Accountable To The Stakeholders

As has always been the case nothing written here reflects poorly on the athletes. Posts like this are written in defence of New Zealand swimmers. The purpose is to identify those at fault for the constant cycle of New Zealand swimming failure.

Shown below is a list of the swimmers entered in individual events at next month’s World Swimming Championships. The current world ranking of each swimmer is also shown. The information needs to be viewed with some caution. The rankings are changing all the time as countries, especially the United States, hold their World Championship trials.     

Bradlee Ashby (200m individual medley), 22nd

Gabrielle Fa’amausili (50m freestyle, medley relay), 20th

Helena Gasson (50m butterfly, 200m individual medley, medley relay), 24th and 34th

Daniel Hunter (50m freestyle, 4x100m freestyle relay), 45th

Corey Main (200m backstroke, 4x100m freestyle relay), 25th

Sam Perry (50m freestyle, 4x100m freestyle relay), 64th

Emma Robinson (800m, 1500m freestyle), 29th and 29th

Matthew Stanley (200m freestyle, 4x100m freestyle relay), 29th

Clearly it is going to take a major improvement for the current rankings to change into medal winning performances. It can be done. Peter Snell was ranked 25th in the world prior to the Rome Olympic Games. Four of these swimmers have a ranking the same as or higher than 25th. We will see whether any of them can win from that position. I hope so.

However if, as seems more likely, no one manages to convert a current world ranking in the twenties, thirties, forties and sixties into one, two or three who is to blame? Well it is certainly not the swimmers. Like generations before them they have diligently gone about the bidding of the national federation. The Millennium program dates back to the days when Helen Norfolk left Christchurch, seduced by the hard sell of Millennium success, through to swimmers who have come and gone like Tash Hind, Penelope Marshall, Hayley Palmer, Amaka Gessler, Hannah McLean, Samantha Lucie-Smith, Mellisa Ingram, Alison Fitch, Daniel Bell, Glen Snyders, Corney Swanepoel, Cameron Gibson, Gareth Kean, Dean Kent, Moss Burmester, Michael Jack and many others.

No one will convince me there was not a World Championship or Olympic Medallist in that group of names – of course there was. But it did not happen. And if it does not happen again in Budapest eight more names will be added to the list. And the New Zealand federation will wander off looking for the next eight promising juniors to lure into the Millennium Institute.  

How long is the litany of destruction going to continue? When are those responsible going to be held to account? After all someone is responsible. Failure on this scale has a parent. But who is it? Well there is a fundamental policy problem. The policy was prepared by the CEO of High performance Sport New Zealand, Alex Baumann, and was then implemented by the Chairman of Swimming New Zealand, Bruce Cotterill, and his Board. The policy is called “Centralized Training”. It has been promoted and financed for twenty years without success.

Today fear and ignorance prevail. The Board of Swimming New Zealand does not have the courage to stop the hurt their policy is causing. They do not know enough to plan and try something different. They depend on Baumann for so much money they will do whatever he says – even if it does mean eight more names go over the cliff. Yes Mr Baumann, no Mr Baumann, three bags full Mr Baumann. At least that’s the way it seems.  

The alternative, constantly promoted here, is to strengthen the country’s decentralised training structure; strengthen the New Zealand club program. There are several benefits of a decentralized approach. Since coaches have liberty to coach their teams according to their own plans, the sport experiences a wide variety of ideas, rather than a central body being presumed to have all the answers. In most cities, parents can shop around for age group programs, meaning a team must generate results to stay in business. It is a better, stronger and more comprehensive approach than the doctrinal nonsense followed by Antares Place just now. And even a weakened version of the decentralized approach gave New Zealand Moss, Kingsman, Jeffs, Simcic, Langrell, Kent, Loader and Bray. Swimming New Zealand wouldn’t mind having the competitive record of that group around just now – five Olympic medals, six world medals and five world records. They will never match that record with their ridiculous Millennium program.

It is relevant to ask what the New Zealand Coaches Association is doing about this problem. A few months ago there was a swimming pool full of froth and bubble as the Coaches Association said it was going to insist on a more proactive role in the affairs of the sport. The Association called for submissions and beat its chest in frustration. Things, they said, were going to change. But nothing has happened. It has long been my view that the Association does not have the fortitude or leadership to effect reform. Sadly they appear to have chickened-out again.        

And so, let’s see what happens in a month’s time. But if, as appears likely, the team returns with no medals, then there should be a call for the Board of Swimming New Zealand to stand down. The vision they have been charged with includes “exceptional results”. Their mission is to produce “world class performances”. Their goal is to “achieve podium results” through “targeted campaigns aimed at winning medals”. In their vision, their mission and their goals this Board has failed to deliver. They have pursued a policy of failure for too long. Good practice and the names of the victims of their policy demand that this Board shows accountability to its stakeholders by accepting responsibility for the failure and standing down. We will see.      


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