The Complaint Against Swimming New Zealand

Arising from the poor performance of the 2018 Commonwealth Games’ swim team Steve Johns and Bruce Cotterill should be charged with SNZ Code of Conduct violations.

Scope of the SNZ Code of Conduct

Johns and Cotterill are subject to the SNZ Code of Conduct. This is how the scope of the code is described, “The SNZ Code of Conduct applies to all members of Swimming New Zealand and any persons participating or connected to Swimming New Zealand activities.” So the rules apply to them.

Objective of the SNZ Code of Conduct

The SNZ code of Conduct is to “ensure members comply with certain standards of behaviour when participating in swimming related activities.” And so we need to determine whether the behaviour and decisions made by Johns and Cotterill have met standards we could reasonably expect from people in their positions. Have they acted responsibly? Do their decisions reflect the care and diligence expected of senior officials in the organization? Fortunately the rules provide us with some guidance about how to define acceptable and unacceptable behaviour.

The Meaning of Misconduct

The SNZ Code of Conduct defines misconduct as shown below.

A Member must not in the course of his/her involvement as a Member:

(a) Breach any of the rules of conduct set out in Appendix A;

(f) Knowingly act in a manner which will bring the sport of swimming into disrepute;

Appendix A then defines nineteen requirements that must be met in regard to conduct. In my opinion there is evidence that the behaviour and decisions of Cotterill and Johns have breached five of these standards. These are shown below.

Be professional in, and accept responsibility for, your actions.

Make a commitment to providing quality service and performance.

Be aware of, and maintain an uncompromising adhesion to, standards, rules, regulations and policies.

Never act in any way that may bring disrepute or disgrace to Swimming New Zealand members, its stakeholders and/or its sponsors, potential sponsors and/or partners.

Be fair, considerate and honest in all dealings with others.

Specific Charges

First Charge – That Swimming New Zealand has failed to provide quality service and performance.

Explanation – Between 2011 and 2018 there is not a single measure of the organisation’s performance that improved. Everything got worse. The decline in government funding is especially relevant. That funding is directly related to performance. In the period 2011 to 2018 government funding declined by 28%; a fair indication of the quality of the sport’s management. Here are the facts.

Item 2011 2017 Change
Competitive Swimmers 6161 5,660 Down By 8.1%
Coaches 543 246 Down By 54.7%
Total Membership 25,467 19,118 Down By 24.9%
Clubs 180 165 Down By 8.3%
Government Funding 1,962,838 1,413,148 Down By 28.0%
Membership Fees 288,712 286,777 Down By 0.7%
Total Funding 4,158,493 3,546,861 Down By 14.7%


Recommendation – Cotterill and Johns should be asked to leave.

Second Charge – That Swimming New Zealand has failed to provide quality service and performance and has caused “disrepute or disgrace to Swimming New Zealand members.”

Explanation – The performance of the 2018 New Zealand swim team at the Commonwealth Games has been the equal worst result since the Games began 88 years ago in 1930. $14million has been spent on a SNZ training program for a return of one bronze medal and a 27% PB ratio. A result that bad has damaged the reputation and standing of the sport. It is likely to further reduce the sport’s financial support. Cotterill and Johns promised and have not delivered.

Recommendation – Cotterill and Johns should be asked to leave.

Third Charge – Swimming New Zealand have not been “honest in all dealings with others.”

Explanation – In announcing the AON NZ sponsorship Swimming New Zealand reported that “The announcement comes following the growth of participating swimmers entering both championships every year.” That was not true. Between 2011 and 2017 the number of entries in the Open Championships dropped by 230 from 997 to 767. If Swimming New Zealand has obtained money by deception; has lied to a potential sponsor, that would be very serious indeed.

Recommendation – Cotterill and Johns should be asked to leave.

Fourth Charge – That Swimming New Zealand has failed to provide “quality service and performance.”

Explanation – Swimming New Zealand’s single biggest failure is its policy of centralised elite training. Introducing the program was bad enough but the decisions, over ten years, to persevere was inexcusable. In the face of mounting evidence that the program was failing Swimming New Zealand marched on. The damage was terminal; the country’s best swimmers lost their careers, domestic coaching was undermined, the club structure was savaged and a destructive “them-and-us” culture prospered. At the Gold Coast we saw the inevitable, and predicted, conclusion. Even the swimmer who did win a medal had nothing to do with the SNZ program. SNZ came away with nothing.

Recommendation – Cotterill and Johns should be asked to leave.

Fifth Charge – That Swimming New Zealand has failed to provide “quality service and performance” and as a result compromised standards.

Explanation – The selection of three of the Commonwealth Games’ support staff raises concerns about the fitness of Swimming New Zealand to govern. SNZ made David Lyles redundant after the Glasgow Commonwealth Games. Lauren Boyle had left New Zealand looking for different coaching and SNZ told the Employment Authority that Lyles did not have the skills they required in a Head Coach. Four years later SNZ bring back the same person to coach at the next Commonwealth Games. It’s hard to see how both decisions can be right. SNZ make Lyles redundant and four years later he is back as their super coach.  In my experience the decision made four years ago was correct.

And then the SNZ Coaching Intern was included in the team. There are many coaches with more experience and better training. Woofe’s selection had to be because he was employed by SNZ. In my opinion the selection was a bad decision made for a flawed reason.

And finally a Canterbury University academic was included to advise on technique and stroke mechanics. That was just window dressing. And, if results mean anything, whatever the reasons that justified his inclusion, they didn’t work.

Recommendation – Cotterill and Johns should be asked to leave.

Sixth Charge – That a quality service and performance has been compromised by a failure to adhere to standards, rules, regulations and policies. SNZ was not “honest in all dealings”.

Explanation – There are three examples.

First the selection of the team. Only two swimmers met the SNZ qualifying standards. But SNZ, desperate not to send a team of only two, picked an additional ten relay swimmers and entered them in about 30 individual events. In my opinion that is called fiddling the rules. The SNZ Code of Conduct requires the organization to be “honest in all dealings”. The selection of this team did not meet that standard. The message it sent was all bad.

Second the pre-Games’ program. Instead of the Open Championships being a final trial for the Games, SNZ approved shifting it to July. The USA and Australia move their Championships closer and closer to major internationals. SNZ program it three months after the Games end. I wonder who is right? Bizarre programing of a high altitude camp before the 2017 World Championships was equally strange and would have affected the team’s performance.

Third the organization of the pre-Games camp. SNZ booked a camp on the Gold Coast but failed to take into account their last minute army of relay swimmers. The Gold Coast facility was not big enough. The New Zealand pre-Games bonding experience was divided in two. The boys went off to Australia and the girls stayed home. Brilliant.

Recommendation – Cotterill and Johns should be asked to leave.

Conclusion – There are other examples of poor management that justify a change at the top of the SNZ organization. But the six charges detailed here are offered as evidence to support the view that the SNZ Code of Conduct has been seriously compromised. Their decisions have failed to meet the test of what we could reasonably expect from people in their positions. It is now time for Cotterill and Johns to meet one important requirement of the SNZ Code of Conduct:



To: Bruce Cotterill and Steve Johns

It has been reported against you that during 2017 and 2018 you committed the acts of misconduct alleged in this post.

The acts as alleged above which have been committed by you amount to misconducts which, if proved, would warrant serious disciplinary action against you.

Accordingly, you are hereby required to show cause with 7 days of the receipt of this letter as to why you should not be dismissed or otherwise punished.

Should you fail to submit your explanation as required, it will be presumed that you have no explanation to offer and the matter will be disposed of without any further reference to you.

The receipt of this letter should be acknowledged.

Authorized Signatory


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