Imperial Exploitation

Swimming New Zealand has an obsession with importing foreign coaches. Three Australians have come to New Zealand, been paid and left. There have been two poms. The Head of High Performance Sport is an imported Canadian. The current Head Coach is an American age group coach and another American is acting as the New Zealand swim team manager.

The whole thing smacks of colonial rule. Is New Zealand swimming so third world in its management that foreigners need to be imported to point the local native population in the right direction? Certainly that is the impression given by the revolving door of imported foreigners.

For a year I have been part of the same malaise. Brian Palmer, the CEO of Saudi Arabian Swimming ran the affairs of that country in exactly the same way as Swimming New Zealand do here. Brian is a New Zealander. Two district managers are South African and the third is a New Zealander – me. The Head Life Guard was a New Zealander and the Head Coach is an Australian. I hated it. I thought the whole thing was colonial beyond belief. I’m not saying the foreigners didn’t work hard. But none were Saudi, none had a lifetime commitment to the country. We were all vastly better paid than the Saudi population. Good God, Brian was paid 40,000 Riyal a month – that’s $NZ 15,500 a month tax free, $NZ 186,000 a year tax free plus accommodation.

Tell me where you’d be paid that in New Zealand sport. Taxed in New Zealand the pay alone is worth about $NZ 280,000 a year. And for what? It is not exactly like Saudi Swimming is doing well. No one qualified for the last Olympic Games. The country never wins the annual Gulf States International event. Women can’t swim, teams are sent around the world with little or no purpose, foreign born nationals have no path to representation, domestic coaches are neglected and teams have no affiliation to the national federation that we would recognise. What has the Saudi $NZ 280,000 equivalent bought. We know it cost 4000 barrels of oil a year. That’s about a minute of the entire country’s production. We know it has been spent on the salary of the CEO. But what has it bought. The natural resource has gone. The oil reserves are finite. They cannot be replaced. But have they bought something permanent? Has the structure of Saudi swimming changed? Has a lifetime legacy of good being left behind? No, is the answer. In my opinion, it is just good old fashioned imperial exploitation.

In Saudi Arabia the problem is quite apparent in swimming, but it is not only in swimming. The national sport of football is just as bad. The national football team has averaged a coach a year for the last 15 years. That sort of coaching turnover is unhealthy for any sport.

I imagine there are many New Zealanders nodding their head in agreement that foreigners have not always performed well in African and Middle East countries. But before we smugly pat ourselves on the back, we need to seriously consider whether we are any better. The evidence suggests our obsession with foreign imports is close to the Palmer Saudi example.

The New Zealand Swim Coaches Association has their Annual Conference in Christchurch in two weeks. I would dearly like to go but can’t of course. However the problem of by-passing New Zealand coaches with foreign imports needs the Association’s attention. New Zealand is blessed with many good coaches; coaches that have been emasculated by the policy followed by the national federation. The Coaches Association is best placed to turn the sport in New Zealand away from the Saudi way to a permanently New Zealand alternative.

I am no fan of Donald Trump. I think his bus comments and many other acts are beyond redemption. However “Coached by New Zealanders, For New Zealanders” is a slogan I would enjoy seeing painted on the Christchurch Conference stage.          

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