Renford Ducks for Cover

By David

The title of this post is a parody the title of an article in the Dominion Post and on the Stuff website this morning. The headline said, “Swim-record protest like water off a duck’s back” and was meant to demonstrate the contempt Swimming New Zealand had for our protests about the depth and current in the Wellington Regional Aquatic Centre.

It is not often we get to hear publically from the CEO of the new Swimming New Zealand. He appears to prefer the Miskimmin style of management – “If it’s not written down, I never said it.” Less than generous others call it mushroom management – keep them in the dark and feed them shit.

However here, at last and thanks to the Dom-Post, we have Renford on the record. So let’s examine what he said to reporter Toby Robson on the 13 August 2014.

First the introduction.

Swimming New Zealand believes doubts raised about the legitimacy of Lauren Boyle’s world record 1500m swim in Wellington on Saturday are so flimsy they do not warrant an investigation.

Swimwatch website operator and Auckland-based swimming coach David Wright has protested Boyle’s record on the grounds he believes a current in the Kilbirnie Aquatic Centre pool means the facility does not meet Fina regulations.

However, SNZ chief executive Christian Renford yesterday labelled the claims “unsubstantiated”, “disappointing” and lacking in integrity.

This is Renford setting out his stall. Note there is no mention of the depth issue. But my protests at the use of the Kilbirnie Pool were about its current and its depth. I guess Renford wants to stay as far away from the question of depth as possible. To address that issue means admitting the organization, for which he is responsible, is ignoring the safety of every swimmer, in its care, who swims in the shallow end of the Kilbirnie Pool.

And secondly it appears Renford has decided that when he wants to avoid answering difficult questions he will string together a list of insulting adjectives – “flimsy, unsubstantiated, disappointing and lacking in integrity”. It’s a pretty standard defence used by the guilty. Avoid the evidence, just insult the accusation. Incidentally Renford seems to love that word integrity. Me thinks he doth protest too much.

And then he says this.

“We have a situation where a few people seem to have taken some unofficial times and splits from hand timing by an unnamed person sitting in the grandstand,” Renford said. “It’s pretty unsubstantiated, so to be relatively blunt there just isn’t really a lot to respond to.

“There are split times missing. We are talking about world records and integrity and I just don’t think we can respond to this [in an official capacity].”

This is fascinating. “A few people” – I am afraid there are more than a few people watching Renford’s behaviour. For example the number of people reading Swimwatch has risen to 700 a day. Not only are there more than a few, there are some respected, heavy hitters in the world of swimming journalism checking on Renford’s and Swimming New Zealand’s “integrity”. Names like Rushton, Lord and Marsteller are not swimming froth to be dismissed by the likes of Renford. They are concerned and they are watching him closely.

And next, “an unnamed person sitting in the grandstand”. The person is not unnamed. It was Jon Winter who published the 25 metre times on Twitter. He was not sitting in the grandstand but was on the pool deck throughout the race. Was Renford told this stuff or did he just make it up?

And finally, “there just isn’t really a lot to respond to” and “I just don’t think we can respond to this.” Here he goes again; back to the ploy of trivialising the complaint. In this paragraph Renford uses a couple of untruths to defend SNZ’s use of the Kilbirnie Pool. And then says the lies confirm the validity of dismissing our protest. I do hope Renford’s misstatements were only unfortunate errors.

And then a call for the sympathy vote.   

“I don’t know what the swimmers would take from it, but I find it very distracting and very sad that what should be a positive event for the sport and for Lauren, the athlete concerned, gets tarnished by what are unsubstantiated accusations. He doubted Fina would take seriously hand timed splits from the grandstand when Boyle’s swim was timed using world class equipment. Wright believes his split times clearly prove that swimming in one direction at Kilbirnie is faster than swimming in the other. He says that is a violation of Fina rules.”

I fail to see what is unsubstantiated about our protests. The sign on the side of the Kilbirnie Pool tells me the depth is 1.2 metres. The FINA rule book requires 1.35 metres; there doesn’t seem to be much unsubstantiated about that. Perhaps the word has a different meaning in Australia. And as for the current is concerned, Lauren’s splits are pretty substantiated. I know the Renfords of this world will distort the truth by questioning the validity of Jon Winter’s hand timing. Renford has bent over backward to portray Jon as a drunken sailor needing binoculars to see the end of the pool. However we are able to check the accuracy of Winter’s timing every 50 metres by comparing Winter’s times with Renford’s electronic timing. I have done that and have discovered that Jon Winters hand times average a mere 0.13 seconds different from Renford’s precious “world class equipment”. The comparison is included at the conclusion of this post. Jon knew what he was doing alright. And I do hope the distortions his splits prove are taken very seriously by FINA. Protecting the rules is not a matter to be taken lightly. Renford should want the same. Is he looking for the truth?

There are of course some athletes who don’t like what I am doing. Corney Swanepoel for example got really heated about it all and urged me to climb back into whatever hole I called home. I ask those who feel that way to pause and consider whether what we do here might just result in a better SNZ, a better Wellington Pool and a better sport. We already have got SNZ to shift the Nationals to the deep end of the Wellington Pool. Now we need more.

And then unbelievably the Australian rowing administrator said this.

Renford acknowledged there was some debate about “flows” in pools around the world, but believed the effects were in all likelihood infinitesimal.

In the case of the Wellington Pool we know full well the effect of the current. Per 25 metres, Lauren Boyle was 0.57 of a second faster swimming with the current that against the current. Renford is the only swimming administrator in the world that would call that infinitesimal. He is unique. But then perhaps he has another agenda. I wonder if position and power have become more important than the truth.   

And finally Renford concludes with this gem.

“Are we prepared to take the word, or at least run with the word of an unidentified person in the grandstand . . . and taken on a hand stopwatch? That’s the part that, to be honest, confuses me the most. I don’t understand why there is any attention on this. It’s the man on the grassy knoll.”

Well Renford should feel confused no longer. The person is not unidentified, he was not in the grandstand and his times are close to identical to Swimming New Zealand’s “world class equipment”. Oh, and the issue here is in two parts – the current and the depth. I live in hope that, with this explanation, Renford may have a Road to Damascus experience. Perhaps he will join the good guys on the grassy knoll making sure swimmers like Boyle are always provided with a FINA compliant swimming pool.

PS: One correspondent to Swimwatch wonders whether Renford also breeched FINA Rule 12.4 in respect of Boyle’s swim. This rule says, “In the event of an individual race against time being sanctioned by a Member, as a time trial during a competition, then an advertisement at least three (3) days before the attempt is to be made shall not be necessary.” And so, did SNZ sanction the Lauren Boyle’s swim three days prior to her swim? I doubt they did. Even Boyle is reported as saying she did not have a record attempt in mind. If SNZ did sanction the attempt, please show us the document.  If SNZ breeched yet another rule and didn’t sanction the time trial, is Renford hard at work tonight, typing a post-dated approval? They couldn’t run a piss up in Speights Brewery.



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Per 25m



  • Clive Rushton

    Well,those splits look pretty accurate to me. The discrepancies are due to the human reaction delay at the start signal, as every coach knows. I’d be jealous as hell of those differences.

  • Clive rushton

    P.S. and every techie official who holds a stopwatch at the end of the pool would be jealous of them as well.

  • Clve rushton

    I’m intrigued: how is timing from the stands inaccurate? The sight-lines are much more advantageous than the flatter angle from the poolside. Given the choice I’d much rather time from the stands.

  • David

    I agree Clive. For Renford to cast doubt over the validity of Jon’s splits is just blatant dishonesty. To do it to senior members of the NZ and world press brings him and swimming in New Zealand into shocking disrepute. Lauren Boyle was half a second slower swimming one way in the Wellington pool than the other. Renford’s misinformation cannot change that fact. Renford’s misinformation cannot be used to justify signing a false record application. What else is Renford spreading misinformation about?

  • Emily

    I cannot see how these splits can be taken as accurate when data is missing. A handheld stopwatch is never as accurate as electronic timing. These times are not of a world record standard, and therefore have no proof in your argument.

  • James T

    Good grief Emily – where have you been? Or are you an apologist for SNZ?

    Nobody that I have read either here or in the various international media that are following this is suggesting that these times are somehow an official record. What they do tell us though is this:

    A bloody good coach who knew he was seeing something special unfold took a real time record which when you check back showed one of two things. Either,

    1. The worlds best swimmer over this distance was consistently swimming the outbound lap (about) half a second quicker than the inbound lap.
    2. This either means that she is not just the worlds best swimmer over the distance and that she was implementing the strangest race plan you could ever imagine, or there might just be something wrong with the pool! Maybe a current? No, that wouldn’t be possible in New Zealand would it?

    Just as well he did because it seems as though nobody in Swimming Wellington could be bothered to do it! If he was wrong where are the IOT split records from the turn end to prove that he was wrong. Maybe Swimming Wellington don’t do that anymore or maybe they just might show what Jon Winter has already demonstrated. Thank you Jon, the world of sport owes you a great debt.

    Coaches the world over want to break a world record swim down to find out what makes the best swimmers in the world tick. These splits will be pored over by coaches all over the world, and you know what? There is only one inescapable conclusion and that is the same as what has been said about this pool for years. That there is a current.

    It was obvious to Clive Rushton and has been shown by him with a simple piece of scrunched up piece of paper floating down the pool, and by endless and detailed splits and race results provided by the same excellent performance director over the years. Then there is the evidence of all levels of swimmers who talk of swimming uphill as they come back home in this pool. And I well remember that awful strident Aussie accent of Jan Cameron’s many years ago screaming from the top balcony to ‘turn the bubbles off!’

    It seems as though the only people struggling with this right now are those who have the most to lose. That is the very people who have for years figured that ‘denial is not just a river in Egypt!’ but a very sad place where they can go and suck their thumbs staring into space in a corner while the rest of the world looks on and realises that New Zealand is just the Wild West!

    Wake up New Zealand. The world is watching and we don’t look very good. Our Australian CEO has just made us look like a pack of dishonest country bumpkins.

    The pool is dangerous because it is too shallow. It does not comply with the rules and should not be used for competition from the shallow end. The pool also has a current. The only people in the world who can’t figure that out is Swimming New Zealand and their side kicks in Swimming Wellington.

    Just when we should be celebrating our greatest swimmer since Danyon Loader in his golden era, we find ourselves caught up in a debate that comes because the custodians of the sport in New Zealand simply are not prepared to man up and admit that they have got it wrong and that they have played fast and loose with our children’s safety and well being.

    There is nobody to blame for this other than Swimming New Zealand and those who for years have supported their inept behaviour. For that you can read Sport New Zealand plus the one eyed apologists who continue to cover for the type of dishonesty and nonsense we see from CEO in the TV interview and these various press reports. At least you can’t accuse David Wright of standing idly by while this all happened.

    Let me concede – the CEO may have been misquoted. He may not have actually meant to say that the only thing that is wrong is David Wright (oh sorry, he did not mention him by name did he?) He may not have actually implied that David Wright has put in an official protest about Lauren’s world record swim (let’s be clear – he, that’s David, has not – he placed a protest about the pools lack of compliance two years ago and before this swim occurred he placed another about the pools current – nothing to do with Lauren’s outstanding world record swim), he (the CEO this time) may not have actually ignored the issue of the fact that the pool is 15 cms shallower (that’s 11%) than FINA allows as it’s minimum depth for a pool for the six meters under the starting blocks, he may not have said that despite the evidence to the contrary that Swimming New Zealand is going to press ahead with a dishonest application to its governing body – that may all be the dreadful press in New Zealand misrepresenting him.

    Of course that can happen but he is not exactly racing out there to correct the impression is he?

    Get over yourselves New Zealand.

    Lauren Boyle is the real deal and she has been let down by the leaders of her sport and also of all sport in New Zealand and also by the Wellington Council. The longer you apologise for them and excuse their shameful behaviour the closer you come to one of your children becoming a tetraplegic and spending the rest of their lives in a wheel chair or worse. It won’t be my children though because they will never dive off those starting blocks ever again and I do not care what competition it might be that is running in the WRAC. My children’s health and well being have been placed at risk by Swimming New Zealand one time too many. I refuse to ever be an apologist for this wilful negligence again.

    I say never again!

    • Justsaying

      Here, here, brillant and one of the best blogs I have read. Thank you for being so succinct.

    • Emily

      Thank you for your input James T. I too agree that Lauren Boyle is a world class swimmer. I am certainly not defending SNZ. The fact that SNZ allows national competitions to be held in a pool where everyone knows there is a current is shameful to the nation, and the sport of swimming. However as I said in my previous post the times taken show an irregular pattern, but they are not proof. Once official 25m split times are taken from electronic timing I will agree with David.

      • James T

        Sorry Emily. I didn’t mean to be personal or insulting.

        As you can tell though I am really angry that we are even in this place now. It is not fair to Lauren or anyone else in our community. I am sorry that my post came across as being personal. It was not intended to be the case. While an apology to you is deserved there will be none to SNZ until they openly apologise to their members, Lauren, the family of the little girl who lost her teeth and the people of New Zealand who have so generously bankrolled them. Their abuse of our trust and their lack of integrity over too long cannot be allowed to happen anymore.

        Unfortunately I think they will get away with this and then they will think that all is great in the garden except for all of us malcontents. If it weren’t for us then they would be perfect. Look out then for the retribution. There are some pretty unpleasant people out there. We have seen that over the years.

  • Clive Rushton

    Emily, no one is suggesting that Jon’s splits should be taken as the official times. They are merely evidence (not proof) that a current was in play during the swim. Everyone (yes, everyone) knows there is a Kilbirnie Kurrent so Jon’s times are indicative of its effect.

    The issue regarding the validity of the swim will come down to the pool depth at the start end and whether SNZ sanctioned the time trial 72 hours prior.

    The Kilbirnie Kurrent issue can not be ‘proved’ retrospectively for this particular swim but simply adds to the number of swims done in the pool since SNZ, Wellington Region and WRAC were told the pool did not comply with FINA regulations more than ten years ago.

    • Emily

      When accurate splits are taken with official timing, this case would be further proved. SNZ is great at finding loopholes and it is exactly what they have done with this swim.

  • Clive Rushton

    James T posted:

    “The pool is dangerous because it is too shallow. It does not comply with the rules
    and should not be used for competition from the shallow end. The pool also has
    a current. The only people in the world who can’t figure that out is Swimming
    New Zealand and their side kicks in Swimming Wellington.”

    Here’s a bit of history which may explain how “they” are able to hide their head in the sand:

    On 22 June 2003 a Policy document was approved by the then SNZ Council “To
    provide clear guidelines for the allocation and safe management of SNZ national

    It opened with the following, categorical statement:

    “All SNZ national competition facilities shall adhere to the FINA minimum facility standards and SNZ minimum facility standards.”

    And then followed up with:

    “SNZ may waive certain standards for pools if they do not materially interfere with the running of the competitions; compromise the health and safety of competitors, officials or spectators; or expose SNZ to undue legal or financial risk. This will be determined on a case-by-case basis by SNZ Council.”

    There then followed a list of suitable pools in which WRAC was clearly labeled – “Pool does not meet FINA Minimum standard but is approved by SNZ for
    designated competitions.”

    Council then agreed to review the policy every two years but I have no idea if this actually happened – I can’t find a facilities policy on the website (SNZ & Our Communities/Legal & Governance/Policies & Procedures).

    The 2003 policy document then clearly laid out the FINA minimums:

    “The minimum criteria set by FINA for competitive swimming facilities shall be adhered to for SNZ national competitions unless stated otherwise.”

    Which included:

    “A minimum depth of 1.35m, extending from 1m to at least 6m from the end wall is required for pools with starting blocks. A minimum depth of 1m is required elsewhere.”

    However, and this is where it may be viewed as slightly murky – you know the color of water when the current has churned up the river bed?

    “SNZ Additional Minimum Facility Standards:
    For New Zealand Open and Winter Championships,
    international competitions and selection competitions, a minimum pool depth of
    1.2m is required for pools with starting blocks. … Selection competitions are as defined in the approved High Performance Selection Criteria.”


    “For non-selection competitions a minimum pool depth of less than 1.2m for pools with starting blocks may be approved by SNZ on a case-by-case basis. This minimum depth shall extend from 1.0m to at least 5.0m from the end wall.”

    So the 1.2m acceptable depth was included as an “additional” standard. The good news is the opening statement: “… shall adhere to the FINA minimum facility standards and SNZ minimum facility standards”

    Even if you are confused by the relative emphatic gradations of the words must and shall, there can surely be no confusion with shall adhere to the FINA minimum facility standards. The FINA minimum standard for depth was (and is) 1.35m, the SNZ minimum standard was 1.2m. A suitable pool had to conform to both standards so 1.35 wins the day.

    Even “Swimming New Zealand and their side kicks in Swimming Wellington”
    should be able to figure that one out.

    Now, let’s dissect a possible counter-argument:

    The policy covers the facility, not the competition. For WRAC to be approved as a “national competition facility,” it must comply with FINA minimum rules. It doesn’t, so why has it been used so often since 2003?

    You’ll have to ask the previous Council and Board members that one because I consistently argued against its use. The Dom Post had a real go at me at one point because I publicly said it wasn’t a world-class facility – not only is it too shallow and has a counter-productive and illegal current, but there is no adequate swim down pool, and it was dark and dismal as well. That’s hardly a mix of conditions guaranteed to evoke extreme psycho-physiological outpourings of supreme athletic performance. Honestly, anyone who swims fast in WRAC deserves two medals rather than one.

    The only times I advocated using it for anything approaching a selection meet was if it was set up short course at the deep end. I even suggested swimming across the pool – it is 25m wide and it would have been ultra fast because of the depth of the diving tank across the whole pool.

    Anyway, there you go; it was ruled as non-compliant back in 2003 and it doesn’t appear to have changed since then.

  • h2tk

    James T. I just re-posted your comment below on Craig Lord’s site, but I should have asked first. Hope that is OK? But I see David has done the same.

    • James T

      H2tk – I don’t often write on Swimwatch but I just got so wound up by this that I had to do it yeasterday. I am ok with your doing whatever but thanks for asking. I see David has given it a big spread now so I guess it has been done now! It’s a wet and windy night out and I still can’t sleep over this – it really bugs me that Lauren might miss out on a world record because of this numbskull behaviour. Worse, I think of the number of times I have let my kids swim there because it is nationals and I trusted Swimmig New Zealand to ensure my kids were safe. Until a couple of years ago I had no idea the risk that my kids were being exposed to in that place. Thanks to David for helping us all understand. I expect better from Swimming NZ and to be honest I feel really betrayed. I really feel as though all the trust I had in human nature and all that stuff has been violated. I can only begin to imagine how Lauren is feeling and then what about the poor kid who lost her teeth? And her parents? How devastating would that be? Send your daughter to a swim meet and then have her come home with her face smashed up. Dreadful. I was in Auckland visited the Starship and saw kids who had spinal damage and were in wheelchairs. I am simply terrified that our kids have been exposed to that risk. All I wanted was for them to enjoy their sport. I am really over this.

      • James T

        Realising this has now gone world wide I should apologise to our para-swimmers, Sophie Pascoe and others. They have done a great job since Danyon’s days but of course they do not fall under SNZ and FINA – sorry guys, in your own space you guys are great too. The oversight was unintentional. Happens when you get wound up!

  • h2tk

    Bahahahaha. Exactly