Mayday – We Require Immediate Assistance

The NZSCTA Board has emailed their members tonight with the news that SNZ have laid off Donna Bouzaid and Gary Hurring. The Chairman of Swimming NZ, Bruce Cotterill, wrote to all the Regional Chairpersons the day after Swimwatch revealed that the Gary and Donna were about to be removed. It is not unreasonable to wonder whether the Swimwatch article had anything to do with Cotterill’s decision to come clean. Without the Swimwatch intervention would SNZ have attempted to hide the news? We will of course never know. But it would not be unusual. They have done worse than that in secret before. In fact, before Cotterill, it was their normal behavior.

However what we do know is the information provided in the NZSCTA email. It is worthwhile looking at the email and discussing its implications.

Swimming NZ, have now advised that they will be transitioning to a new structure. They have yet to communicate what that new structure will be.

Who on God’s good earth is going to design “a new structure”? Not the current Board of Swimming New Zealand I would hope. There are six members of the current Board, There is Bruce Cotterill the Chairman, Geoff Brown the Deputy Chairman and then there are regular members Nick Tongue, Margaret McKee, Anna Tootill and Simon Perry.

None of them have any experience of elite coaching. Only one, Nick Tongue, has any experience of elite swimming. Lesley Huckins is principally a swimming official. But the others are corporate types who did some swimming or waterpolo when they were at school.

I’m not one of those who claim that to run a swimming business you must have a deep and intimate knowledge of all things swimming. The current CEO of Boeing, Dennis Muilenburg, can’t fly an airplane. And that does not affect his ability to manage the company. But what Dennis Muilenburg would never do is design a new aircraft for the company.     

But from the sounds of this email designing SNZ’s new elite performance structure is exactly what Cotterill is about to do. There is no suggestion that he will consult anyone who knows about developing elite swimmers. He might rush off to Peter Miskimmin and Alex Baumann. But we know already that those two are committed to the Millennium Institute and will simply instruct Cotterill to follow the current policy better and with less money. That is not a plan.

Because the truth is – why should we trust the Board of SNZ to design a new structure? Why should we trust Miskimmin and Baumann? They all had a free hand and sat on the Boards that made the decisions that resulted in this mess. And it is not as if they were not told. The pages of this blog pointed out a hundred times that this would be the fate of their decisions. But they never listened. Exactly what was predicted has come to pass. Far from designing a new structure the lot of them should offer their resignation and call in some form of statutory management who do know what they are doing and can design a new structure – Gary and Donna would be a good place to start.

The Board of NZSCTA have met this evening and agreed that the unjustified removal of two of the most important positions that Swimming NZ has is highly detrimental to the development of our sport.

Oh really is that right? I don’t know how many times I’ve been told to back-off when a Swimwatch post predicted this disaster. The problem with the NZSCTA’s shock and horror is it’s too late. The Titanic has hit an iceberg. Water is flooding in. The Board of NZSCTA should have been expressing their concern and pushing for a change of course before we hit the iceberg, before we started to sink.

In 2012 SNZ was in a mess and Miskimmin and company designed a new structure. The Board of NZSCTA voted for the structure that has now directly led to Gary and Donna being sacked. NZSCTA are absolutely complicit in the birth of the problem that has now hurt two good people. Only Auckland and Nelson Marlborough abstained. Five years later we are no better off. In fact we are probably worse off. When the corporation keeps sinking perhaps it is about time NZSCTA admitted its mistakes and asked the SNZ Board to stand down. Perhaps it is time to ask those who have some understanding of elite swimming to get involved.    

The NZSCTA President, Nevill Sutton is meeting by Skype with the Swimming NZ CEO, Steve Johns, next week.

And what is that going to achieve? Nevill is a decent and good person. But the coaches association has not been forceful enough. Time after time they have knuckled under to the direction of SNZ. They have been too nice and now good people are being hurt. Do I believe Nevill will talk truth to power? No of course I don’t. The conversation will be about coming to a consensus, working through the problems and light at the end of the tunnel. Nevill will try and get on. Nevill will try and bring back “peace in our time”.

But that is not what is needed here. Why, for example is Nevill meeting with Steve Johns? This is serious stuff. It is time to meet the Chief Engineer, not the oily rag. Nevill’s meeting should be with Bruce Cotterill. By not being at the meeting Cotterill is saying all we need to know about his view of the NZSCTA.  

The Board wants to acknowledge the huge contribution that both Donna and Gary have made to these roles. Both the Board and the NZSCTA membership would like to offer our unequivocal support to them both during this difficult time.

This is of course true – absolutely true. However, as we have noted above, the recognition and sympathy is all coming way too late. I only hope that the 2017 crisis does not end up in the empty futility of the 2012 version. Because, if it does, in five years there will be another Gary and Donna – not to mention another generation of swimmers that will have also been “disestablished and removed”.

The ball is with the NZSCTA again. Let us hope they do better than the last time they had this chance.