Swimming New Zealand Innocent of this Charge

Most readers will be aware that I am a serial critic of Swimming New Zealand. However not every event involving swimming should reflect negatively on the Federation. For example in the past two days the NZSwim Facebook page published a comment on Gabrielle Fa’amausili’s decision to accept a swimming scholarship at the University of Georgia. This is what the Facebook post says.

“Now official. You read it first here. Another swimmer off to the US to study. It appears very few top swimmers want to stay in NZ to swim after leaving secondary school.

There is nothing left to keep them in the country now. Already many national Open titles are being held by swimmers who are not NZ’s best. This is something Swimming NZ is simply too afraid of discussing openly.

Even coaches are returning to compete at nationals and getting good results – including… podium results, because they can now. For example in the 200m freestyle a coach got a silver medal at NZSC. Our best swimmer was overseas – and that swimmer, Matthew Stanley, got a NZ record in the event this week – well over three seconds faster than the winner at this year’s New Zealand Short Course champs.

Even masters swimmer Moss Burmester is top 15 in 50m backstroke on NZ Opens times – and he’s approaching 40.

Anyway, Gabrielle Fa’amausili is off to the University of Georgia – officially signed up.”

The clear implication is that the number of swimmers accepting American university scholarships reflects badly on Swimming New Zealand’s management of the sport. And that is simply not true. You see, I have had some experience of swimmers taking up the opportunity to swim and be educated in the United States. Over the years six swimmers coached by me have gone on to swim at university in the United States. I have been involved in contacting schools and arranging the tests and terms of the scholarships. In all cases I coached the swimmers when they came home for the summer holidays and maintained regular contact with their university coach.

I have never considered that a swimmer accepting a swimming scholarship to be a negative. Just look at the advantages. If a swimmer is good enough to be offered a full ride scholarship, this is what they can expect in return.

  1. University tuition fees paid.
  2. Books and stationary supplies paid.
  3. Accommodation paid.
  4. Meals paid.
  5. Extensive travel through the USA paid.
  6. Holiday training camps in California, Florida, Hawaii and the US Virgin Islands paid.
  7. A good degree earned.
  8. The opportunity to be coached and compete in the world’s most competitive swimming environment.

Compare that to the domestic problems of working during school holidays to pay living expenses, paying for coaching, paying to travel to swim meets, paying education fees and paying off an average student loan debt of $21,000 at the end of it all. Any sane person given the choice is going to jump at the American chance. Not because of problems created by Swimming New Zealand. But simply because four years of “free” education in the United States provides a good and subsidised start to life that is not available in New Zealand.

Accepting an American scholarship is not a negative comment on New Zealand or the national federation. It is rather a reflection of the positive benefits available to good swimmers in the United States. This Facebook post would have been far more effective and accurate if it had been written as “Wow, Gabrielle Fa’amausili has just jumped at the chance of receiving a free education at the first class University of Georgia. Isn’t that fantastic news?”

You see, far too many New Zealand swimmers end their careers without a return; without a payback for their efforts. When one of the swimmers, coached by me, left to be educated and swim in the United States she had been training eleven times a week for six years. She had swum 18,538 kilometres, or 741,520 lengths or 10,381,280 strokes. She had been to the gym 1032 times and had lifted 5366 tonnes. That’s the weight of twenty A380 airplanes. She had broken national open records, won national open championships and represented the country. But if she had retired at that point there would have been little to show for all that effort. There would have been personal satisfaction, certainly. There would have been a lifetime of memories, without question. There would have been valuable life skills learned. But there would have been no tangible, “take-it-to-the-bank” reward.

Her four years in the United States provided the reward. The 18,538 kilometres bought her a good education and opened doors to a new and exciting life. Now Gabrielle Fa’amausili has been offered and has accepted the same opportunity. And now, not as a put-down of Swimming New Zealand or her current coach or club, she has rightly decided to give it a go. All we should do is applaud her success and wish her well.

We should remember too that these offers are not made by USA Swimming. Swimming scholarships are the private concern of 664 independent universities. The Facebook argument that it is somehow Swimming New Zealand’s responsibility to match what several hundred American universities provide in nonsense. Not even USA Swimming would attempt that feat. Swimming New Zealand can only be responsible for what it can control. And Fa’amausili’s education is not their concern.

The Facebook report goes on to mention that some coaches and masters swimmers are performing well in open competition. This fact, we are told, supports the idea that the standard of swimming in New Zealand is getting worse. That is probably true. The sport currently has a real quality problem. A problem largely of Swimming New Zealand’s making. And a problem that appears to be getting worse.

My argument here though is that Gabrielle Fa’amausili’s decision to head to the United States is not part of that problem. Her decision is entirely positive and should not be tainted by negative criticism of Swimming New Zealand. Good luck Gabrielle. Georgia is a good school with a great swim program – have fun.





0 responses. Leave a Reply

  1. Swimwatch


    Be the first to leave a comment!

Comments are closed.