Archive for August, 2017

The Meaning Of Respect

Thursday, August 31st, 2017

In the sport of swimming there are many more important things to talk about than the organisation’s membership form. However there is an aspect of the 2017 membership form that I find interesting enough to discuss. This is what the form says:

“Members agree that they shall:


Abide by and respect the regulations governing sport, the organisations and individuals administering those regulations  

Respect the efforts of the appointed and elected representatives of the Association and Swimming’s governing organizations.”

Of course I have no problem with the idea of abiding by and respecting the regulations governing the sport. But when respect for the law merges into a demand for personal loyalty to the individuals appointed or elected to the governing organization, I begin to feel uncomfortable. I have always considered loyalty and respect to be qualities that good people earn. I doubt Colin Meads or Edmond Hillary or Arthur Lydiard ever had to get their teams to sign contracts of respect. Their actions earned the respect of those they led.

The very presence of these provisions in the membership contract is a sign of weakness and insecurity. But of interest to me is – are there any limits to what is being asked for here? We are simply told we have to respect all these people. But what does respect mean and is the respect required or appropriate irrespective of the behaviour of the people involved.

For example is the demand for respect affected by the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990. This Act guarantees the right to freedom of thought, conscience, including the right to adopt and hold opinions without interference and the right to freedom of expression, including the freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and opinions of any kind in any form. I am no lawyer but it seems like Swimming New Zealand’s demand for unconditional respect may be at odds with the law of the land. For example respect cannot be subservient to the right to freedom of expression.      

I understand case law may also hold problems for the Swimming New Zealand membership form. In 2003, Paul Hopkinson, a Wellington schoolteacher, burned the Flag of New Zealand as part of a protest in Parliament grounds. Hopkinson was initially convicted under Flags, Emblems, and Names Protection Act 1981 of destroying a New Zealand flag with intent to dishonour it, but appealed against his conviction. On appeal, his conviction was overturned on the grounds that the law had to be read consistently with the right to freedom of expression under the Bill of Rights. This meant that his actions were not unlawful because the word dishonour in the Flags, Emblems and Names Protection Act had many shades of meaning, and when the least restrictive meaning of that word was adopted Hopkinson’s actions didn’t meet that standard.

Any reasonable criticism of Swimming New Zealand therefore would be viewed in the same light. In other words the word respect in the Swimming New Zealand contract has many shades of meaning that are less than the protection of expression contained in the Bill of Rights.

And finally respect cannot be unconditional. Every first year Political Science student is taught that respect and loyalty have limits. The example is always Adolph Hitler. He commanded huge respect and loyalty in Germany. However actions were being taken that showed the personal respect being given to him was misplaced. His actions did not merit the loyalty he demanded and received.

Now I am certainly not suggesting there is any parallel between the management of Swimming New Zealand and Nazi Germany. However the people involved in running Swimming New Zealand do make mistakes that are often more important than a demand for personal loyalty on an application form.

For example the recent high altitude training camp was a serious error that damaged the performance of New Zealand swimmers at the World Championships. Trusting swimmers and many thousands of dollars were wasted. For twenty years high altitude literature has said do not do what New Zealand has just done. Staying silent out of “respect” for those who made that error would not be right.

For example when Jo Davidson took meet referees to the underwater viewing windows to instruct them on what to disqualify a swimmer for in the finals later in the day she forfeited the right to demand respect. Her dishonesty was more important that personal loyalty.

For example years ago the same Wellington officials who declined my protest about the Kilbirnie Pool depth and I am told informed the Raumati Club and the author of NZ Swim that I was just a trouble maker, yesterday issued an instruction that only the deep end of the pool was safe for diving. A good decision but we could have done without the insults and the decade it took to do the right thing.

Staying silent through events such as these is foolish. Respect for what is right outweighs any personal undertaking provided on an application form. So what are the criteria that apply when making the choice to speak up? Here are the items I take into account.

  1. Is the threatened disruption to swimmers or the organization serious?
  2. Is the complaint well-grounded—the reasons that support it should be strong enough to be publicly defensible. One person’s say-so is not sufficient.  
  3. Do I personally know enough about the subject to make an informed decision? Am I in a proper place to make an assessment of the seriousness of what has happened?
  4. Is the revelation going to be effective? Is it likely to eventually bring about change?
  5. Is the action appropriately motivated—it should be done out of concern for those whose interests are being jeopardized.   

I don’t know why Swimming New Zealand persists with the clause. As we have discussed it is legally almost impossible to enforce and the perception of weakness is hard to escape. Certainly and very appropriately the demand for personal loyalty in the membership form will continue to be only one factor taken into account when I publish a Swimwatch story. And the Bill of Rights says that’s the way it should be.   

Let Calm Heads Prevail

Wednesday, August 30th, 2017

On the 1 December 2016 the Chairman of Swimming New Zealand, Bruce Cotterill, discussed High Performance Sport New Zealand’s decision to cut the sport’s funding. Cotterill did not think so, but the decision was the right one. For twenty years swimming had been funded by a million tax payer dollars per year. Twenty million dollars and at the Olympic Games level had won nothing. The sport was the ultimate state welfare beneficiary. In fact welfare had become institutionalised. The sport’s financial dependence produced bad habits and lethargy that made international sporting success less and less likely.

Of course Cotterill did not see it that way. Beneficiaries seldom do. His response was reported in the New Zealand Herald. He said:      

“We’re still going through the process to understand the rationale. The reality is the funding decision is made, but what we would like to understand is ‘why?’ and ‘what do we need to do to get back in the good books?’.”

Well, that was on the 1 December 2016; nine months ago. Since then a badly timed high altitude camp has hurt the performance of New Zealand swimmers at the World Championships. A disastrous World Championship’s performance has come and gone. If anything funding is now less likely than it was nine months ago. And still we have not heard whether Cotterill is any closer to understanding the “rationale” or what is needed “to get back in the good books.” As far as we can tell there is no understanding or plan. The Board of Swimming New Zealand is like swimmers leaving the Titanic; tossed in a wild sea, treading water, with no purpose or direction beyond their immediate survival, praying for a miracle.

I suspect that arrogance is the problem. In December a good management team would have called together the best swimming brains available in New Zealand. An agreed plan to move the sport forward would have been prepared and sold to the membership. But no, nine months later and all we have from Cotterill is silence. Why? In my view because the Board members arrogantly think they know best.

The Coaches Association tried to help. Remember when they called for submissions asking what coaches felt would improve the sport. That was a good start. But as normal, for the Coaches Association, there was no conclusion, no follow up and no change. The organization’s good intentions were suffocated in a fog of political correctness. On 30 March 2017 the Association did publish the eleven submissions received. There was a common theme. Here is what Clive Power said:  

The only way you are going to effectively deliver a Coach education and swimmer development programme, with the limited resources that this country, is only ever going to have, is through a coordinated Regional Programme.

Here is what I said:

SNZ would be best to focus on governing the business. Directly running swim schools is not part of the governing role. Improving the performance of NZ swimmers is a task New Zealand domestic coaches must solve. New Zealand’s best swimmers have all come from domestic programs or American University teams.           

Here is what Gary Martin said:

Regional Coach driven Programmes are the way to go.

Here is what Emma Swanwick said:

Each region must put in place a Satellite program of regional development. This gives a common goal throughout as the regions are tasked with raising development and performance and are now also directly linked to the overall umbrella office whose aim is to increase stimulation of that goal.

These four coaches have about 150 years’ experience of swimming gained in about seven different countries. Between them they have coached world record holders, Pan Pacific Game’s medallists, World Short Course medallists, World Long Course medallists and Commonwealth Games medallists.  And independently they had reached the conclusion that a regional diverse, decentralised structure would provide New Zealand with better results. By implication all four were suggesting a move away from the obsession with centralized delivery that has characterised Swimming New Zealand management plans for twenty years – and has consistently failed to deliver.   

When four coaches as different as these four and as experienced as these four agree on something it might be worth a second look. My plea to Swimming New Zealand would be to just look at the possibility of a decentralized approach. Those four people obviously have a thread in common. Get them in for two hours. Ask them to consult widely and prepare a report. Swimming New Zealand doesn’t need to implement the plan, just consider it. What is there to lose – a two hour meeting, possibly $1500 in travel cost and another two hours to read the report?

And just think – what say the regional idea works? What say a decentralized plan offers the prospect of a growing, vibrant and competitive sport? What say it strengthens the national coaching pool and stimulates local pride? What say it finds another Loader, Moss, Simcic or Langrell? What say? What say?

It is no secret that for 274 days since 1 December 2016 Swimming New Zealand has not achieved a lot. The ideas unearthed by the Coaches Association survey are worth investigating. It would be sad if the fact that an idea was supported by Swimwatch became reason enough for it to be rejected out of hand. It seems there is a choice between difficult consultation and progress or stubbornly clinging to the past and repeating twenty years of failure. Progress eventually requires everyone to sit down and talk. Swimming could really benefit from an open investigation of the common thread exposed in the Coaches Association survey. A decentralised, regional structure deserves to be presented and considered at the top table.            


Hamilton Progresses By Four Inches

Wednesday, August 23rd, 2017

Swimming New Zealand has published the following statement on the New Zealand Secondary School Swimming Championships

The New Zealand Secondary School Swimming Championships is a chance for secondary schools from across New Zealand to battle it out in the pool for Swimming supremacy.

 Recently there has been some concerns raised with the depth of the pool at Waterworld, Te Rapa facility. Swimming New Zealand is pleased to confirm that the meet will go ahead as planned.

Hamilton City Council is this week conducting urgent remedial works to pool to increase the depth to 1.205 metres (from 1.15 metre) to bring the pool into line with Swimming New Zealand’s position statement on dive entries (June 2017) given that the starting blocks are less than .75 metres (the height of the blocks is .64 metres) from the water line.

Steve Johns CEO of Swimming New Zealand says “Hamilton City Council have done a great job moving quickly to find a solution which enables long course meets to be conducted at Waterworld and we look forward to working with Swimming Waikato to hold a successful secondary school meet”.

Well done Hamilton City Council. I am sure this week is the first time most councillors were aware that the pool had a depth problem. The timing and evidence suggests that someone in Hamilton has acted quickly to address the problem. And for that the Council deserve full credit. Once those in charge knew there was an issue with the depth of the pool, the safety of users was not compromised. No reasonable person could have asked for or expected more – thank you.

I would not be as gracious towards Swimming New Zealand. Their statement is full of mistakes and irony. Let’s get the trivial question of grammar out of the way first. Swimming in the first paragraph should not start with a capital letter. The word “has” in the second paragraph should be “have” – concerns is plural. The word “the” is missing before the word pool in the third paragraph. The third paragraph is an amazing 60 words long making it hard to read and difficult to understand. In paragraph four commas are missing around Steve Johns’ job title. Also in paragraph four, Hamilton City Council is singular which means “have” should be “has”. Someone needs to proof read Swimming New Zealand’s emails.

But now for issues of more substance. The second paragraph says, “Recently there has been some concerns raised with the depth of the pool at Waterworld, Te Rapa facility.” Where on God’s good earth did the idea that this was recent come from? Twenty two years ago I was within twelve hours of asking the High Court to rule on a Swimming New Zealand injunction over this very issue. That hardly meets the definition of recent. Of course Swimming New Zealand wants to convey the impression that all this is a new issue that they have acted promptly to address. That is simply not true. Preparing the injunction and obtaining a High Court date was an expensive exercise. Swimming New Zealand may have forgotten but those of us that paid the bill have not.   .  

The third paragraph says, “Hamilton City Council is this week conducting urgent remedial works to pool to increase the depth to 1.205 metres.” Once again Swimming New Zealand uses the word urgent to continue the fiction of a rapid reaction to the pool depth problem. The Council has certainly acted promptly and deserve full credit. But “urgent remedial works” would not have been necessary if Swimming New Zealand had acted properly; had done the job they are employed to do. Make no mistake it is Swimming New Zealand’s negligence that has made the repairs urgent.

It is difficult to reconcile this glowing statement by Swimming New Zealand with their reaction to the decision of the Porirua City Council to ban diving in the very shallow Cannons Creek Pool. This is the reaction reported by the Stuff website.

The ban was opposed by Swimming New Zealand, which said that not allowing children to dive-start in shallower pools – common around the country – could “greatly affect competitive swimming in New Zealand” if the move set a precedent.”

How Swimming New Zealand can find any moral equivalency between perfecting a dive start and a broken spine is both beyond my comprehension. Certainly the position taken in relation to Cannons Creek appears strangely at odds with the pious concern expressed today.  

And finally in the last paragraph Steve Johns says, “Hamilton City Council have done a great job moving quickly to find a solution.” I agree Hamilton City Council has moved quickly. I guess Swimming New Zealand has as well. For the administrators of swimming twenty two years is positively rocketing along. One of New Zealand’s best runners, Rod Dixon, told me once that a New Zealand cross country manager took longer to make the wrong decision than anyone he had ever known. God knows what Dixon would have made of Swimming New Zealand’s decision creep.

However, the right thing has been done. Swimmers using the Te Rapa Pool are going to be safer. And for that we are grateful and thankful.           


Dumb Is Forever

Monday, August 21st, 2017

The discussion on the depth of swimming pools has focused on major pools hosting national competitions. The Wellington Regional Aquatic Centre because it was once the pool used for the National Short Course Championships and the Te Rapa Waterworld Pool in Hamilton because it hosts the New Zealand Secondary Schools’ Championships.

Focusing on these national events in major pools was the right place to start. Swimming New Zealand is the organization responsible for swimming throughout the country. If the conduct of the national organization demonstrates a cavalier disregard for the safety of swimmers, what chance was there of educating smaller operators? As you know I have had little success in changing Swimming New Zealand’s attitude to pool safety. For 22 years Swimming New Zealand has fought every effort to improve the safety of pools where depth is an issue. My protests have been declined. My protest fees have been withheld. My reputation has been publically slandered and libelled in the organization’s Annual Report. And why? Because I lobbied to make diving into a swimming pool safe.

It will be interesting to see whether other organizations brought into the discussion on the Hamilton Pool last week demonstrate more concern for swimmer safety than Swimming New Zealand.

But this week I came across evidence that the arrogant disregard for safety shown by Swimming New Zealand is beginning to trickle down; is beginning to influence the attitude of smaller operators to the question of pool depth.

This week I picked up the August 2017 edition of the Porirua City Aquatics Newsletter. In it there was a 400 word discussion on the efforts being made to bring back diving into the Cannons Creek Pool. Right now the Porirua City Council has banned all diving. The Cannons Creek Pool is only 0.86m deep at the walls and 1.00m deep everywhere else. Porirua Council has rightly said that is too shallow. It is dangerous and has taken the appropriate step of protecting the safety and health of local swimmers. Well done Porirua City Council.

But here is a summary of what the newsletter says Porirua Aquatics intend to do about the care shown by the Council.

“Swimming New Zealand has recently released guidelines for competitive race start dive water depths and height of blocks.

These guidelines follow several face to face meetings between Brent Harris (PCA Committee member and National Qualified Referee) and Steven Johns (CEO SNZ) to discuss the Porirua City Council (PCC) diving ban at Cannons Creek Pool.

Cannons Creek pool is accepted by SNZ where official times can be recorded, as the depth requirement is not mandatory for pools under FR1.3 for FINA Minimum Standard Pools. FR1.3 states that events should be conducted in pools that comply with all of the minimum standards, but does not state that they must be conducted in pools that comply with all of the minimum standards.

The PCA committee is still working to have dive starts allowed at Cannons Creek pool within the guidelines published by SNZ. We are working on changing the blocks so that the height of the dive will be achieved from a flat surface and no more than 0.4 metres above the water line. Once we have found a suitable alternative to the current blocks we will be approaching the PCC representatives to discuss our options.”

What I find disturbing about the newsletter is that the arguments and attitudes that have characterised Swimming New Zealand’s conduct for 22 years are now being demonstrated by local operators. Bad habits are catching on. For 22 years Swimming New Zealand has relied on FINA Rule FR1.3 and its use of the word “should” not “must”.

But that’s not really the point is it? What matters is whether it is safe to dive into a pool that is 0.86m deep at the walls. Brent Harris and Steven Johns can sit around discussing the semantics of the FINA rule book as often and for as long as they like. They can duck and dodge and find a way to lobby the Council to change its rule. But they will never make diving into a 0.86m deep pool safe.

What concerns me about the meetings between Swimming New Zealand and Porirua Aquatics is that they are portrayed as an effort to gain back the freedom to dive. But in reality these meetings involved two organizations doing all they can to find a way to compromise the health and safety of Porirua swimmers. In my view these meeting planned harm; aimed at manipulating words in order to put swimmers at risk of injury or death.

The Cannon’s Creek ban on diving was introduced on 16 August 2016 after a club member hit her head diving into the Cannon’s Creek Pool. And do you know what the reaction of Swimming New Zealand (as reported on Stuff) was at the time.

The ban was opposed by Swimming New Zealand, which said that not allowing children to dive-start in shallower pools – common around the country – could “greatly affect competitive swimming in New Zealand” if the move set a precedent.”

And Porirua Aquatics president Viv Morton compounded the blasphemy by saying that “the diving ban had been a hindrance to the club, as its children had been racing since May without being able to practice dive-starts.”

How Swimming New Zealand and Viv Morton can find any moral equivalency between perfecting a dive start and a broken spine is beyond my comprehension. Their reported reactions are a disgrace. My attitude to this question is coloured by years spent coaching in the United States where you would lose your job immediately for allowing swimmers to dive into a pool like Cannons Creek. I have attended many Florida High School competitions involving 50 second 100m swimmers where swimmers began their races in the water because the pool was too shallow. That sensible caution has not done American swimmers any harm. Perhaps there are better things for Brent Harris and Steven Johns to spend time discussing than how to dodge some very sensible Porirua City Council and FINA pool depth rules.

The Americans keep good statistics on this sort of thing. So when Brent Harris and Steven Johns are next meeting and before a high school enters their team in the September Secondary School Championships in Hamilton perhaps they would like to dwell on these American numbers. 6,500 adolescents a year are brought to the hospital because of diving-related injuries. 80% of injuries occurred in shallow water of 1.2 meters or less. More than 80% of the dive injuries were from a dive height of less than or equal to one meter. Diving is the fourth leading cause of spinal cord injury among males and the fifth leading cause among females.

The European Spine Journal concluded a study on injuries caused by diving into shallow pools with the following. “Every year diving accidents in swimming pools result in severe spinal cord injuries with profound physical, social, and professional repercussions. In addition, there are staggering economic implications for the individual and to the society as a whole. Despite advances in the hospital management of these injuries, the implementation of an effective prevention strategy is also essential if we are to reduce the incidence and impact of these potentially catastrophic accidents.” And so Brent Harris and Steven Johns it is relevant to ask, “What was your contribution to an effective prevention strategy today?”

PS – If Swimming New Zealand or Viv Morton knew anything about swimming they would realize that practicing dives into a 0.86m deep pool has no benefit at all. Modern starts are way deeper than that. Most swimmers spend the dive portion of their race between 0.9m and 1.2m under the water. And so besides the danger involved, practicing dives in 0.86m water is only going to teach swimmers to start badly.


Progress Report: New Zealand Secondary Schools Championships

Thursday, August 17th, 2017

My last post highlighted the safety issues involved in using the Hamilton Pool for the 2017 New Zealand Secondary School Swimming Championships. At 1.15m the pool is too shallow to safely allow starting block dive starts.

So what have I done to have this problem addressed?

Well, first of all, I have not contacted Swimming New Zealand. “Why not?” I hear you ask. “Swimming New Zealand is organizing the meet. Surely they should be approached first.” Please remember that this is the third time I have complained about the decision of Swimming New Zealand to use a shallow pool. On the three previous occasions I have paid a protest fee of $50 to Swimming New Zealand. Three times my concern has been rejected and Swimming New Zealand has kept my $50. And on the last occasion the Chairman used the organization’s Annual Report to say that, because of the protest, I was a person with no credibility. And so I am sure you will understand that having spent $150 already and having had my character insulted I am reluctant to go back for more. However if any reader has a spare $100 – the fee has gone up since I last filed a protest – I’m happy to try Swimming New Zealand again.

In the meantime I thought I’d look to other bodies that might have more interest in the health and safety of New Zealand secondary school swimmers. Is anyone in New Zealand interested in the fact that the Hamilton Pool does not meet Swimming New Zealand or FINA depth standards?

And so I prepared an email. This is what it said:

“Good Morning

On September 15 the New Zealand Secondary Schools Swimming Championships are due to be held at the Te Rapa Waterworld Pool in Hamilton.

Before schools enter students in this event they should be aware that the pool does not comply with minimum safety standards. Swimming New Zealand and the world governing body of swimming, FINA, both publish policy documents regarding the depth of pools where swimmers are diving from starting blocks.

The depth of the Hamilton Pool is 1.15m and that is well short of the minimum depth required by both the Swimming New Zealand and FINA rules. If the competition is held at the Te Rapa Waterworld Pool swimmers taking part will be required to dive into a pool classified as unsafe by the New Zealand and world governing bodies for swimming.

It is important schools are aware of this problem before entering the event. Diving into a shallow pool that does not comply with safety standards can cause serious injury or death. It is a serious health and safety issue that should not be ignored or allowed to pass by default. The attached Swimwatch blog article provides further clarification.

The  Swimming New Zealand minimum depth rules can be found here.

The FINA, world governing body, rules can be found here.

Rule FR 2.3


David Wright

Swimwatch Contributor“

And I have sent the email to the following organisations and individuals.

  1. The New Zealand Education Department
  2. The New Zealand Post Primary Teachers Association
  3. Worksafe New Zealand
  4. Hamilton City Council
  5. The New Secondary Schools Sports Council
  6. Hamilton Councillors: Paula Southgate, Mark Bunting, Dave Macpherson, James Casson, Andrew King, Martin Gallagher, Garry Mallett, Rob Pascoe, Philip Yeung, Angela Oleary, Geoff Taylor and Leo Tooman
  7. Recreation New Zealand
  8. Watersafety New Zealand

I have only had one reply. The New Zealand Secondary Schools Sports Council emailed to thank me and say they were contacting Swimming New Zealand. I do hope they have more luck than me. They need to be careful though. Asking questions about the depth of a Swimming New Zealand pool could earn them an insult in next year’s Annual Report.

I am sure you will agree that just about everybody with an interest in water-safety now knows the Hamilton Pool is too shallow. It will be interesting to see who, if anyone takes pool safety seriously. I will let you know.