Saudi Arabia – The Buck Stops Here

“The buck stops here” is a phrase made popular by United States President Harry S. Truman. The phrase refers to the idea that the boss has to make the decisions and accept the ultimate responsibility for those decisions. Swimming New Zealand may have its moments at avoiding the responsibilities of the Truman message, but in Saudi Arabia “passing the buck” has become an art form.

But before I discuss that subject I want to comment on something said to me this week during a visit to the Millennium Pool. A Swimwatch reader stopped me in the car park and scathingly accused me of only being brave enough to write about Saudi Arabia after I was no longer there. What an idiot. I was employed by the Saudi Swimming Federation. It would have been entirely inappropriate to blog about my employer. At that stage the correct thing to do was to report to my employer internally when I thought improvements were necessary. And that is what I did. I have a dozen reports here, including one of 5000 words suggesting and on occasions demanding reform. At the time Swimwatch was not the place to air those thoughts – no matter what the car park expert might think. Now that I am no longer employed by Saudi Swimming I can comment.

But back to passing the buck. Probably the best Saudi example was the simple matter of being paid. Not a problem you would have thought in the tenth richest country in the world, owning 18% of the world’s oil reserves and the largest exporter of oil. But no – being paid when you work for Saudi Swimming is by no means certain. I began work in May 2016 and was paid in June, July and August. In September I was not paid at all. In October I was handed my month’s pay in cash because, I was told, the bank wouldn’t pay. In November I got half a month’s pay again in cash. In January I did not get paid. In February and March I got paid again and by the end of March, when I was due to end my contract, my arrears were paid.

The guy, who in theory had “The buck stops here” sign on his desk, the CEO of Saudi swimming, is a New Zealander called Brian Palmer. He used to be the CEO of Auckland Swimming. He is the guy who the author of the current Swimming New Zealand Constitution, Chris Moller, took a shot at during the Special Meeting called to approve the new Constitution. This is how the minutes record Moller’s comments

“Chris Moller then addressed the Meeting. He called for the Auckland Board and its Chief Executive to stand down, as they had requested Swimming New Zealand to do.”

I have written many words in Swimwatch supporting Brian Palmer’s work in Auckland Swimming. But, in my opinion, his management of swimming in Saudi Arabia is a joke. Here are some examples of the sort of replies I got from Palmer to my emails expressing concern about the non-payment of wages. Now remember when you read these replies this is the boss – the buck stops here.  

“Reasons for the above could be political (leverage by Saudi Arabia Olympic Committee), economic (Saudi government budgets), interdepartmental (delaying – SAOC, GPYW, Ministry of Finance) or internal (SASF has simply managed their funds badly).”

“Any person who has had their contract broken is entitled to resign and leave.  In some respects the best advice I could give to those such as yourself would be to do that.  That is why I have not provided the advice to you and others to leave.  It is also why I am not providing it now”

I cannot give a credible answer to the daily question of when and the related question of why – the above is the best effort I can make relating to why but as noted I have a reluctance to even have that considered to be definitive because it does contain a lot of conjecture and piecing together of information on my part.  When is also something I cannot accurately project.

As you know I do not have any control over issues of salary and or payments –

I think you would agree there is more buck passing there than buck stopping. The second example email about giving advice but not giving advice was so confused I began to think Moller might have been right.

And so after all those wages problems you can imagine my surprise to arrive back in New Zealand and discover a team of six Saudi swimmers plus an Australian coach have arrived to compete in the New Zealand Age Group and Open Swimming Championships. Palmer brought the Australian coach to Saudi Arabia to prepare a team for the Gulf States International Meet while I was in Jeddah. I was told by Palmer that the Australian was so broke when he arrived in Saudi that Palmer had to personally advance him money.

In my opinion this visit to New Zealand is a waste of money. Palmer told me my accommodation in Jeddah was a “boutique” hotel when in fact it was a slum. Well this visit by Saudi swimmers is another “boutique” exercise. In my view there is absolutely no justification in flying swimmers of their standard half way around the world. There are perfectly good meets in the Gulf States and Egypt that could achieve more and would cost a fraction of the price. They might not make the CEO look as important, as such a big man, as a “boutique” trip to New Zealand – and perhaps that’s the point.

The Age Group Nationals were held a week ago. I don’t know what the trip here has cost. But with airfares, accommodation, the Australian coach and the like my conservative guess is about $NZ60,000. And so what has Palmer got so far for his $60,000? Well, the Saudi team entered 27 events. There were 2 scratchings, 3 personal best times and 22 results slower than their personal best. That’s $60,000 to achieve a 12% personal-best ratio. That’s $20,000 per best swim. The buck stops where?          

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