Can This Possibly Be True?

 We have discussed two officials who appear to have conflicts of interest. Where a conflict of interest exists there is the fear that it could affect the decisions being made. The discovery of these two Board members led me to wonder whether they were alone. And so I Googled the names of the 78 members on the Boards of the 13 Regions. The method is far from scientific. There could be errors in what I found.

What I was looking for was any Board member who gave the appearance of breaching the clause in every Region’s Constitution that says:

The following persons are not eligible to be a Board member: an employee of a Member Club,

As we have discussed in previous Swimwatch posts a breach of this clause can occur directly or indirectly. There are many ways of getting around the restriction. Bronwen Radford and Lin Tozer use the distinction between volunteer and employee. There are clearly huge differences between a volunteer who inspects turns for a few hours, seven or eight times a year, and a coach who instructs a club team four or five times a week. In my view, verbal gymnastics do not change the reality of competing loyalties. And it was competing loyalties that the membership clause of the regional constitutions sought to address. Chris Moller, the author of the constitution used by all 13 Regions, put it this way:

All Board members are obligated to act in the best interests of swimming in general at all times. Put another way Board members do not and must not represent particular interests groups at any time.

And so, using Moller’s comprehensive interpretation of the rule, were there other members of Regional Boards who could be playing fast and loose with the rule? This is what I discovered.

It seems the rule is being ignored surprisingly often. Six of the 13 Regions (46%) and six of the 78 members (9%) have links to clubs that are close to representing a particular interest group. Here are the six with an explanation of how the rule has been by-passed.

Aly Fitch – Coach St Peters Swimming Academy and Waikato Board member.

I suspect Fitch has avoided the accusation of breaking the “employee of a member club” rule by claiming she is employed by the St Peters School, not the club. However St Peters is also a club and the distinction between school and club verges on President Clinton “sex-with–that-woman” manipulation. It would be difficult for Fitch to claim that she does not represent the St Peters Club interest group.

Sandra Burrows – Coach Trent Bray Swim School and Auckland Board member

Burrows probably also avoids the accusation of breaking the “employee of a member club” rule by claiming she is employed by the Trent Bray Swim School, not a club. However the Trent Bray Swim School has a club called the Central City Swim Club. The relationship between school and club is close. This is how it is described on the Central City website.

The Directors of Trent Bray Swim School have set up TBSS Central City to be the club for any of our TBSS Swimmers who would like to compete.

The club website list Burrows as the Head Coach. And so, like Fitch, the distinction between school and club verges on a President Clinton type manipulation. It would be difficult for Burrows to claim that she does not represent the Central City Club interest group.

Brigitte Mahan – Coach North Canterbury Swim Club and Canterbury Board member

Google may have led me astray, but this example appears to be a straight forward violation of the rule.

Lin Tozer – Coach Dannevirke Swim Club and Manawatu Board member

Tozer’s position was covered in a previous Swimwatch post. In her case the amazing fact is the multitude of roles she occupies. She is on the Board of the Manawatu Region. She is also the Region’s Race Secretary and a Selector. She is the Dannevirke Club’s President and the Head Coach. The list of positions Tozer doesn’t occupy would use less ink.

Bronwen Radford – Coach Swim Rotorua and Chair of Swimming Bay of Plenty

Radford’s position was also covered in a previous Swimwatch post. The interesting facts in her case are that she is the Chair of the Swimming BOP Region and controls swimming in a town that has consistently turned down a group of swimmer’s application to form a new club. It may not be true but it is hard to escape the impression that a competing club bias may have influenced that decision.

Kurt Crosland – Interim Head Coach at Swim Dunedin and Otago Board member

Crosland probably avoids the accusation of breaking the “employee of a member club” rule by claiming he is only an interim employee of Swim Dunedin and Swim Dunedin is not a swimming club. That is certainly true. This is how Swim Dunedin describes its role.

Swim Dunedin is the body in charge of professional swim coaching in Dunedin. Our goal is to provide high quality professional swimming coaching to members of Dunedin watersport clubs through the appointment of coaches and by maintaining athlete development pathways. Swim Dunedin was established to provide a structured approach to coach and athlete development and relieve the pressure created by competition for water space allocation between professional coaching services.

That sounds mighty like an interest group to me. It seems that Crosland’s position on the Otago Board might also be justified by the letter of the law rather that its spirit.

So there we have six examples where it seems that the intention of the constitutional membership rule is being avoided. My position is that the rule should never have been included in the first place. I can see nothing wrong with Tozer or Crosland or any of the others being on these Boards. Their contribution should be most welcome. But I object to officials manipulating the rules. Swimmers are not allowed to do it, neither should officials. If the rule is a bad one, and it is, then change it. But don’t manipulate the truth by using meaningless distinctions between volunteers and employees and swim schools and clubs. Be up front and honest.

Remember when Swimming New Zealand swore on a stack of Bibles that the Kilbirnie Pool complied with all FINA depth regulations; complied, they said, because “should” did not mean “must”. Eventually their dishonesty was exposed and the starting end of the pool was changed. This Board membership question is a similar issue. It is not something that should be the subject of semantics’ debate. The problem is a ridiculous membership rule. It should be changed so that Fitch and her mates can honestly and openly accept Board membership.

The current fiasco is typical of Swimming New Zealand. They would rather have a rule that half the Regions either ignore or spin reality to get around, than have no rule and a liberated, honest, organisation. It is pathetic.

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