Accountability – New Zealand Swimming and the Commonwealth Games

By David

And so Miskimmin’s new Swimming New Zealand swim school has had its first test at a pinnacle event; the Glasgow Commonwealth Games. And Miskimmin and his organization bombed; vanished virtually without trace.

Accountability is a word the Australian CEO of Swimming New Zealand, Christian Renford, ordered to be printed at the conclusion of every corporate email and letter. So just who is accountable for the carnage in Glasgow? The last time Scotland witnessed ruin on this scale was on a field called Culloden.

Certainly someone has to be accountable. A loss of this proportion cannot go unpunished. The organization’s “Whole of Sport Plan” promised seven able-bodied medals. New Zealand’s swimmers delivered two. Heads must roll. But whose heads you may ask? Well, let’s be very clear. The swimmers who represented their country in the Tollcross Pool are not at fault. No, they are the principle victims.   

In my opinion the buck stops at the top; that’s Miskimmin, the SNZ Board, Renford, Villanueva and Lyles. In any area of activity a loss of this magnitude would be punished. The corporate CEO who tells the Stock Exchange to expect a profit of $7million and delivers $2million, the rugby coach who wins two games in a seven match season, the surgeon who cures two patients out of every seven, the postie who delivers five out of seven letters to the wrong address; would all expect to have their employment terminated.

And so Miskimmin and your swimming sycophants; does the use of “accountability” mean anything or is an empty word, signifying nothing? From the grass roots of swimming, Swimwatch now calls on you all to resign; leave the sport to those better able to do a decent job; get out now. You have been accommodated and found wanting. You have been given our country’s $2million and have spent it imprudently for little return. You have brought embarrassment to our country, our sport and some talented young people who put their trust and toil in your hands. Did you know today I met a woman who has spent her life involved in New Zealand swimming? Her knowledge of things swimming is without peer. She is to swimming what Lydiard and Jelley are to athletics, or Fred Allan was to rugby. She told me the devastation in Glasgow was more than she could bear. She feared she could stand it no longer.

The reality is that those who caused her pain, those who left our swim team so vulnerable to failure, it is them we expect to hand in the keys to their corporate Mazdas and catch airplanes back to whence they came.

And as if winning two medals wasn’t bad enough. Having only 3 out of 27 events (11%), swum in a personal best time is even worse. When Renford arrived in New Zealand he said, on Radio Sport, that New Zealand swim coaches were in dire need of improvement. Much work, he said, was needed to lift the standard of New Zealand coaching. Well, let me tell Renford, the personal best ratio of 11% achieved by your coaches and your swim school in Glasgow would be enough to cause every New Zealand club coach to hide in embarrassment. Has Swimming New Zealand no shame? How could they go to a world event and have only two swimmers, in three events, compete at the top of their form. And one of them, Corey Main, has spent the last three years at the University of Florida, 8000 miles away from SNZ’s Millennium centre of mediocrity. It is no coincidence that New Zealand’s better performances came from athletes stationed overseas. But there were other things just as bad. For example:

Promoting relay swimmers to individual events was cheating. That rule change came on the same day as the team announcement; something specifically prohibited in the original Conditions of Selection document.

Carting swimmers from New Zealand to spend almost two months on the Mediterranean coast so that they could swim one leg of a relay heat is outrageous. Spending $2million taxpayer dollars in twelve months on coaches, high end salaries, customized cars, new offices, high altitude camps in two continents, a week on the Mediterranean resort island of Mallorca, fake Millennium NZ uniforms with their fake silver ferns and a pre-Games tour of Europe’s “costa del playground” is shameful. And for what result? I thought Swimming New Zealand was bad. But this was more than bad. This was as pathetic as it was expected.

I was recently told that the four words, “I told you so” were the most satisfying in the English language. And they are, when you know that “I told you so” may result in change. Ah, but I hear some readers say what about cycling and rowing? Let there be no misunderstanding, the success of cycling has nothing to do with Miskimmin’s policy of centralization. Until six months ago track cycling was coached by the hugely successful Justin Grace. Unlike swimming where the policy of centralization has been in vogue for about ten years, not enough time has gone by for centralization to wreak havoc on the work Justin Grace did from his east Auckland home.

And as for rowing – well first of all it’s primarily a team sport and on that basis alone merits some centralization. Swimming is not. And secondly in Richard Tonks rowing found a coaching genius; an Arthur Lydiard, an Arch Jelley, a man who could have coached Olympic champion rowers on any still piece of water in the country. Centralisation has traded off the genius of Tonks for too long.

You possibly still don’t believe. Well explain judo to me. No centralization, no Miskimmin, no imported bureaucracy, but five Glasgow medals nevertheless. Two million taxpayer dollars and swimming under Layton’s Board, and Renford, Villanueva and Lyles can only deliver 40% of the medals won by a diversified federal sport backed by no material government funding. Beware Judo. Miskimmin could be about to pay you a visit. His first offer will be a paid-for thorough review of the sport, followed by a Whole of Sport Plan that will recommend and alien CEO and an imported National Coach. And in a few years you too will understand the chaos called swimming.

But possibly there is a glimmer of hope. Perhaps there are honourable people at the top of New Zealand sport; at the top of New Zealand swimming. Perhaps the word accountable is not just an empty platitude. Perhaps there are principled men and women who mean what they say. And if that’s the case I look forward to reading about the resignation of the SNZ Board, of Renford, Villanueva and Lyles as an early and welcome post on the new SNZ website. You see that’s the meaning of accountable.

PS – Since writing this story I have been sent a report on the NewstalkZB website. In it Villanueva seems to be embarking on a “blame the swimmers” crusade. Villanueva is reported to be “taking a hard-line stance with some of the results of New Zealand’s swimmers at the Commonwealth Games”. He goes on to say, “setting personal bests or improving times from heats to finals is the expectation, and there wasn’t enough of that in Glasgow. We need to set these standards according to where we go. If we go to a World Championships we need to set these standards high, and there’s no exception for that.”

I guess setting high standards is why Villanueva decided to enter a bunch of unqualified athletes in individual events. It’s enough to make you vomit. If I buy the ticket to Spain I wonder if Villanueva would leave us alone. Certainly I do not detect anything in this report that suggests honour or accountable or principle. But then this is Swimming New Zealand – what would you expect?

  • Justsaying

    I heard the zb interview with luis Villanueva and wondered whether he had a copy of the SNZ code of conduct. Didn’t think you were allowed to say anything negative!! It was disappointing to hear him start on the swimmers as the reason for a poor showing, if he is going to lay blame he should spread that around, just saying!!

  • David

    I could not agree with you more. Villanueva was in charge. It was his responsibility. And now this. It is disgraceful. He should publically accept and acknowledge that all that has occurred in Glasgow is the fault of himself and his head office mates and go back to Spain.