Archive for February, 2017

Follow The Money

Tuesday, February 14th, 2017

“Follow the money” is a line made famous in the movie, “All the President’s Men”. The movie tells the story of the corruption of Watergate and the Nixon presidency. “Follow the Money” is the advice given by an informant helping the Washington Post journalists investigating Nixon. No one would compare Swimming New Zealand to the excesses of Watergate. However the advice to follow the money may be no less pertinent.

I should point out that I am writing this from a hotel room in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and am therefore somewhat detached from the events that produced these accounts.  

However, with that qualification, here is a summary of what the SNZ’s 2016 financial accounts tell us about the financial health of the organisation.

Income – Grants and Donations

Income from grants and donations is down by $K374 from $K2,850 to $K2,476. That is bad and has been caused by a $K500 reduction in Government funding from $2.2 million down to $1.7 million.

The government’s reduction has been offset to some extent by an increase in other grants, up by $K122, from $K651 to $K773. This income is mainly charity type donations, so someone at SNZ has been burning the midnight oil filling out grant application forms. My take on what has happened is that SNZ has responded to loosing Miskimmin’s money by doubling their efforts to obtain money from other charities. And in this SNZ has been partially successful. But it is a strategy that has risks. Private charities tend to spread their support and therefore are an unreliable source of long term income.

Now that Miskimmin has reduced his 2017 funding by another $K600 SNZ are going to have to double their efforts again with private charities this year. But beware!    

Income – From the Business

Income from grants and donations is all well and good but the real measure of the health of an organisation is what it earns from its normal business activities. And in this area the SNZ 2016 accounts have good news and bad news. Membership fees are down by $K4 (1%) from $K293 to $K289.  I suspect the drop in membership income is because the number of competitive swimmers paying fees has gone down from 5909 in 2015 to 5605 in 2016 (5%) – and that is very bad. It means the business is contracting.

Income from other fees however has gone up: primarily because SNZ has charged fewer swimmers and their families much higher fees. Meet entry fees have risen by $K47 (16%), program fees are up by $K15 (8%) and merchandise sales have increased by $K14 (100%). Not good at all is the huge increase SNZ has charged in user pays contributions, up by $K220 (116%). It is an accolade to be chosen to represent New Zealand but if your sport is swimming you are going to have to pay and pay and pay for the honour.

The net effect of the reduced swimming membership combined with the much higher fees is that the income from the core business has increased by $K328 (33%) from $K1,004 to $K1,332.

But that good news on income is offset by the fact that the business has shrunk. SNZ’s response has been to charge those involved a whole lot more. Growing the business membership plus some modest increase in fees is a healthier means of improving income.       

Expenses –

It looks like expenses have been controlled well in 2016. It was an Olympic year when cost tend to be higher but SNZ managed to hold overall expenses at $K3,873, only $K128 (3%) higher than 2015. Hidden within that good result there are several questions that should be answered by the Board.

  1. The cost of running the high performance centre, excluding the cost of the Rio Olympic team, was still a huge $K1,024. A million dollars for what? Every year SNZ spend a million dollars on some American, Australian or Englishman coaching a pampered few in the Millennium Pool; and for no result. Or certainly no result that could not have been the same or better by leaving swimmers with the coach who nurtured their talent in the first place. And SNZ would have been a million dollars a year better off. Over 20 years that’s $20 million in the bank. No need for any user pays with $20 million to spend. SNZ has spent $20 million for what result? Absolutely zero.
  2. Legal expenses went up by $K23 from $K10 to $K33. This is explained in the notes to the accounts as being the cost of fighting and losing Kane Radford’s Olympic selection appeal. Why on earth did SNZ chose that fight? It was a dumb and costly decision.
  3. Motor lease costs have come down by $K6 per year, but are still a huge $K30. No wonder Mazda are listed as a principle sponsor. The core activity of the business is supposed to be swimming, not leasing fancy motor cars.
  4. It appears that the Award Function cost SNZ $K24. That’s a lot of money for an embarrassingly “try-hard” occasion.
  5. It is a shame that some of SNZ’s positive spending on items such as the PEGS / PM Scholarship Expenses and the Rewards Incentive Scheme has been savagely cut from a combined $K234 to $K132 (44%). Savings should come from unnecessary costs like motor cars, legal bills and failed high performance spending before client incentives are cut to ribbons.
  6. However, overall SNZ appear to have kept their costs well controlled – except, of course, for the elephant in the room. Why on earth spend a million dollars a year on a high performance coaching program that has never worked?          

Profit and Loss

When an organisation is subsidised by the government to the extent of SNZ the concept of profit and loss does not mean a lot. However for the record SNZ in 2016 made a loss of $K64 compared to a profit of $K110 in 2015. In an Olympic year that’s a good result.

The worth of the business is also pretty meaningless. Swimming is worth what Miskimmin decides he wants it to be worth. In 2016 equity fell from from $K425 to $K361. Five more years of those losses and the business will be broke; suggesting it might be time to restructure. A million dollars of wasted Millennium coaching spending might be a good place to start.  


Cross Your Palm

Saturday, February 11th, 2017

In 1964 New Zealand athletics was enjoying the best of days. At the Tokyo Olympic Games Peter Snell had won two gold medals, John Davies and Marise Chamberlain had each won a bronze medal, Valerie Sloper had placed fourth in the discus and Bill Ballie was sixth in the 5000 meters. I knew the coach behind much of that success. Arthur Lydiard and I frequently sat in his Beachland’s home discussing the principles of preparing world class athletes. And in one of those conversations Arthur told me the following story.

When the New Zealand Tokyo Olympic team arrived home Arthur felt it would be good for New Zealanders to see their best runners in action. He invited several Tokyo finalists to Auckland and on the 17 November 1964 an international track meet took place at Western Springs Stadium. The response from the Auckland public was remarkable. To this day the attendance at that track meet is the largest crowd ever recorded for the Stadium. Arthur said just getting to Western Springs was chaos. There were cars and people everywhere. Parking was impossible. It was so difficult that by the time Arthur made it to the gate the meet was about to start. And then there was an unexpected problem. The official on the gate would not let Arthur in without a ticket or payment.

Arthur explained that he was the meet promoter, most of the runners were coached by him and he was seriously late. The official was unmoved. No one gets into this meet without paying. So Arthur paid. Two hours later one of Arthur’s runners, Peter Snell, set a world record for the one mile.  

Some years later I was coaching swimmers in Florida. The Fort Lauderdale International is a major annual event. As I joined the queue waiting to get into the meet two celebrated faces were ahead of me. About to enter the gate was a swimmer I knew well, Rhi Jeffrey. She is an Athens Olympic Gold medalist. An honor she earned as part of the USA team that won the 4×200 relay. Just behind her in the queue was Gary Hall Jr the 2000 and 2004 Olympic 50 freestyle champion. I knew that Rhi had been invited to the meet to present medals. I assumed Gary Hall Jr was there for the same reason. When Rhi reached the ticket booth the lady in the booth demanded payment. Rhi explained that because she was an Olympic gold medalist she had been invited to present medals. But this gate keeper was not about to accept that excuse and continued to demand payment. Rhi was easily up to the challenge and asked to speak to the meet organizer. The lady agreed and sent someone to find the boss. While Rhi waited Gary Hall Jr reached the gate. He told Rhi he had seen her problem and to avoid the ticket sentry was just going to pay. A few minutes and $5 lighter he was allowed through the gate. Ten minutes later the boss arrived, paid Rhi’s $5 and she was through Check Point Charlie as well. Wow I thought, three Olympic Gold Medals and working at the meet and still that wasn’t excuse enough to avoid paying.

And so, you may be asking what is the point of all this. Well the stories came to mind when I read that New Zealand coaches were about to be charged $60 to attend the National Championships. Even by Western Springs and Fort Lauderdale standards that seemed like a lot of money. I see that someone else must have had the same thought. The charge has been reduced to $20. Now I know there will be many who object to even $20 and I understand why. The natural inclination of every New Zealander is that volunteers and coaches should be admitted for free. Hospitals, armies, schools and swim meets are paid for by the state.

However as I have argued in Swimwatch before I support Swimming New Zealand becoming more user pays. But my support is offered on the condition that we see a concerted effort by the organization to wean itself off state subsidies. If my $20 helps swimming get rid of Miskimmin then it is a payment well worth making. Why? Because a financially independent organization will serve New Zealand’s swimmers better than the state welfare beneficiary we have now. If I feel that my $20 is contributing to the formation of a lean, independent organization responsive to the needs of New Zealand swimmers then it is money well spent. But if I am paying $20 to fund the bloated lifestyle that became the norm at SNZ then any amount is too much.

And so the message to SNZ should be – you are welcome to my $20. I am happy to pay to enter the National Championships. But you are on notice. You are no longer living on the largess of the state. You are now spending money paid to you by your members. Spend it wisely. Manage an efficient, lean and responsive business and you will earn our generous support.   

PS – Frequently small symbols can make a big difference. If we are all expected to pay $20 to work at the National Championships we need the urgent confirmation of SNZ that Donna, Peter, Shannon, Amy, Gary, Keegan, Scott, Jerry, Kent, Amanda and Mathew are putting their hand in their pockets. Oh and $20 should also be paid by Bruce, Geoff, Margaret, Nick, Anna and Simon. What’s good for the goose, they say, is good for the gander. Just ask Arthur, Rhi and Gary.

PPS – for anyone who does not recognize the names listed they are the staff and Board of SNZ who will, or should be, at the National Championships in April.


Christian Renford Has Gone

Wednesday, February 8th, 2017

Two features of Christian Renford’s time as the CEO of Swimming New Zealand caused me concern. First the attack he launched on the quality of New Zealand coaches within a week of arriving here. Second his criticism of me without having ever met me and the uncomfortable feeling I had that he was looking after his personal interests first rather than the welfare of the sport – that he might, in other words, be a bit of a chancer.

His attack on the standard of New Zealand coaches within a week of arriving in the country was a cheap shot. It confirmed the administrator driven nature of swimming in New Zealand. The best swimming nations, the USA for example, are coach driven. Renford’s early attack was all the evidence we needed that, while he was in charge, the culture of the sport in New Zealand was not going to change. And it still hasn’t. And that’s a shame. The experience of swimming nations around the world is clear and beyond contest. Coach driven sports are successful. Administrator led sports fail.

I’ve coached in the UK, the USA, the Virgin Islands, New Zealand and Saudi Arabia. The UK and USA are coach driven and succeed. The Virgin Islands, New Zealand and Saudi Arabia are administrator driven and are swimming barren lands. In administrator led regimes the prevailing view is that coaches are “too big for their boots” and need to be “kept in line”. I’ve had senior officials in all the administrator led countries tell me, with some pride, their low opinion of the country’s coaches and how good they are at keeping coaches in their place. Sadly and in every case those administrators have got the results their foolishness deserves. In coach led countries the views, contribution and importance of coaches are respected and given paramount weight. These regimes always yield the highest success. Renford never understood that truth and as a result he failed to reform the sport and failed to achieve the competitive results that were possible.

It is off the subject of this post but I feel the New Zealand Swim Coaches and Teachers Association must shoulder some of the guilt for the poor status of New Zealand coaches. The organization has been too nice. It has not demanded attention with sufficient force. And to that extent the Association has let New Zealand swimmers down. The guys running NZSCAT are genuinely nice guys – polite, friendly and concerned. Men like Neville Sutton, Clive Power, Graham Price and Gary Hurring are intelligent, good coaches who have forgotten more about swimming than Renford and his like have ever known. But they have not aggressively demanded the right to be heard – and they should have.  

And as far as Renford not meeting me is concerned, it is interesting that within a week of starting coaching in Florida I was contacted by USA Swimming and a meeting was arranged to discuss my coaching philosophy and plans. In New Zealand I coached for five years at the country’s leading pool and was never contacted by Swimming New Zealand to discuss anything. I did not meet Renford until West Auckland Aquatics was falling apart. And when I did meet him, I will forever remember the look of surprise and concern on the face of Chairman Bruce Cotterill when he realized Renford and me were meeting for the first time. Clearly he, like me, thought good management demanded better than that. But appearances seemed to be pretty important to Renford and even I understand that talking to David Wright is not the best way of keeping in with the “cool” group.


Having said all that negative stuff my opinion of Christian Renford changed during the period West Auckland Aquatics was dying. He met me on my own in the SNZ offices and in spite of the pretty horrible things I had said in Swimwatch about his management of the business he listened carefully to my views on the problems at West Auckland Aquatics (WAQ). Later he met with the four remaining members of the WAQ Board and offered us a generous proposal aimed at saving the Club. In return for the four of us resigning from the WAQ Board for five years SNZ would assume a form of statutory management of the club. Their management would stay in place for about six months until such time as a new Board could be elected.

Renford’s proposal was generous beyond anything required of a sport’s governing body. Two of us accepted his offer. Unbelievably Susan Turner and Bridget Maher turned him down. The fate of WAQ was sealed. A week or so later Renford terminated WAQ’s registration. Through all this, and in spite of our differences, he communicated with me openly and with compassion. Every couple of days I would get a phone call updating me with what SNZ were doing and asking me about how I was getting on. I could not have been treated better. When the chips were down Christian Renford delivered and you can’t ask for more than that.

Obviously I don’t know the new CEO, Scott Newman. Meeting him is a bit more difficult than the fifteen minute drive it took to meet Renford. I do hope though that when the opportunity arises it does not take three years to discover that the CEO is a good guy. The time it took to meet Christian Renford was wrong and just plain dumb. Perhaps we have both learned from that mistake.     


Swimming New Zealand Coaches

Tuesday, February 7th, 2017

It will come as no great surprise to learn that the policy of centralised coaching has never been flavour of the month on these pages. The policy promoted here is the one followed by Arthur Lydiard when he was Head Coach of athletics in Finland. In those years no individual runners were coached by Arthur. Instead he tirelessly toured the county coaching coaches, lifting their standards and tending to their needs. Arthur realised a fundamental truth – that if athletics in Finland was to be successful it had to come from a sound infrastructure of many good coaches, not one man coaching a few athletes in Helsinki.

And, because the policy was right, it worked. Finland won seven Olympic track and field medals at two consecutive Olympic Games. But for 20 years Swimming New Zealand has doggedly tried to make the centralised Millennium model work. And it hasn’t. The product of 20 years work and millions of dollars – my guess is about 25 million – has been nothing. Not one Olympic medal of any sort. Worse than that, two generations of New Zealand swimmers have been lured to Auckland with the promise of “the best coaching in the country” and have retired hurt and disappointed. They trusted the Swimming New Zealand promise. And they were betrayed.

What has made it even worse is that the SNZ policy has undermined and weakened the coaching structure of swimming in New Zealand. The Millennium message is clear. Your home coach, it says, is okay but if you want the best come to the North Shore. For twenty years SNZ has sent out a clear message – local coaches are not as good as those at the Millennium Institute. But it is even worse than that.

Recently Clive Power, coached the centralised Millennium team. He came in for a short period after David Lyles jumped or was pushed out of Swimming New Zealand. While Clive was in charge I was also coaching at the Millennium pool. And I was impressed. In difficult circumstances I thought he was doing a super job.

But with the exception of Clive no other New Zealander has been considered good enough to coach at the Millennium Pool. I’ve lost track of the foreigners that have coached there over the past two decades. I do know there have been at least two Englishmen, a German and four Australians. And do you know what that says?

It says that there is not a coach in New Zealand good enough to be the National Coach. To fill the county’s leading coaching position SNZ has always looked overseas. Make no mistake if you tell a person they are no good for long enough sooner or later they will be no good. And that’s what Swimming New Zealand has done. There are New Zealanders good enough to do that job. There are New Zealanders who should be doing that job. I appointed one of them, Gary Hurring, to his first coaching job. He should have been the New Zealand Head Coach years ago.  

Instead of that Swimming New Zealand employed an American age group coach. Once again the message is clear. Every local coach in New Zealand, including Gary, is not quite as good as an age group coach from the United States. That is both a savage put-down and not true.

Let me be very clear I am not being personally critical of Jerry Olszewski. From discussions I’ve had with coaches in the US he is a good guy and has done a good job of the swimmers he has coached. He ran a successful USS silver standard club in Chandler and Scottsdale, Arizona.

But this is not about Olszewski as a person or a coach. This is about the position he has been put in and the message his presence continues to send to every coach in New Zealand. While the current Swimming New Zealand 2016-2020 High Performance Strategy document lists the Millennium Institute as its first point of “Focus” and the “Development of a World Class High Performance Centre” as its “Key Work Stream” the presence of a foreign age group coach in that position will always be a negative. Just to be very clear and as it has been for twenty years – it is not the person that is wrong here, it is the policy – made worse by the manner in which SNZ has implemented the centralized coaching policy.

Strangely enough, Saudi swimming has followed the SNZ policy of importing foreigners to run centralized swim camps and has met with the same lack of success. Paul Kent from Auckland was hired to bring swimming success to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. But it did not work. Not because Paul is a bad coach. In fact he is a very good coach. But because the policy was bad, his task was lost before it began. And so, as normal, Saudi Arabia ended up behind Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates in the Gulf States’ international. After all that failure you would think administrators would consider trying something different.      

On the subject of SNZ head coaches can SNZ check the final expenses of David Lyles the day before he left their employment? You see on that day Lyles and I went to lunch at the Artisan Vineyard in Henderson. The purpose of the lunch was to discuss the possibility of Lyles standing in as coach of West Auckland Aquatics while I went to my daughter’s wedding in the UK. I offered to pay for lunch but Lyles insisted he would pay and I agreed. I was surprised to see him use his SNZ credit card to make the payment; surprised because the lunch had nothing to do with the business of SNZ and I had serious reservations about whether Renford and Cotterill would think buying David Wright lunch was a good use of Miskimmin’s money.

It is entirely possible Lyles could have refunded SNZ with the cost of the lunch. But if he did not and SNZ did not know that the lunch had nothing to do with their business then SNZ is due a refund.

Incidentally Lyles did coach West Auckland Aquatics while I was away. I personally paid him $3000 for his time. When I got back he asked me for more but didn’t get it. In hindsight and in my opinion the $3000 was the most costly and worst investment of my career.   


So What’s Been Going On In NZ?

Thursday, February 2nd, 2017

Most of my time in the past nine months has been spent in the Saudi Arabian city of Jeddah. It’s been quite an experience. I’ve seen the world tallest fountain and highest flag pole. I’ve visited Osama Bin Laden’s family home and Eve’s Tomb – that’s right Eve as in Adam and Eve. One day I plan to share with you some of the swimming stories from this Arabian experience.

But today I am in Riyadh, the capital city of Saudi Arabia, trying to catch up with what’s been going on in New Zealand. From 8000 miles away I could well get the wrong impression but it does seem as though quite a bit has changed. Christian Renford has gone. Clive Power has been replaced by an American called Jerry Olszewski, High Performance Sport New Zealand has slashed the funding of swimming, unbelievably the Zone competition is still being shown live on Sky television and with equal astonishment Mark Berge and Sam Rossiter-Stead are still involved in Swimming Wellington.  

I’m not sure where to start. Covering all those changes is more than can be discussed in one Swimwatch story.

Perhaps the best place to begin is the decision of High Performance Sport New Zealand to reduce the government’s funding of swimming – down by $400,000 to $900,000. Two thoughts came to mind when I read this bit of news. One of them is, “I told you so” and the other is “schadenfreude”. Even the worst critic of Swimwatch must surely admit that for 15 years Swimwatch has predicted that the policy being followed by the Miskimmin’s chosen leaders would fail to produce Olympic medals and would eventually result in Miskimmin punishing the sport by cutting its funding. In 2016, it seems, both these predictions came to pass.

Of course I think it’s ironic that the person who ordered the policy, demanded the changes and controlled the funding that caused the failure also gets to punish those that did his bidding. But swimming, you were told: the state is never wrong. You willingly accepted the direction and the money from HPSNZ. You did what you were told and spent up large. But did you ever believe that there would be no punishment for failure? If you did then you were naïve and you never read Swimwatch.

Of course Miskimmin was going to make swimming pay. In an interview with the New Zealand Herald Bruce Cotterill made a sad attempt to gloss over the failure. As generations of SNZ Chairman have done before him he trotted out well-worn excuses – “Lauren’s unfortunate illness” and “the most successful swimming era since the mid-1990s” and “five world championship medals and two junior world championships medals” and “16 in the top-50 of whom 12 look capable of going to Tokyo.” But Cotterill knows that for Miskimmin winning Olympic Game’s medals is all that counts. And its 20 years since New Zealand swimming managed that.

My reaction to the Miskimmin cuts would not have been to trot out a string of excuses. I would have welcomed HPSNZ getting the hell out of my sport. HPSNZ has been nothing but trouble since they first arrived with their cheque book in hand. Miskimmin has just done swimming a huge service. Miskimmin’s contribution could have been better if he had taken the other $900,000 and buggered off. However getting rid of his influence one step at a time is progress.

Because right now swimming is going to have to grow up. It’s going to have to learn to stand on its own financial feet. It’s going to have to learn to run and manage a normal business. And from that private enterprise environment champions will come.

There will be pain of course. Already I have read about fees being charged for swimmers coaches and administrators to get into national championships. I have seen that officials are going to be charged for t-shirts and user-pays fees are about to increase. And of course I don’t like it. No one would. But if the result is that the Board of Swimming New Zealand produce a stand-alone business and get Miskimmin the hell out of their hair then I’m more than happy to see Joe Davidson pay for her t-shirt.

I encourage Swimming New Zealand to push on down the road Miskimmin’s 26% cut has begun. Take advantage of the new opportunity. Grab Miskimmin’s lemon and make lemonade. Who knows in a couple of years swimming may be able to tell Miskimmin to spend his $900,000 somewhere else. And don’t just rely on charging New Zealanders more but look closely at the costs of running the business. There is fat in the SNZ accounts. When I left New Zealand SNZ had more Mazda SUVs that Hertz. The business would do well by starting on a healthy low cost diet.

And so here at Swimwatch we see the reduction in funding as doing nothing but good. Unwittingly Miskimmin has extracted the sport from being a fully funded state welfare beneficiary. Unknowingly he has begun a process that will lead to strength and independence. Accidentally he has brought back a free enterprise environment where champions can flourish. Inadvertently he has forced us all to grow up. And hopefully we will never go back.