Archive for October, 2017

When Privacy Means Tell The World

Tuesday, October 17th, 2017

I was interested to read the Swimming New Zealand “Long List” of swimmers eligible for Commonwealth Games selection. I was also interested to read various swimming commentator’s opinions. Thirty-six names are included in the list – fifteen female and twenty-one male swimmers.

What was a surprise was the amount of information provided by Swimming New Zealand. In fact I use the word surprise in the broadest possible sense. Words like amazed, stunned appalled and shocked better describe my reaction. For there, on the Swimming New Zealand website, published for the world to read are thirty-six names, thirty-six birthdates, thirty-six classifications of sex and – wait for it – thirty-six email addresses.

Now I have no idea whether publication of swimmer’s email addresses like this is legal or not. I suspect it is not. I don’t know whether Swimming New Zealand asked the swimmers for permission to share their contact details with the world. I suspect they did not. However the technicalities don’t really matter. What is of concern is whether disclosing that amount of personal information is wise, or safe, or caring or professional. And I do not think there is any doubt about the answer to that question.

There is no way swimmer’s names, sex, dates of birth and email contacts should be spread all over the internet. It makes it difficult for members to have faith in the organization when the Head Office pays no regard for the sport’s Code of Conduct. I would be delighted if anyone could explain to me how the publication of this private information complies with these Code requirements.

For example Swimming New Zealand is required to:

  1. Provide a safe environment for the conduct of the activity in accordance with relevant Swimming New Zealand policy.
  2. Members should recognise that at all times they have a responsibility to a duty of care to all Swimming New Zealand members.
  3. Do not disclose any confidential information relating to their athletes without written prior consent.
  4. Place the safety and welfare of the participants above all else.

Is Swimming New Zealand aware that fifteen of the names are young women? Are they aware that three of them appear to be under the age of eighteen, another two are under twenty and the other eight are under twenty-four? You may ask how I know all that. I know because Swimming New Zealand thought it important to give me their dates of birth. And if anyone wants to check Swimming New Zealand provided the girl’s private email addresses. You could write to them and ask.

It is bloody incredible. We have just witnessed the behaviour of Harvey Weinstein. There is no need to go on creepy chat sites in New Zealand. Just dial up the website of the organization responsible for competitive swimming and you’ll get a list of fifteen girls, their ages and their email addresses. Is anyone in Swimming New Zealand aware of how creepy that looks?

I know that when I had a family member swimming for New Zealand and when I was helping three other female swimmers represent the country if the National Federation had published their age and personal contact details I’d have gone crazy. I just hope the families of fifteen women are beating down Swimming New Zealand’s door this morning. Pimping out their family member’s contact details is beyond unacceptable.

But there are commentators who are not much better. I’ve read pages of stuff debating the merits of having this “Long List” of names. Lengthy discussion examines the value of the long list. The stunning revelation that only two swimmers on the list have actually qualified is questioned in detail. The work still to be done by the other thirty-four swimmers is analyzed. A thousand words debate the implications of the “Long List” for swimming as a sport.

As valid as that discussion might be, the real issue of the list; the real problem its publication brings into focus is not mentioned at all. At best the publication of the swimmer’s personal information is a mere footnote to the issue of whether New Zealand is going to perform well in the Commonwealth Games. Without the timely intervention, on Facebook, of someone called Emily I doubt the scandal of the publication of the email addresses would have been mentioned at all. Well done Emily.

Many years ago I accepted money from a Wellington strip club to pay airfares for my swimmers to compete in Europe. I got summoned to a Swimming New Zealand meeting to answer the charge that accepting the money had brought the sport into disrepute. The Swimming New Zealand case collapsed when I pointed out that the same strip club had advertised on the back page of the Swimming New Zealand quarterly magazine. SNZ had accepted the strip club’s money before I did. SNZ gave me the idea. However accepting money from a strip club comes nowhere near the irresponsibility and danger of publishing swimmer’s names, sex, dates of birth and email addresses. When it comes to bringing the sport into disrepute this publication is in a class of its own.  

Members have a right to expect better than this. The CEO and staff directly responsible for the publication of the “Long List” should be disciplined. Thirty-six swimmers and especially fifteen female swimmers have a right to be protected from potential abuse. If staff members are not seriously sanctioned, I guess we will all know the extent of Swimming New Zealand’s sincerity when it comes to member’s safety.          

     

So Did Swimming NZ Make Progress?

Sunday, October 8th, 2017

The day before the New Zealand Short Course National Championships began Swimwatch published a post comparing the best entry times with the current world records. The comparison showed that on average the fastest swimmers entered in the Championships were 7.2% slower than the world record times. Men were 7.4% slower and women 7.0% slower.

The post discussed the length of time it would take for New Zealand swimmers to bridge the 7.2% gap. Assuming New Zealand swimmers improved at twice the rate that the world records improved it would take five years for New Zealand to have a world class program.

It is a huge ask. It requires action to begin straight away and to continue at a high level for a long time. Every opportunity to close the gap between New Zealand’s best and the world’s best swimmers needs to be taken. Without immediate attention New Zealand swimming will never catch up.   

Well the first opportunity to improve has come and gone. The National Championships were held last week. Did New Zealand swimming make progress? To check this out I have reprinted the table that compares the National entry times with the current world records. But on this occasion I have added the winning times swum at the National Championships. Based on entry times New Zealand swimmers were on average 7.2% slower than the world record. After the Nationals are we closer to our goal? Did we make progress? Or are we further away?

The data tells the following story.

  1. Far from closing in on the world’s best times New Zealand swimmers have gone backwards. We were an average of 7.2% behind. At the National Championships this got worse. New Zealand champions are now 7.5% behind. Women at the Auckland meet were 7.8% behind. Men were 7.1% behind.
  2. The drop from 7.2% behind to 7.5% behind might not sound all that severe. But when the gap is as big as 7% any lost opportunity to close the gap is very serious. Prior to the Championships, in an average 100m race, the best New Zealand swimmer was finishing about 6 meters behind the world’s best swimmers. This has increased. New Zealand’s best swimmer is now a further half meter behind.
  3. On a positive note Bradley Ashby has brought New Zealand swimming closer to world class in the medley and backstroke events. His 200m medley is now 4.9% (or about 10 metres) behind the world’s best.
  4. The problem for Ashby is that an improvement of 0.7% is not enough. At that annual rate world class times are about eight years away. Ashby probably won’t be swimming in eight years. Progress of more than 1.5%, or more than twice Ashby’s current improvement, is required for a swimmer wanting to be competitive in Tokyo in three years. And Ashby’s problem, is New Zealand’s problem. Swimmers are improving but not at a fast enough rate. In this meet only the men’s 50, 100 and 200 backstroke, and the 100 IM (not an Olympic event) improved by more than 1.5%. No women’s event came close to that level of improvement. To do well in Tokyo New Zealand swimmers are going to have to do better; a lot better.      

The Swimming New Zealand PR machine goes into overdrive to hide the facts. Sophie Pascoe’s swims are all over the organization’s website and trumpeted in the general media. Her swims have every right to be given maximum praise. She is, without qualification, an astounding athlete. But what is not right is to use her swims to hide a deep malaise in the main stream sport. For too long Swimming New Zealand used Lauren Boyle the same way; to deflect attention away from the sport’s serious problems.

One report begins with this paraphrased sentence, “Two world records highlighted the first day of the New Zealand Short Course championships in Auckland.” The report goes on to explain that the records were set by para swimmer, Sophie Pascoe. However the first sentence is a clear attempt to portray the meet as a hot-bed of world class swimming. And that is not true. It is fake news that does the sport no favors because it papers over fissures that need to be exposed and repaired.

At the National Short Course Championships swimming in New Zealand got worse. A major step towards addressing the problem is to acknowledge that a problem exists. But from this Swimming New Zealand Board I’m picking that might be too much to ask.       

Men

Event World Time NZ Time % Behind Nat Time % Behind
50 m freestyle 20.26 21.52 5.9 22.16 8.6
100 m freestyle 44.94 47.30 5.0 48.84 8.0
200 m freestyle 1:39.37 1:45.70 6.0 1:47.35 7.4
400 m freestyle 3:32.25 3:47.35 6.6 3:46.11 6.1
1500 m freestyle 14:08.06 14:47.85 4.5 14:50.61 4.8
50 m backstroke 22.22 24.94 10.9 24.29 8.5
100 m backstroke 48.92 53.57 8.7 52.39 6.6
200 m backstroke 1:45.63 1:56.57 9.4 1:54.58 7.8
50 m breaststroke 25.25 27.82 9.2 27.34 7.7
100 m breaststroke 55.61 1:00.76 8.5 59.95 7.2
200 m breaststroke 2:00.44 2:10.07 7.4 2:09.46 7.0
50 m butterfly 21.80 23.38 6.8 24.15 9.7
100 m butterfly 48.08 52.68 8.7 52.32 8.1
200 m butterfly 1:48.56 1:56.46 6.8 1:55.65 6.1
100 m IM 50.30 54.92 8.4 53.85 6.6
200 m IM 1:49.63 1:56.14 5.6 1:55.30 4.9
400 m IM 3:55.50 4:11.88 6.5 4:10.12 5.9
Average Gap 7.4 7.1

Women

Event World Time NZ Time % Behind Nat Time % Behind
50 m freestyle 22.93 25.21 9.0 24.95 8.1
100 m freestyle 50.58 54.19 6.7 54.96 8.0
200 m freestyle 1:50.43 1:57.58 6.1 1:58.31 6.7
400 m freestyle 3:54.52 4:07.80 5.4 4:08.98 5.8
800 m freestyle 7:59.34 8:28.27 5.7 8:38.20 7.5
50 m backstroke 25.67 27.75 7.5 27.71 7.4
100 m backstroke 55.03 59.51 7.5 59.66 7.8
200 m backstroke 1:59.23 2:09.40 7.9 2:09.62 8.0
50 m breaststroke 28.64 31.32 8.6 31.28 8.4
100 m breaststroke 1:02.36 1:07.79 8.0 1:07.35 7.4
200 m breaststroke 2:14.57 2:28.11 9.1 2:25.82 7.7
50 m butterfly 24.38 25.75 5.3 27.07 9.9
100 m butterfly 54.61 57.11 4.4 58.86 7.2
200 m butterfly 1:59.61 2:07.04 5.9 2:10.49 8.3
100 m IM 56.51 1:00.61 6.8 1:00.45 6.5
200 m IM 2:01.86 2:09.74 6.1 2:11.55 7.4
400 m IM 4:18.94 4:46.41 9.6 4:48.92 10.4
Average Gap 7.0 7.8

So Just What Is The Gap?

Monday, October 2nd, 2017

Swimming New Zealand is currently experiencing two closely related events.

First the organization is planning to move away from the centralised preparation of elite swimmers. For twenty years that policy has mindlessly absorbed Swimming New Zealand’s time and money. And the policy has failed miserably. The new plan proposes replacing the old structure with a Zone based program. Subject to knowing more about how the Zones will work the new structure should be more responsive to swimmer’s needs and should be more successful. Mind you that’s not saying much. The success bar in Swimming New Zealand is pretty low right now.

Second the New Zealand National Short Course Championships are being held this week.

The two events provide an ideal opportunity to take stock and evaluate just where the sport is at. We know the old centralised structure failed but what is the size of the problem being left behind? How far below world standards has New Zealand swimming fallen? What is the gap between the world’s best and New Zealand’s best swimmers? How long is it going to take to bridge the gap? And is the new Zone structure equipped to supply swimmers capable of lifting the sport to world class status?

Swimming New Zealand Board members frequently provide glowing answers to these questions. But we know from hard experience not to trust a word the Board says. The members know little about international swimming and it shows. For example we have been told that, “The vision of our High Performance Strategy is: inspirational swimmers, exciting the nation through exceptional results”. Unbelievably just before the Rio Olympic Games the CEO said, “resulted in bold decisions being taken and led to the development of a targeted campaign strategy aimed at improving our international performances in Rio.” And we know how that turned out. A few years earlier the same CEO provided us with this glowing testimonial, “The 2012/2013 swimming season resulted in some remarkable performances from our elite athletes. The largest ever Olympic swim team attended the 2012 London Olympic Games. New Zealand had its most successful World Short Course Championship to date.”

If you listen and believe the Board of Swimming New Zealand we should be tearing the Americans apart by now. International meets around the world should be tired of playing “God Defend New Zealand”. But how close to reality is the organization’s gloss? How fake is their fake news?   

Well the two tables below attempt to provide data-based answers to the questions. The tables show the size of the gap between New Zealand’s current swimmers and the current world record. The times shown for New Zealand’s swimmers are the fastest entry times for swimmers entered in each event at this week’s National Championships. The world records are the current FINA short course best times.

This is what the data tells us about the size of Swimming New Zealand’s performance problem.

  1. In all 34 events New Zealand’s fastest swimmers are an average of 7.2% slower that the current world records.
  2. Male swimmers are an average of 7.4% behind the current world records. Female swimmers are an average of 7.0% behind the current world records.
  3. The largest gap of 10.9% is in the men’s 50m backstroke. The closest gap is 4.5% in the men’s 1500m.
  4. The American Swim Coaches Association tells us that the ideal best rate of improvement for a good international swimmer is 3% per year.
  5. What this means is that the current gap of 7.2% between New Zealand’s best swimmers and the world record will take a minimum of 2.4 years to close – and that ridiculously assumes two things. It assumes the world record will not improve and it assumes New Zealand swimmers will improve at the American’s best rate. Neither of those things is guaranteed. In fact neither is even likely.
  6. To give you a more realistic idea of what that means – if New Zealand’s swimmers improve at twice the rate that the world record’s progress, on average, it will take five years for New Zealand swimmers to reach the world times.

And so we know the task before the new Zone structure is to create an environment in which local swimmers improve at twice the rate of the world’s best. Even at this rate it will take five years to bridge the current gap between New Zealand’s best and the world’s best swimmers. It is a big ask. The scale of the problem suggests New Zealand swimmers might struggle to be ready for Tokyo. Three years may not be long enough. Certainly New Zealand swimming will need to be at its very best over a long period to have a program that is anywhere near world class. However there is hope. It’s true the statistics make bleak reading. But as the British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli said: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” The figures need not be the full story. It will be interesting to see what progress is made this week.        

 

Men

Event World Time NZ Time % Behind
50 m freestyle 20.26 21.52 5.9
100 m freestyle 44.94 47.30 5.0
200 m freestyle 1:39.37 1:45.70 6.0
400 m freestyle 3:32.25 3:47.35 6.6
1500 m freestyle 14:08.06 14:47.85 4.5
50 m backstroke 22.22 24.94 10.9
100 m backstroke 48.92 53.57 8.7
200 m backstroke 1:45.63 1:56.57 9.4
50 m breaststroke 25.25 27.82 9.2
100 m breaststroke 55.61 1:00.76 8.5
200 m breaststroke 2:00.44 2:10.07 7.4
50 m butterfly 21.80 23.38 6.8
100 m butterfly 48.08 52.68 8.7
200 m butterfly 1:48.56 1:56.46 6.8
100 m individual medley 50.30 54.92 8.4
200 m individual medley 1:49.63 1:56.14 5.6
400 m individual medley 3:55.50 4:11.88 6.5
Average Gap 7.4

Women

Event World Time NZ Time % Behind
50 m freestyle 22.93 25.21 9.0
100 m freestyle 50.58 54.19 6.7
200 m freestyle 1:50.43 1:57.58 6.1
400 m freestyle 3:54.52 4:07.80 5.4
800 m freestyle 7:59.34 8:28.27 5.7
50 m backstroke 25.67 27.75 7.5
100 m backstroke 55.03 59.51 7.5
200 m backstroke 1:59.23 2:09.40 7.9
50 m breaststroke 28.64 31.32 8.3
100 m breaststroke 1:02.36 1:07.79 8.0
200 m breaststroke 2:14.57 2:28.11 9.1
50 m butterfly 24.38 25.75 5.3
100 m butterfly 54.61 57.11 4.4
200 m butterfly 1:59.61 2:07.04 5.9
100 m individual medley 56.51 1:00.61 6.8
200 m individual medley 2:01.86 2:09.74 6.1
400 m individual medley 4:18.94 4:46.41 9.6
Average Gap 7.0