Archive for September, 2014

Cui Bono

Saturday, September 27th, 2014

By David

The title of this story is a well-known Latin phrase meaning “to whose benefit”. It came to mind as I thumbed through the Swimming New Zealand 2014 financial accounts. Now I know there are many swimming people who view the pages of Swimwatch as the ranting of an obsessed lunatic. Nevill Sutton, the boss of the Coaches Association takes great pride in telling anyone who will listen that he never reads the blog. For him it probably is pornography. I suspect there is nothing I could say that would convince these patriots that Swimming New Zealand might be wrong; might even be way worse than wrong.

Perhaps swimming people of this persuasion might like to take the advice of Deep Throat in the Watergate investigation of President Nixon, “Follow the money.” What do the 2014 accounts tell us about how Layton and Renford are running Miskimmin’s swimming empire? The accounts are revealing. I think they indicate exactly the path the sport of swimming is about to follow. See what you think. Here are some figures for you to consider; figures that I suspect Layton and Renford would prefer remained hidden on the back pages of the Swimming New Zealand website.

  1. The table below shows the membership of Swimming New Zealand over the past four years. Layton and Renford continue to do a sterling job of shrinking the Miskimmin swimming empire. In the past four years the number of individuals involved in the sport has declined by an average of 1271 individuals or 6.0% per year.

Year

2011

2012

2013

2014

Numbers

21141

21879

18200

17329

% Change

-

Plus 3.5%

Minus 16.8%

Minus 4.8%

  1. The table below shows the money swimming received from Peter Miskimmin. For several years the pages of Swimwatch have argued that the financial support from Sport New Zealand is not based on need or performance. Support, I have argued, is determined by the extent that Miskimmin’s personal agenda and power are linked to swimming. It seems that Miskimmin will pay whatever it takes to prove his policy is right. In a period when Swimming New Zealand’s performance has declined to the embarrassment that was Glasgow and Brisbane in 2014 Miskimmin has poured more and more money at the problem. Over the past four years Sport New Zealand has increased its funding of swimming by an average of $133,000 or 6.8% per year. The total is now a staggering $2.5 million. Swimwatch appears to be right. If Miskimmin is personally invested in the sport, no matter what the results, he will pay.

Year

2011

2012

2013

2014

$ Numbers

1,962.838

2,233,879

2,389,813

2,495,292

% Change

-

Plus 13.8%

Plus 7%

Plus 4.4%

  1. So the money has gone up. But, in Miskimmin’s swimming empire, what have Layton and Renford spent it on; the swimmers, I wonder? Not on your life they haven’t. The table below shows the amount spent on financially supporting individual swimmers; a program called PEGS. Over the past four years Swimming New Zealand has decreased the funding of individual swimmers by an average of $37,000 or 11.6% per year.

Year

2011

2012

2013

2014

$ Numbers

317,584

295,344

296,948

170,799

% Change

-

Minus 7%

Minus 0.5%

Minus 42.8%

  1. But what about the swimmers “Rewards” scheme; the program that recognizes outstanding swimming achievements? Perhaps that has gone up? But I’m afraid not. That’s plummeted like a broken elevator as well. Over the past four years Swimming New Zealand has decreased the “Rewards” funding by an average of $30,000 or 22.8% per year.

Year

2011

2012

2013

2014

$ Numbers

132,036

32,093

35,466

11,500

% Change

-

Minus 75.7%

Plus 10.5%

Minus 67.6%

  1. Well, if the swimmers haven’t got the money. What have Layton and Renford spent our money on? The answer is in two parts, either we don’t know or they have spent it on themselves in the form of cars, wages and consultants. But first the bit that we don’t know about. In Swimming New Zealand’s accounts there is an item called “Other”. What “Other” is we don’t know. What we do know is that in Miskimmin’s swimming empire “Other” has done very well. Over the past four years Swimming New Zealand has increased the funding of “Other” by an average of $62,000 or 16.9% per year. The 2014 increase in “Other” is a stunning 129.8%.

Year

2011

2012

2013

2014

$ Numbers

364,982

253,576

266,030

611,432

% Change

-

Minus 30.5%

Plus 4.9%

Plus 129.8%

  1. And then there is consultants and marketing. I remember a lecturer in my class at the London School of Economics telling me, “Beware of companies that spend on consultants.” I wonder what he’d say about Swimming New Zealand in 2014. In the category called “Consultants, Communication, Marketing” spending has gone up faster than an Indian probe to Mars. Over the past four years Swimming New Zealand has increased the amount they have spent here by an average of $62,000 or 16.9% per year. The 2014 increase in the Consultancy category is a spectacular 89.2%.

Year

2011

2012

2013

2014

$ Numbers

49,753

49,806

59,107

111,840

% Change

-

Plus 0.1%

Plus 18.7%

Plus 89.2%

  1. So how has good old “Administration” fared under the rule of Layton and Renford? How much has the sport spent in the office? It seems, “not too badly at all” is the answer. Over the past four years Swimming New Zealand has increased the amount spent on “Administration” by an average of $65,000 or 15.5% per year. The 2014 increase in the Consultancy category is a striking 75.1%. The numbers seem to confirm the Swimwatch view that all is not well at 17 Antares Place.

Year

2011

2012

2013

2014

$ Numbers

420,674

358,678

389,525

682,099

% Change

-

Minus 14.7%

Plus 8.6%

Plus 75.1%

  1. And finally my favorite subject – that new fleet of Mazda SUVs. Do the figures confirm the impressive car park of shinning Japanese horsepower? It seems they certainly do. Over the past four years Swimming New Zealand has increased its commitment to automotive industry leases by an average of $14,000 or 15.2% per year. The 2014 increase in the “Operating Lease Commitments” category is an unbelievable 53.2%. The numbers suggest that the “Mazda Mob” title for our esteemed leadership has been well earned.

Year

2011

2012

2013

2014

$ Numbers

94,934

73,194

71,460

152,586

% Change

-

Minus 22.9%

Plus 2.4%

Plus 53.2%

So there it is. We have followed the money and look what we have found. It is not a good look. This 2014 financial record is characterized by

  • A huge decrease in spending on the core activity of competitive swimming.

  • A massive increase in the cost of administration and perks such as flash cars.

  • A government committed to covering Swimming New Zealand’s costs irrespective of performance.

The whole report is a tragedy. When a swimmer of mine had to spend $2000 to swim for her country in her home pool and was ordered by the Mazda Mob to buy her own New Zealand cap; when the Swimming New Zealand Chairman, Layton, makes great play in the Report of telling us SNZ made a surplus of $18,000 compared to $16,000 last year when he knows the surpluses, the losses, the spending, the cars and the salaries; the whole diseased bundle was bankrolled but a government zealot hell bent on proving his centralist philosophy works – when all that happens the organization will never work. In this instance Swimwatch is right. Just follow the money; cui bono, to whose benefit.

Official Caution

Thursday, September 25th, 2014

By David

The subject of officials in sport is often highly charged and emotional. Fortunately New Zealand swimming has attracted more than its fair share of first class officials. Some readers may remember Beth Meade from Gisborne, Jill Vernon from Auckland and Norman Jeffs from Whakatane. These officials were beyond reproach – honest, fair and caring examples that all competitors could follow and trust. And current officials I admire include Suzanne Speer, David Jack, Jo and Alan Draisey and Tony Cooper. Although they will be horrified to learn they have made the pages of Swimwatch they do impress with their quiet application and committed service.

Not all officials share these qualities. I have written before about the disgraceful conduct of Jo Davidson. A few years ago a swimmer of mine was a warm favourite to win the New Zealand Open 200 metre breaststroke title. During the morning heats Jo Davidson took two stroke and turn officials to an underwater viewing window and was reported as telling them, “This is what you will disqualify her for in tonight’s final.” God knows how many ethical and written rules that behaviour violates. I would have thought it reason enough to incur a serious penalty. Instead Swimming New Zealand has presented Jo Davidson with all sorts of service awards and international appointments. It’s that sort of example that makes me laugh at Renford’s claim to integrity and accountability. We found out about this because a member of the pool staff overheard the conversation and let us know.

I was in the Auckland AOD room during a swim meet recently and overheard a referee say, “That official made a mistake but we will just wait and see if anyone protests.” A referee like that has no place on the side of a swimming pool. Clearly she had no thought for the swimmer improperly penalised; no concern about whether the family could afford to put $50 at risk to protest the error. Of course officials make honest mistakes and there is nothing wrong with that. The attempt to hide it is the crime.

Certainly a number of official positions place a premium on honesty and sound judgement. This is what USA Swimming has to say on the subject.

Employees and volunteers of USA Swimming, LSCs and member clubs who interact directly and frequently with athletes as a regular part of the their duties must be non-athlete members of USA Swimming and satisfactorily complete criminal background checks as required by USA Swimming.

The last CEO of Auckland Swimming, Brian Palmer, was very concerned that Auckland officials demonstrate appropriate standards of behaviour. He published a comprehensive athlete’s protection policy. This is what it had to say.

ASA and its affiliated clubs have a responsibility to ensure that appropriate policies and procedures are established to safeguard all children and its members from any threat of or form of abuse while participating in any aspect of our sport.

The responsibility for safeguarding athletes, children and young people is with all adults who play a role in their lives. This refers to all who work, directly and indirectly, with children including those responsible for the administration and coordinating of the swimming club and its activities.

It is relevant to note that both USA Swimming and Brian Palmer emphasise the relevance of interaction with the athlete. USA Swimming says, “Employees and volunteers who interact directly and frequently with athletes.” Brian Palmer says the same thing this way, “This refers to all who work, directly and indirectly, with children.”

While ethical behaviour is important everywhere, it is especially imperative for those who interact closest with participants. That is why coaches, especially in the USA, have been subject to so much scrutiny recently. Certainly some official positions involve more interaction and more sound judgement than others; the position of Inspector of Strokes and Turns for example. At every swim meet all Inspectors of Strokes and Turns are required to make dozens of decision on the validity of a swimmer’s performance. Sound judgement is at a premium. There is no room for error. Any impression of bias or dishonesty should disqualify any adult from the job of Stroke and Turns Judge.

For example I would consider it doubtful that any individual who has been sentenced to time in jail following a conviction for financial dishonesty would be suitable to act in a position requiring a high standard of ethical judgement and honesty. A resume that includes failed companies and dishonesty convictions is not what Auckland Swimming should be looking for in positions requiring the highest standards of personal behaviour.

I am aware there will be many who will argue that we all make mistakes. When an individual has been convicted and served his or her punishment it is time to move on; a time for second chances; a time to forgive and even forget. In principle that view is fair and just. Except, I would argue, when the potential employment is directly related to the conviction. A ten times drunk driver should not be driving an ambulance or a school bus no matter how many sentences he has successfully served. A convicted paedophile should not be put in charge of a children’s holiday camp no matter how many rehabilitation courses he has attended. Serial convictions for endangering the safety of an aircraft should exclude you from being a senior pilot for Air New Zealand. And I would hope that a jail term for dishonesty would exclude you from making the judgement calls required of a Stroke and Turns Judge.

I would certainly feel uncomfortable about having the stroke and turns of my swimmers subject to examination by an official whose honesty had been the subject of legal censure. Accepting an arrangement such as that would, for me, be a step too far; the beginning of a slippery slope. But, it seems, current Auckland Swimming does not see it that way. And so, like many things in this sport just now, time will tell.

 

Absolute Control Over SNZ

Friday, September 19th, 2014

By David

Some Swimwatch readers may have noticed a pause in postings to this blog. For some that may also be cause for celebration. At the Wellington Short Course Nationals Neville Sutton, the boss of the New Zealand Swim Coaches Association described me as the “elephant in the room”. I am not quite sure what he meant by that, not so flattering, description. However, I am not concerned about Neville being upset that I have revealed his opinion. He also told me he never reads Swimwatch. It seems the national Swim Coaches Association is not being led by the most open minded of human spirits.

This “elephant’s” writings have been on hold partly because of the National Championships but primarily because the birth of my first grandchild seemed to be more important. My daughter Jane – some of you may remember her, she swam for New Zealand and held a few open titles and an open New Zealand 200 metre breaststroke short course record before taking up a four year swimming scholarship at Washington State University – and her partner Stephen, in the week after the Nationals, had a little baby boy, Samuel James. It’s not every day you become a grandparent for the first time. That did seem more important than Swimwatch or even the misbehaviour of Swimming New Zealand. And Jane, of course, had more important events to occupy her time than publish Swimwatch stories.

However I have been spurred back into action by a comment received today from a reader who signs him or herself as “Please”. This is what the comment says

“Please write an article about what you would do if you had absolute control over SNZ!”

Now that is a big subject. Sufficiently big that to discuss it in any detail would occupy many thousands of words. And so with all the failings wrapped up in generalities here is what I would do if I had absolute control over Swimming New Zealand.

  1. I would change the constitution. The current Swimming New Zealand constitution centralizes and protects power into the hands of a small undemocratic clique. I would favour a very federal democratic constitution where power is vested in the Regions. Right now the Chairman of the Regions receive a report from Layton and Renford each month; scraps from the master’s table. I would expect this to be reversed. Power must be vested in the membership. The regions should provide Renford with their expectations of his duties. The Swimming New Zealand Board would be comprised of democratically elected delegates from

    1. Otago/Southland

    2. Canterbury/West Coast/Nelson-Marlborough

    3. Wellington/ Wanganui

    4. Taranaki/Manawatu/Hawkes Bay-Poverty Bay

    5. Bay of Plenty/Waikato

    6. Counties/Auckland/Northland

  2. I would take Swimming New Zealand out of the learn to swim activity. This was one recommendation of the Moller report that I really thought made sense. The reasons outlined in the Moller report were good and well made. But, would you believe it, the current mob went back on their promise to a Special General Meeting and stayed up to their eyeballs in something that they are bad at and is not their core business.

  3. I would close the two government run swim schools at the Millennium Institute in Auckland and at the Regional Aquatic Centre in Wellington. Swimmers currently in those programs would be asked to find coaching at private club programs either here or overseas.

  4. Assuming Sport New Zealand funding stayed at its current level I would empower the club coaching structure throughout New Zealand. I would charge every club with the responsibility of producing international winning swimmers. I would visit every club in the country and ask for a business plan of the swimmers in their care who had the potential to swim for the country and what resources they required to see that happen. I would then support approved clubs with as much financial assistance as was available and I would hold them accountable for the performance of their business plan. New Zealand would be transformed from a privileged coterie of two into a team of 50 or 60 well supported coaches working towards the same goal; a structure far more likely to win than the centralized edifice we have at present.

  5. I would put more emphasis and importance on the relatively new open water swimming portion of the sport.

  6. I would abolish the membership fee currently charged to volunteer officials.

  7. I would abandon Swimming New Zealand’s coaches’ education program. I would sign an agreement with the American Swim Coaches Association to provide a comprehensive qualification program in New Zealand. This would mean every New Zealand coach would earn qualifications acknowledged around the world; something certainly not the case right now. The standard of education would be better and the qualifications more respected and recognized.

  8. I would reduce the cost of the Head Office. Abandoning learn to swim and closing the Millennium/Wellington swim schools would cause a significant drop in staff numbers. I would be surprised if the office function could not be run at about 20% of its current cost.

  9. I would return all the Mazda SUVs.

  10. I would sack Renford and Villanueva and replace them with two appointees who would kill me if I mentioned their names in this report.

  11. Lyles and Hurring would need to find or return to privately funded club coaching programs.

  12. I would bring on board an international sponsor who has already indicated support of $NZ1.6 million for a program including the principles detailed above; but not a penny for the state run monopoly that is currently competitive swimming in New Zealand. The amount of $NZ1.6 million is what it currently costs to keep the Millennium Institute in business. A diversified, democratic Swimming New Zealand would probably see Miskimmin take his toys home. But that doesn’t matter we can get the money elsewhere.

  13. I would introduce concepts totally foreign to the current organization; openness and honesty. I would publish the minutes of every Board, Management and Committee Meeting together with the voting record of all Board and Management members. Unless it was illegal to publish something discussed, every decision and every vote would be available on the website. No more “17 Antares Place, behind closed doors”.

And so that’s a list for my first 100 days in power. I’m sure there is much that I have forgotten. But even this would radically change the organization for the better. For too long the centralized structure imposed on the sport by Peter Miskimmin has raped and pillaged the grass roots resources of the sport. My alterations would see the enormous reservoir of talent and power held by the membership harnessed and used to produce winning swimmers in international competition.