Unconvincing Sham

 The British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli is normally credited with being the author of the quote, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” Had he been around in the 21st century I am confident he would have said, ““There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and stuff you read on the internet.”

A classic example has been the effort to sanitize the career of ex-New Zealand Head Swimming Coach, Jan Cameron. Even television news participated in that deception. But the Facebook page, NZSwim, has been particularly sycophantic. I doubt that the author ever met Jan Cameron and certainly was not involved in swimming during the period she monopolised the sport in New Zealand. Mind you a lack of knowledge has never worried the author of NZSwim. With five minutes experience he happily tells the swimming world exactly where they are going wrong.

Recently he offered to close his website down. He said “shall I simply shut this page down and leave you all to it?” On behalf of a grateful nation I accepted the offer. But I notice he hasn’t delivered his side of the bargain: another item of fake news.

He did however go part way. The most delightful update coming out of NZSwim recently was the decision to close its public page. Anyone wanting to read their trivial nonsense now has to apply and be approved as a member of their private page club. You would have to pay me a lot of money to join that club. In the meantime I am delighted that the public internet is spared his verbal garbage.

For example, NZSwim galloped to the defence of Jan Cameron. In reply to the SwimVortex and Swimwatch reports on Jan’s death NZ Swim said:

Well done Swimming Australia, This is how you do a writeup on a top coach who passes away.

I thought that article was unfair too.

How much knowledge NZSwim has to come to these conclusions I have no idea. I suspect, no knowledge at all, is the most likely answer.

Swimwatch posts have already made mention of the poor performance of New Zealand swim teams in the Jan Cameron era. Jan was in charge of New Zealand Swimming for three Olympic Games (2000 Sydney, 2004 Athens and 2008 Beijing) and three Commonwealth Games (2002 Manchester, 2006 Melbourne and 2010 Delhi).

The Beijing Games ranks seventh on the NZ swimming results table. The Athens and Sydney Games each rank thirteenth equal. At the Commonwealth Games, Melbourne ranks ninth, Delhi ranks eleventh and Manchester ranks fourteenth equal in the results medal table.

And so on the basis of results the SwimVortex and Swimwatch reports are accurate. But results were only one of the problems. Of just as much concern was what Sport New Zealand’s Ineson Report called, “the culture of fear; where no athlete would speak on the record for fear of reprisal”.

NZSwim can be as servile as it likes now but, in the Jan years, that culture of fear in New Zealand swimming was pervasive and nasty.

Swimwatch has also already mentioned the sick decision made by Jan at the Manchester Commonwealth Games to exclude swimmers not in her personal training squad from national team meetings. Being ostracised from the national team for training in the “wrong” squad is no way to run a national swim team. But Jan Cameron did that. Ironically the only two swimmers who won medals at the Manchester Games, Toni Jeffs and Liz Van Welie were two of those that Jan left out in the cold. Jon Winter, who now runs one of the country’s most inclusive squads in Raumati, was another swimmer excluded.

I coached three swimmers who swam on New Zealand teams in the Jan era; Toni Jeffs, Nichola Chellingworth and Jane Copland. Before they left New Zealand I would call Duncan Laing and arrange for him to be their coach. I made it clear that Jan was to have nothing to do with the swimmer’s preparation. Duncan was in charge. They were protected from the corrosive team culture of the time.

NZ Swim appears to be unaware that in the Jan era swimming, led by three-time Olympian Helen Norfolk, was one of the most active arms of the New Zealand Athletes Federation. It is not without good reason that athletes combine into a trade union. In that period Jan Cameron was the good reason.

But when Jan left New Zealand it appears she took her bad habits with her. I received the following text message this morning from Australia. I have deleted some identifying portions of the text only to protect the author from any remnants of Jan’s Australian version of the culture of fear.

In xxxx, xxxxxxx was offered a position with Jan @ USC .. she turned it down to remain with family and friends and to promote opportunities in swimming for people with disabilities. She didn’t make an Aus Team ever again, because of her (JC) ‘if you hadn’t previously represented Australia, you are a priority athlete’ .. she got all her USC squad on the WC AND Rio Team and the USC aquatics centre earned a $1.4m government grant as a result .. that is Jan Cameron’s ‘para’ legacy (other than Lakeisha Patterson of course). JC manipulated a situation to suit her agenda and she got away with it because of lack of governance. It really makes me feel sick. It’s so wrong.

And so, when NZSwim jumps into some cause or another, they would do well to check first with those who actually lived through the nightmare. Perhaps that would go some way to curbing their torrent of ill-informed rubbish. Or better still; do us all a favour, by following through on their promise to close NZ Swim completely.

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