The Worst Advertisement For Swimming Is Its Rulers

The NZ Swim Facebook page tells me that the Commonwealth Games trials in Auckland are hostile to the presence of news media. Here is a summary of the NZ Swim report.

“Interesting to be told that media will not be welcomed at Commonwealth Games trials in Auckland, nor can they cover it remotely. There is no provision for media accreditation – meaning that no media are able to cover the event, and there is no official photographer. I was even told that press photographers will not be permitted to take photos poolside on “health and safety grounds”. It’s like swimming administrators are doing their best to ensure people do not know that swimmers are attempting to qualify for the Commonwealth Games.”

I have no idea what Swimming New Zealand or Auckland Swimming’s contact with the media has been. Perhaps NZ Swim is right. Perhaps officials at Antares Place and the Trust Stadium have actively discouraged journalists from recording the event. That could well turn out to be a smart decision. If things are as bad as seems likely to be the case, hiding the sport’s shame could well be the right decision. In the circumstances swimming could well be looking to limit its public disgrace.

Alternatively it would not surprise me if the main stream media had little or no interest in rushing out to the Henderson West Wave Pool. Newspapers, radio and especially television like reporting the news. They like exciting success. They have a nose for events the public will find interesting. With the best will in the world I could not imagine what swimming administrators would need to do to breathe life into these trials. No self-respecting journalist is going to be interested in the insufferable boredom of this event; not when they could be reporting on a social game of chess in Cornwall Park.

The really sad fact is it never used to be that way. Several years ago I used to bring Toni Jeffs to the Auckland Championships. This was not a Commonwealth Games trial – just the normal annual Auckland Championships. For three or four years I would get a call from Television New Zealand asking if Toni was going to swim. When I confirmed she was entered a camera crew would be sent to the Henderson Pool to record the event. The races were recorded, swimmers were interviewed and the whole lot was broadcast on the six o’clock sport’s news.

If the NZ Swim report is accurate swimming has fallen a long way since those days. And it is not difficult to understand why. The reasons are no mystery. In those days there was no socialized High Performance monolith. New Zealand’s best swimmers were all the product of club programs. Toni had a bronze medal in the 50 meters freestyle from what was then the World Short Course Championships, Anna Simcic held a world record and a Commonwealth Gold Medal in the 200 meters backstroke, Phillipa Langrell was fourth in the Olympic Games 400 meters freestyle and Danyon Loader was in the process of becoming the best in the world at middle distance freestyle. The media had something interesting to report.

Now that Lauren Boyle has retired, the truth is that swimming has nothing to report. And the blame for that lies directly at the door of the Swimming New Zealand Board. They have made decisions that have stripped the sport bare. There will be little to report from Henderson. Certainly nothing that justifies the cost of putting gas in a journalist’s car.

A very well-known poem called Ozymandias by Shelley should be written on the Board Room at Swimming New Zealand. It describes exactly why the press has no interest in this week’s Commonwealth Games trials.

“Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

But besides poor performance there is another factor at work. New Zealand’s best swimmers used to lead interesting lives. They were the sort of interesting and controversial people that journalists enjoy talking to. Toni was sponsored by a strip club and was never backward in expressing her views. For example she would only have a glass of wine very occasionally but always crossed out the “no alcohol” clause in the Swimming New Zealand contract. She was in her mid-twenties and her social habits were none of Swimming New Zealand’s business. Swimming New Zealand did not like it but it was good for swimming. It certainly got the sport on the news. Paul Kent was equally “out there”. I saw him throw a chair at a swim meet once. Might not be exactly politically correct but at least the sport was not the personality void it is today. Swimmers like John Steel, Johnny Munroe, Ross Anderson and Nick Sanders were personalities that the public enjoyed reading about. Good heavns, I remember when Toni and I were leaving for the Barcelona Olympic Games, the farewell dinner was broadcast live by Television New Zealand, TV Three and Channel Seven from Australia. You’d struggle to get that attention today.

And once again responsibility for the sport’s personality void lies at the door of the Board of Swimming New Zealand. Mind you it’s hard to imagine the grey members of that Board parenting exciting and interesting anything.

0 responses. Leave a Reply

  1. Swimwatch


    Be the first to leave a comment!

Comments are closed.