand wine would produce the fastest 50 freestyle from Toni the following day. Ross Anderson had an endless line of stories that grew ever more suspect as the evening and the wine wore on. It was great fun. Toni was in the middle of helping Ross act out one of his stories when the god’s of Swimming New Zealand walked in for a very late night supper after one of their important meetings.

Sadly the evening died a bit after that. Clearly two coaches, a leading club administrator and New Zealand’s fastest swimmer were not supposed to be up, drinking and eating at 11.00 o’clock at night. Toni tried her best to rescue our reputations by breaking the NZ record for the 50 freestyle in the heats and again in the final the following day. Sadly, it did not work. A week later I got a letter from Swimming New Zealand asking me to explain why Toni Jeffs had been seen drinking wine in Rotorua. I thought it was a stupid question and none of their business, so I never replied.

Anyway back to the poster. It goes on to say, “complementary beer, wine and appetizers”. Can you imagine Miskimmin’s new Swimming New Zealand giving club coaches “complementary” anything? And certainly not beer and wine. In 1992 I flew to what was then the World Short Course Championships with New Zealand’s most successful swim coach, Duncan Laing. As our airplane climbed to 35,000 feet over the Tasman Sea I asked for a glass of wine with my lunch. Duncan’s deep voice said, “Thank God for that. I thought I was going to have to sit here without a drink in case you told Swimming New Zealand I’d been up to no good.” Brian Palmer and Bronwin Radford got a free lunch out of Miskimmin once. Unfortunately, there is the impression that Miskimmin’s largess ended up costing us the sport of swimming.

I think it’s fair to say that there is very little Swimming New Zealand give away. Generosity is not the first word that springs to my mind when I think of Layton, Renford, Lyles and Villenueva. But, when I think about it further, how can they give stuff away? Not when all those Mazda SUV’s have to be paid for.

There is however a serious side to the poster. A side that reflects the gulf that exists between the way coaches are treated in the United States and New Zealand. When Renford arrived in New Zealand he did a short tour of various clubs. He missed West Auckland Aquatics. I wonder why? Shortly afterwards he was interviewed by Radio Sport. He saved his most telling criticism for the performance of New Zealand swim coaches.

It is worthwhile reminding Renford that New Zealand coaches have a record that is significantly better than his precious Millennium Institute. I haven’t seen any Olympic Champions, Olympic place-getters or world record holder come from that pool, no matter how much money has been thrown at the folly.  Any recent damage to the standard of the country’s coaching is a direct result of policies pursued by his organization; policies that Renford currently endorses, promotes and defends.

In New Zealand every time a coach turns around someone from Swimming New Zealand is questioning his or her performance. Tell a person often enough that they are not as good, not as able, not as experienced as the national organization’s foreign import and it’s little wonder New Zealand coaches struggle. Treat us like monkeys and that’s what you will get. The implication of their promotion of the Millennium Institute and its foreign Australian boss, its foreign Spanish director and its foreign English coach is that we are not up to the job. Well we are.

The Americans value their coaches. I know. I coached there for eight years. America’s success and our failure is directly related the treatment of their and our coaching resources. In a Swimwatch story recently I said we needed a Millennium Institute of twenty or thirty well-resourced and respected coaches from all over the country. New Zealand coaches need to be well managed. They need their work to be valued. And that’s impossible while the Miskimmin philosophy of centralized delivery is pursued by his foreign imported underlings.

I wish it were otherwise but in New Zealand our Coaches Social from 8.30pm to 12.00am including complimentary beer, wine and appetizers will have to wait for another day.

A Conflict of Interest

Thursday, April 24th, 2014

By David

Peter Miskimmin’s new Swimming New Zealand appears pretty concerned that anyone with a conflict of interest should be excluded from positions of power. Both the National and Regional Constitutions are full of provisions preventing those tainted with the suspicion of mixed loyalties assuming responsible positions.

According to Clause 14.1 of the National Constitution even the President “must not hold any governance role in the Sport.” Clause 12.2 excludes any person from Board membership that has any “role in the governance of a Regional association or Member Club.” The Constitution goes on to instruct the Appointments Panel to “consider” whether they have “an awareness of conflicts of interest” before recommending any applicant for Board membership. In fact Board members can be removed for “failure to disclose a conflict of interest.”

The rules are so tough that the Appointments Panel is clearly not aware that the Chairman was around and still remembers one of New Zealand’s best coaches in her speedos. I’m certain that if the Chairman were ever seen on Taylors Mistake beach in Christchurch in a pair of Speedos held up by red luminescent braces it would be considered a conflict of some sort; in that case, a conflict that would have universal acclaim. Worse than that though, I can personally vouch for the fact that Board member, Margaret McKee, was once seen swimming in the McCrae Baths in Gisborne on the same day and at the same time as that bastard who writes the Swimwatch blog. She may have even been a member of the same club. She must have grown celestial wings to receive Miskimmin’s blessing after those indiscretions.

The Regional Constitution is just as tough on conflicts of interest. Coaches and club officials are excluded from being on the Board of a Region. It is rumoured that of the four million New Zealanders living in the country only three, Peter Miskimmin, Chris Moller and Sue Suckling are eligible for election to a Regional Board. And even then the McCarthy Committee of Swimming New Zealand is investigating whether Moller and Suckling were seen having coffee together in the Wellington Regional Aquatics Centre café. That could be reason enough to preclude them from Board membership. Miskimmin is in the clear. We can’t find anyone who has ever seen him go for a swim; clearly the Constitution’s ideal candidate for Board power.

My sarcasm is probably misplaced. It is actually not a bad idea to include constitutional safeguards preventing conflicts of interest. In the old Swimming New Zealand the impression of nepotism and divided loyalties was not healthy. Remember when Jan Cameron’s son Scott appeared to rocket from junior club coach somewhere on the North Shore to Assistant National Coach at the Millennium Institute. Whether Scott would have made that startling transition without his mother being the boss is a legitimate question. Perhaps the current concern with ensuring clean appointments stems back to the impression of nepotism in the past.

For example, until recently Darryll Follows was a selector for Swimming New Zealand. He has not stood for re-appointment in part, I am told, because he has a son who is a better than average backstroke swimmer. Because his son could easily be eligible for a team being selected by his father, I am told, it was deemed to be a potential conflict of interest. And so the organization and the individual took the safe and proper decision to stand down and appoint another selector.

The person chosen by Swimming New Zealand was Mark Saunders. Without any doubt Mark Saunders swimming resume is first class. He is currently the Director of Swimming at the Northern Arena swim school. He swam for New Zealand and is a graduate of the Otago Physical Education School. During the forty years he has been involved in learn to swim he has won countless award for excellence. He was also manager of the New Zealand swim team from 1999 to 2008; although he may prefer to forget his time in Beijing when some out- of-control behaviour fuelled by Chinese liquor cast a shadow over the term management. All in all though, you would have to say Saunders is an ideal choice to take over from the good example and work of Daryyl Follows.

Except for one thing. Mark Saunders employs, in his swim school, three current Swimming New Zealand team members. Since May 2013 Mark Saunders has employed Dylan Dunlop-Barrett. Since April 2012 Mark Saunders has employed Laura Quilter. Since February 2011 Mark Saunders has employed Steven Kent.

Does the employment of these swimmers by a New Zealand selector involve only a straight forward employer/employee relationship? For example are there terms to their employment that reflect their swimming status? Do they get sponsorship from Mark Saunders of any sort? Are they allowed extra time off. Are they paid for time off? Do they get special deals on togs and swim gear? We know a New Zealand swimming selector is employing and paying three swimmers he will one day be asked to select. But is a New Zealand selector also financially sponsoring those he is responsible for selecting; those who will travel and live while they are away on your money and mine?

And you see, that’s the problem. We just do not know. It does need to be stressed that no one is saying anything wrong has happened here. It is the impression that matters and matters a lot. Certainly if Darryll Follows had a problem with his son’s swimming, Mark Saunder’s position is three times worse. His work and CV may be impeccable. But while he employs and possibly sponsors three members of the New Zealand swim team, I do not think he should be a New Zealand selector. In my view he should have declined the appointment.

Previously in this blog I have made the claim that the current Miskimmin new Swimming New Zealand is as bad as the old. The current suspicion created by appointing Mark Saunders does smack of something you would expect to see from the old organization.

High Performance Funding Shambles

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014

By David

Joseph Romanos is New Zealand’s best sport’s journalist. Occasionally I have been on the receiving end of his sharp pencil and even sharper mind. During the period I coached Toni Jeffs, Joseph wrote several articles accusing me of putting politics ahead of performance. He was right. His opinions should be listened to and taken seriously. For that reason I was fascinated to read the following report on the Television One News website. Here is what Joseph Romanos had to say. A link to this report is also here.

Lydia Ko apparently feels uncomfortable about the debate swirling around her after New Zealand Golf applied for $208,000 in high performance funding in her name. I’m not surprised Ko is embarrassed. The world No 4 didn’t apply for the money and clearly doesn’t need it. She is one of New Zealand’s wealthiest sports stars.

Some of the statements being made to explain the funding application are ludicrous.

New Zealand Golf chief executive Dean Murphy said Ko would be self-sufficient “at some stage”, but “currently that’s not the case”. Sport New Zealand high performance chief Alex Baumann wrote to newspapers over the weekend, justifying a potential payout to Ko.

“We support athletes and teams from targeted sports who can win on the world’s toughest sporting stages,” he said. “Lydia Ko meets our criteria and we’ll continue to work with New Zealand Golf to increase her chances of winning a medal in Rio.”

Baumann went on to explain that the application was lodged before Ko turned pro. But she turned pro last October, and the application hasn’t been withdrawn, so such an excuse is nonsense.

Ko knows she doesn’t need any financial support. That’s why she’s embarrassed. She declined nearly $1 million in prizemoney before she turned pro. It was obvious then money was never going to be a problem, and it hasn’t been since. She has made the cut in every tournament she has played as a pro and has already earned more than $300,000 in 2014, quite apart from sponsorship, advertising and appearance fees income that could spiral into many millions of dollars if she wants to chase it. Ko is one of the glamour figures on the women’s pro tour, used heavily in marketing tournaments. She has bought property in Florida and travels with her own entourage. She is a wealthy young woman. Good on her.

But for New Zealand Golf and Baumann to try to justify giving precious funding to her is stupid. There’s an infatuation with Olympics sports that is unhealthy, too. There are plenty of high achieving New Zealand sportsmen and women who really do need a financial leg up. They’re the ones who should be targeted. I’m uncomfortable with how much money the big earners are given by the high performance unit. Last year Ko was given $185,000. Val Adams, one of the superstars of world track and field, is still on the list, too. It reminds me of the 1990s, when the Sports Foundation and the Hillary Commission seemed to want to give cash to the stars just so those organisations could rub shoulders with them and get spinoff publicity.

I do think Joseph makes a very good point. The money spent on those that NZ High Performance Sport smiles on is obscene and unnecessary. Joseph refers to Lydia Ko and Valerie Adams. However, examples of waste are far wider than New Zealand’s best female shot putter and golfer.

In previous posts Swimwatch has mentioned several examples. Swimming New Zealand’s fleet of new Mazda SUV’s, the trips to high altitude in Spain and the United States, the supply of fake national uniforms to Millennium members, the exorbitant hiring of expensive foreign coaches, the Australian coach’s accommodation in a posh Auckland hotel and his premium flights into Auckland have all received attention in the pages of Swimwatch.

But the cost that illustrates Joseph’s point best is the decision to house Auckland Millennium swimmers in a Henderson motel during the National Championships. For heaven’s sake they all live in Auckland. A few of them are paid a very good living on the tax payer’s dollar. If what I have been told is true there is no possible justification for paying Boyle and Stanley and their mates to stay at the three star AK West Motel in Henderson. If Auckland swimmers are not happy about staying at home then they should pay for themselves.

The Miskimmin, Baumann, Swimming New Zealand partiality towards promoting an environment of “Haves and Have-Nots” was further accentuated today when I got an email from Swimming New Zealand advising me that two WAQ swimmers (one of them from Paul’s group and the other from mine) have been selected to represent New Zealand in the Oceania Championships. Along with the letter offering Swimming New Zealand’s delight at their selection came an invoice for $1,223.95. That’s $287.50 for accommodation, $83.95 for a mini bus, $465 for clothes, $100 for a contingency and $287.50 for food. It is ridiculous – $1,223.95 to compete in a pool that’s about two kilometers from their from home front door.

Our guys would prefer to stay at home – isn’t that part of the meaning of home advantage. I bet they would swim faster and they’d save themselves the best part of a thousand dollars. Funding priorities appear to need addressing when Baumann defends giving $200,000 to a woman rich enough to buy a home in Florida and through SNZ holds his hand out for $1,200 from a young New Zealander taking her first steps into international sport. With Ko’s money Bauman could pay for a team of 166 swimmers to attend the Oceania Championships; at this stage, a much better investment.

The real point though is the one made by Joseph Romanos. At the same time as the haves, that’s Ko, Boyle, Stanley and Adams are getting what could be called lavish attention, New Zealanders who have shown their potential, who have been selected to represent their country are given nothing, are asked to find another $1,223.95. Donna Bouzaid was recently asked to look after the development of New Zealand’s future swimming stars. Perhaps her first achievement could be to stop the organization she works for ripping them off. Spreading the spending around more evenly would be a good and worthwhile little project. But, Donna, are you brave enough to take on the ones that make those decisions? We will see.

Of course the swimmers are delighted they are about to swim for their country. They are delighted with Swimming New Zealand’s acclaim. They will find and they will pay the required amount. But it will not be forgotten. Swimming New Zealand does itself no favours when, financially, it treats swimmers beginning their international careers as second class citizens.

The final point made by Joseph Romanos seems to be right. Certainly all the signs point to its validity; “It reminds me of the 1990s, when the Sports Foundation and the Hillary Commission seemed to want to give cash to the stars just so those organisations could rub shoulders with them and get spinoff publicity.” Our guys will forever be reminded that there are 1,223.95 reasons they have to offer Swimming New Zealand little in the way of loyalty. No one could blame them for giving that organization and its decision makers what they have received – nothing.

A Good Friday Message

Saturday, April 19th, 2014

By David

On the weekend when the Christian world believes mankind received forgiveness for all their sins there is obviously a portion of the New Zealand swimming community who are not so generous towards the primary author of Swimwatch. I received an abusive email today that I think merits further consideration.

Off the subject a bit, but can anyone explain to me why so many people who are about to tear me apart insist on calling me “mate” first. However, back to the main point of this article. The problem with addressing something like this is that it gives the abusive message more importance than it deserves. Of course even abusive messages should be posted in the comments section. Free speech demands no less. But discussing their contents implies they are worthy of discussion. And I don’t think they are.

However, here is the message sent to Swimwatch today.

Urswimmerswudleaveiftheycould (Guest):

David your arguments are pretty flawed. You can’t compare the Millennium’s results to those of the last 50 years mate, that’s not fair. It was started in 2011 – give it some damn time you bigoted old fart. And it’s the swimmer’s choice to leave their clubs. They aren’t being blackmailed or recruited by David Lyles as you seem to think. They come to him okay, get it through your skull. Why don’t you turn some of this hateful worthless criticism into suggestions as to how they can do it better? You sound like a broken record. Also don’t call me out for being aggressive or being mean to you, as you get what you give.

Why did I even write this, you’re obviously delusional and don’t respect anyone else’s ideas.

I realize this comment above sounds somewhat hypocritical, but your arguments are pretty stupid. Have fun writing a new article in response to this Mr Toomuchtimeonhishands :)

So let’s consider one or two of the points made in this message.

1 – “It (the Millennium Institute) was started in 2011.” – I would have thought the name Millennium would have provided a clue that this statement of fact is rubbish. Jan Cameron sold Peter Miskimmin and Swimming New Zealand on the concept of the centralized “state” delivery of high performance training while Clive Rushton was New Zealand’s National Coach. The actual date is difficult to determine. The Millennium Pool was opened in 2002 but Cameron had been operating a centralized Swimming New Zealand promoted delivery of swimming training well before that. It is probably fair to say that in one form or another New Zealand has operated a “Millennium Institute” concept since the year 2000. That’s 14 years and four Olympic Games without a medal in sight.

Of course those committed to the government of New Zealand owning its own swim school will not accept that it is their concept that is a failure. The problem, according to them, has always been coaches and managers who did not know how to work it properly. Consequently the centralized swim school went through a succession of coaches; I think four or five in 10 years (Cameron, an English chap, Ansorg and Regan).

By this time Miskimmin must have been getting desperate. Millions of dollars and two generations of swimmers had come and gone, had disappeared without success. Another change was needed. And that’s when Cameron, Byrne, Regan and Coulter were replaced with Layton, Renford, Villenueva and Lyles. Same socialist, centralised concept but different people and Miskimmin, I assume, expects a different result. But it will not happen. Why? Because it’s the concept that’s wrong. It does not work.

Look at New Zealand’s most recent Commonwealth Games nominations. All those millions and the Millennium Institute can only produce one personal best swim from the two individual Millennium qualifiers for the Games. And it’s hard to credit the New Zealand government with much that Boyle has achieved. I think Cal and Teri McKeever have had more to do with her success.

And so the history of New Zealand’s experiment in running a centralized, government owned swim school is a lot longer than three years. Long enough to know it does not work; it’s time to do something different.

2 – “They aren’t being blackmailed or recruited by David Lyles as you seem to think.” – I don’t think I’ve ever suggested anyone is being blackmailed. However swimmers most certainly are being recruited by Swimming New Zealand. Swimming New Zealand’s website begins with this lie, Most of New Zealand’s elite swimmers are based at the Institute.” That’s simply not factually true. It is spin designed to attract the uninformed. Most of New Zealand’s elite swimmers are training in a club or university program either here or overseas.

The Swimming New Zealand website then goes on to offer good swimmers the following services free of charge: coaching, lane space (long and short course), access to services (including strength and conditioning, athlete life planning, nutrition, physiology, biomechanics and psychology), access to medical, massage and physiotherapy services, administration services and formal links to local tertiary institutions.

That’s a perfect example of the state using its financial muscle to buy athletes. It is not the way a free private enterprise economy works and it’s why we fail at swimming. Do you know, I was told that the cosseted coterie of Auckland based Millennium swimmers were housed in a Henderson motel for the week of the National Championships? Better swimmers from private clubs, were not offered that option. They had to pay their own way. If it’s true, that’s the sort of thing that’s bad for New Zealand swimming. That’s the sort of thing I mean when I say the government swim school undermines every swim club in the country.

3 – “Why don’t you turn some of this hateful worthless criticism into suggestions as to how they can do it better?” – The author of this comment is clearly not a regular reader of Swimwatch. If he/she was, then he/she would know that many pages have been devoted to what we think should replace the Millennium Institute. Thousands of words have been written about how the government’s money would be better spent.

But for the benefit of our commentator let’s say it again. But first a confession: the alternative is not my idea. For many years I was a good friend of the NZ track coach, Arthur Lydiard. We knew each other sufficiently well that if he was away overseas and I was coming to Auckland for a swim meet he would leave his house keys with a neighbour for me to use while I was in Auckland. Arthur also knew Jan Cameron very well. We would often discuss her centralized coaching delivery plans. In spite of his loyalty to Cameron, Arthur would shake his head and say, “It will never work.”

Arthur believed, and I absolutely agree, that the structure he put in place in Finnish athletics would produce better results. What Arthur did in Finland was educate and resource (that’s a word that means “give-money-to”) a wide range of the nation’s coaches. Arthur wanted a Millennium Institute of thirty or forty coaches. That way the chances of success were multiplied hugely. As we know the result was four medals (three of them gold) at the Munich Olympic Games. Significantly that concept is no different from what swimming in the United States and France practice today. New Zealand needs a Millennium Institute of thirty well-funded and good coaches in Auckland, Gisborne, Hamilton, Napier/Hastings, Palmerston North, Stratford, New Plymouth, Carterton, Wellington, Nelson, Christchurch, Ashburton, Dunedin, Invercargill and a dozen other places I’ve missed. We don’t need or want one state, socialist swim school located on Auckland’s North Shore. It does not work.

4 – Urswimmerswudleaveiftheycould, – Just so everyone is clear on what our correspondent is saying here; he is saying his name is “Your swimmers would leave if they could” and his email address is; “But they aren’t fast enough because you suck.” That effort at inventing a nom-de-plume suggests I might not be the only one with too much time on my hands. However I really do not mind the correspondent having a crack at me. However, insulting my swimmers has always been a step too far. You ignorant prick, how dare you say my swimmers “aren’t fast enough”.

I stood and watched three of them swim over 1000 kilometres in ten weeks this season. I sat and watched them win three medals at this National Championships, break an Auckland record, swim 87% PBs and one record a national fastest for his age group time. Today I have received a letter selecting one of them in a team to compete for New Zealand next month and a phone call from a United States Division One University asking if another would be available to swim on a scholarship there for the next four years. How dare you scorn their resume. You are right about one thing though, my swimmers would not go anywhere near the Millennium Institute. They have too much class for that. Besides they may meet people like you.