Does Swimming New Zealand Cheat?

By David

Most swimming people are aware that the Miskimmin $1.4 million a year swim school in Auckland could only qualify two swimmers for individual events at the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games. And one of those, Lauren Boyle, isn’t training at the Millennium Institute any more, preferring the Spanish Sierra Mountains and a good French coach.

Commonwealth Game’s team numbers have been padded with the addition of ten relay swimmers. Swimming New Zealand, being the masters of spin, call it a team of fourteen. They actually call the team more than that. The Swimming New Zealand website says, “Powerful swimming team named for Glasgow 2014” and then lists the fourteen swimmers. I wonder if Miskimmin’s boss, Murray McCully, realizes that our multi-million dollar investment in foreign coaches, alien administrators and state of the art swimming pools at the Millennium Institute gifted the nation a “powerful” Glasgow team of two. As far back as 1930 New Zealand domestic coaches managed to get three swimmers under the individual event qualifying standard. Not a lot of progress there it seems.

It would be difficult for anyone in Swimming New Zealand to convince me swimming is making progress. For three nights this week I have watched the Oceania Swimming Championships at the West Wave Pool in Auckland. Mark Bone’s commentary is embarrassing. He excitedly communicates the gold medal count as though this was a rugby Bledisloe Test match. But of course it is not. Australia selected a junior, under18 team to compete in this Oceania meet. The New Zealand team has a full complement of Commonwealth Games relay swimmers plus Matt Stanley competing against a team of Australian secondary school children. Like Lauren Boyle, the real Australian team is quietly preparing for bigger challenges in Glasgow. But, listen to Bone’s commentary and you’d be forgiven for thinking New Zealand was about to overcome Klim, Rice, Thorpe, Fraser, Gould, Thomas, Trickett, Jones and Hackett at their best. At one stage I was beginning to wonder whether Bone’s heart was going to stand the excitement. “We are ending tonight,” Bone exclaimed, “all tied up at sixteen gold medals each.”

Really Mark Bone? No wonder swimming has problems. New Zealand’s national team is in a tie with a bunch of Australian swimmers who’ve been told to bring their high school homework to New Zealand and an ex-national coach can hardly contain his delight. Reality it seems is but a distant memory. One Australian in the audience tonight said to me, “That commentator is making New Zealand swimming look stupid.” I had little option but to agree.

However the presence of so many New Zealand Commonwealth relay swimmers got me thinking about the merits of their selection. When the team was first announced I accepted the validity of fielding numerous relay teams – of course, why not? I even noticed and accepted the sentence at the end of Swimming New Zealand’s team announcement that said: “Note that swimmers may swim in other events for the Commonwealth Games.” If a swimmer was in Glasgow to swim a relay, why not put him or her into an individual event? Who knows, one of them might swim way above his or her past and bring glory to the Land of the Long White Cloud.

I was a little concerned that the “add-on” relay provision was not included in the original conditions of selection. Adding an important condition on after the team announcement is typical of the slack management we have come to expect. It seems some of the old Swimming New Zealand tricks are still alive and well. It is not the first time Swimming New Zealand have shifted the goal posts to suit themselves. However the relay provision seemed to benefit swimmers, perhaps all was well.

But then I thought about it some more and a dark and sinister reality began to emerge. Was Swimming New Zealand at it again? Were they behaving badly? Were they cheating? The organization had published a set of qualifying times for Glasgow individual events. Only four swimmers swam faster than those times. But, because of the relay swimmers, Swimming New Zealand had found a way of adding another ten swimmers to the list of those qualified to swim in individual events. It seems too tricky for words. It is certainly typical of the sleight of hand we have come to expect from those who run things from Antares Place these days. There is the impression that if things don’t go the way SNZ want, they will find a way to bend the rules. In sport and in life that is never a good impression.

But the swimmers I feel for most are those who came so close to qualifying and didn’t make the team. Swimmers like Kurt Crosland. You may recall he is the backstroke swimmer from Dunedin who missed the cut in the 100m by just 0.25sec. He clocked 54.88sec. The qualifying mark was 54.63sec. His personal best, 54.70, is even closer. Alistair McMurran from The Otago Daily Times wrote an article about how he felt the selection standards were unfair. McMurran would have been better to focus on something that does seem unfair. Because of Swimming New Zealand’s last minute relay “add-on” rule, a swimmer, slower than Crosland, could end up swimming in the 100 backstroke in Glasgow. If I was Crosland, I’d feel a bit cheated at that.

An even better example is Sophia Batchelor. You may recall she missed selection for the London Olympic Team by just one one-hundredth of a second. She was short of the mark and stayed home. It would be understandable if she felt a bit miffed now, seeing swimmers well short of their qualifying times, lining up to swim in individual events in Glasgow. She, quite rightly, missed a trip to London for the sake of a hundredth of a second. And yet Swimming New Zealand is fine putting swimmers, way worse than that, in individual events in Glasgow. It might not be cheating. It might not be dishonest. It might not even be unfair. But it most certainly does give that impression.

Swimming New Zealand has a rule for their National Championships. It says, “Only swimmers who have met and entered at least one required individual qualifying standard in the respective competition may be entered in relay events.” Why is the organization incapable of being consistent? Why do they give themselves easier standards than they impose on the rest of us? Add-on, last minute rules clearly aimed at including ten individual swimmers who could not qualify on their own is such a bad look. But then, as we know, there is much that Miskimmin’s new Swimming New Zealand does these days that has a bad look about it.

PS – On the subject of the Oceania Swimming Championships I was interested to watch a synchronized swimming competition for the first time. It’s a tough sport. Just look at two of the officials they have for dealing with those who misbehave. The Governor of Texas would approve.