Archive for June, 2018

The Francis Solution

Saturday, June 30th, 2018

The whole Gary Francis thing clearly isn’t working out. Oh I know many will say, “Give it time. He hasn’t even got started. You can’t write him off yet.” The patience of those that ask for more time is truly commendable. But we already know enough to understand it is not going to work. For example, we know the arrogant selection process is continuing unchecked. We know two coaching geriatrics have been brought in to help lead us to the Francis’ promised land. We know the Swimming New Zealand (SNZ) centralised training group is being retained. And we have already witnessed the contempt SNZ continues to show for New Zealand’s coaching talent.

There is way too much of the same old, same old for the Francis Plan to work. It took three hours from the moment the Titanic hit the iceberg for it to sink below the Atlantic sea. However, marine engineers knew the ship was doomed immediately they were told that five of the sixteen watertight compartments had been breached. The ship could survive four flooded sections but not five. Well, the Francis Plan has the same problem. The residual damage is terminal. The Plan is doomed. Its fate is sealed. It is simply taking a little time to sink.

So, what to do now is the question?

Finding something else for Francis to do seems to be a priority. He is not the first person to be dragged into SNZ and fail to effect reform. And I doubt he will be the last. Like many others he set out with high hopes only to find that the establishment has changed him. The extent to which Francis was prepared to conform was brought into stark focus by the decision to bring back Brown and Bone. It seems to me that decision had no substance apart from being a pathetic attempt to get positive reviews from Bone on television.

Hope for the future of Gary Francis does not lie in the world of swimming. In my view his performance in this six months has been so poor that there is no place for him in this sport. So what else could he do? Then it occurred to me.

Gary Francis is a huge fan of football. I understand he was a semi-professional and played in the English League. I’m not sure of the team or the Division but any representation in that league is a badge of merit. Clearly Gary Francis knows a thing or two about football. Combine that knowledge with an important resignation that occurred in New Zealand Football this week and perhaps we have a solution to the Francis’ dilemma.

Because, this week Andy Martin, the CEO of New Zealand Football, resigned. Here is how that event was reported on the Stuff website.

Andy Martin’s reign at New Zealand Football was farcical until the very end.

The man unaffectionately nicknamed Andy Martian by those in the New Zealand football community once again showed he lives in an alternative reality when making the announcement he was “retiring” from his role as chief executive.

The carefully-worded statement, written by an independent public relations firm, said Martin was hanging up his boots to spend more time with his family and to follow his “beloved” Liverpool “more intently”.

But people shouldn’t let the almost comical ending distract them from two more pertinent issues: Why has Martin fallen on his sword now? And where to next for NZF?

That first question has a lot to do with the impending appointment of an independent investigator to review the Football Ferns environment after 13 players wrote formal letters of complaint about their coach, Andreas Heraf.

Last week, Stuff reported the “toxic culture” which had developed under Martin’s leadership. There was a real sense Martin has jumped before the review would push him out.

But that shouldn’t allow him to ride off into the sunset free of a full and thorough examination of his tenure.

Football fans can enjoy the relief of the moment for now, but the focus must quickly switch to where to from here?

Firstly, Ferns coach and NZF technical director Andreas Heraf must resign, or “retire”. His players have rebelled and the man who hired him has quit. Untenable doesn’t even cover that situation.

The rest of the coaches Heraf has hired are in a tricky spot too. His Ferns assistant Gareth Turnbull will be lucky to survive the review, while All Whites coach – and friend of Heraf – Fritz Schmid is in an awkward spot.

High performance manager Dwayne Woolliams has been a loyal Martin supporter at NZF head office and should probably head for the exit as well.

Yes, it’s good that Martin has left, but only if his position is filled by someone who has the genuine passion and knowledge to drive the game forward.

Now come on, tell me that doesn’t sound tailor-made for someone of Francis’ experience and skills. The current situation is “farcical”. Francis knows all about that. The previous CEO lives in an “alternative reality”. Francis has a degree in CEO para-normal. An independent investigation is about to report on a “toxic culture”. Francis must have a bathroom cabinet full of toxic antidotes by now. Staff are being advised to “head for the exit”. Francis is more skilled than a footman at the Savoy at letting people out onto the footpath. And finally they need someone who has “the genuine passion and knowledge to drive the game forward”. Gary’s knowledge of football, I imagine, is well up to the task. He played the game professionally after all. Passion, I’m a bit worried about. Che Guevara, Fidel Castro, Winston Churchill and Julius Caesar leadership do not quickly spring to mind when Gary Francis creeps into the room. Still, we might be able to work on that before the interview.

So there’s a challenge for Brucie. Call Peter Miskimmin and tell him that swimming would, reluctantly, like to offer their finest and best in service to a fellow struggling sport, Football New Zealand.

This Morning’s Poolside Gossip

Friday, June 29th, 2018

 Swimming pools are an amazing source of gossip. Everyday someone comes up with something. Of course I’ve been in hospital for a week and so when I arrived back at the pool this morning the place was positively buzzing. There were a hundred juicy rumors that were new since I left last week. Now I am prepared to accept the charge of encouraging the gossip. I like nothing more than absorbing embellished and colorful stories. If you listen carefully real life is way more dramatic than anything on TV – even Coronation Street.

Even in hospitals watching life go by is a fascinating adventure. I was waiting in the reception area for a scan on my lungs yesterday. Next to me an elderly lady said to her friend, “Did you see Muriel’s funeral notice. It must have been quite an occasion. It said to make sure to wear gumboots because the ground will be muddy. Do you have gumboots?” A long and complicated conversation then discussed the best footwear for a muddy funeral.

It reminded me of the occasion, when I was a teenager, my mother was asked to write a report, for the “Wairoa Star”, on an important local wedding. The mother of the bride spent most of the day preparing a hangi wearing a fairly shabby green dress and badly fitting black gumboots. My mother solved the problem by reporting that the bride’s mother wore “an apple green dress with black accessories.” The bride’s mother was delighted.

The main topic of gossip at the pool yesterday was the “retirement” of Bradlee Ashby. There it was, in all its wonderful technicolor glory.

“Had I heard Bradlee Ashby had retired? He has a broken heart because his girlfriend has left him. He’s not entered the Open Championships.”

What did I think, I was asked? I made it clear that I didn’t think much at all. I’d certainly wait for Swimming New Zealand (SNZ) to confirm the rumours. However, if the story turns out to be true, SNZ should say something very soon. Ashby has been a beneficiary of our organisation’s money. Deciding to move on is his right. But financially we do have a right to know. So front-up SNZ – has Bradlee Ashby left the building? What is going on?

If he has decided to move on it would not be a surprise. He’s had a tough summer. He made an unfortunate decision to indulge in too much publicity before the Commonwealth Games. SNZ exploited his good swim at the World Championships for their financial gain. He was upstaged by Lewis Clareburt at the Games. He didn’t win the expected medal and now his girlfriend is on the move. But that’s the nature of top-class sport. It’s a tough, tough world. If Bradlee Ashby isn’t capable of handling a terrible season and getting back up for another go he’s probably better off doing something else.

We remember Mohamed Ali because he was banned for years because of his stand on Vietnam and came back to win the world championship. After her crushing defeat at the Barcelona Olympic Games and a car crash that cracked a vertebrae in her spine Toni Jeffs came back to win two bronze medals at the Commonwealth Games. Few people knew of the leg problems suffered over two seasons by John Walker. Arch Jelley had to adapt John’s training in all sorts of novel ways to get him through until they discovered a medical cure. There are many examples of the character required to be a champion.

Calling it a day because of girlfriend problems, if that is a reason, probably means you should be doing something else. Besides how did Ashby retiring become associated with his girlfriend in the first place? He must have told someone. The link had to come from him. After all he sounds like he comes from a fairly emotional family. Here is a NZ Herald report on the reaction of Bradlee Ashby’s father after his son swam in the Rio Games.

Father of swimmer Bradley Ashby described how he “cried like a baby” watching his son swim at the Rio games. Gregor Ashby said it was a dream come true for his 20-year-old son who got through to the semifinals and competed against US swim star Michael Phelps.

“He’s been dreaming about it for the last 10 years,” said Mr. Ashby.

A disturbing story that came out of my first morning back was an allegation of bad manners. We all know the arrogance bred by the Francis SNZ Centralised Training Program. It has been there for years. It is as repulsive today as it ever was. Well today I was told a member of the SNZ squad threw a wrapper on the floor of the pool deck and was asked to pick it up. His reply was, “Don’t you know who I am?” And they wonder why we continue to lose. Francis and Woofe and Johns can huddle in the coffee shop for hours but while their program supports that culture they should follow Ashby out the door.

Coaching New Zealand Swimming

Thursday, June 28th, 2018

One of the things I enjoy about the National Swimming Championships is the opportunity to say hello to coaches from all over the country. That experience highlights the injustice of Swimming New Zealand’s (SNZ) treatment of New Zealand coaches. It all began with Jan Cameron. She pushed the myth that her club provided the best coaching in the country. That became official doctrine when SNZ adopted the Centralised Training Centre policy. From then on it was all downhill for domestic coaches.

SNZ embarked on a multi-pronged assault.

First, they employed a National Head Coach. Noticeably no New Zealander was ever good enough. In ten years SNZ employed an Australian, an Englishman, a German, another Australian, and another Australian, a Spaniard, another Englishman and an American before a relief New Zealander was chosen. On every occasion SNZ made great play of their “world-wide search”. Clearly SNZ viewed foreign passports as an important coaching asset.

Second, the SNZ website shamelessly promoted their Centralised Training Centre. It was all positively nauseating. The best training, the best pool, the best physio, the best coaching was exclusively offered by the national federation, SNZ. The clear implication was that local coaches were not as good. And that was a flat-out lie. But it was a lie repeated so often it was believed.

Third, SNZ staff bad-mouthed local coaches. CEO, Christian Renford’s first interview with Radio Sport was a disgrace. He said that he had travelled around the country and the weakest feature of New Zealand swimming was its coaching. It became a line Jan Cameron and others used to deflect attention away from their own failures. The buck stops at the top has never been strong in the SNZ character. I always thought it ironic that SNZ demanded the right to coach every good swimmer in the country and then blamed local coaches for the poor results. How does that work?

Fourth, money poured through the SNZ system. The organization received and spent $30 million over 24 years; and local coaches didn’t see a penny. Talk about a world of the “haves and the have-nots”. The centralised program had their, largely unearned, everything. They were encouraged to strut around the pool in their free SNZ uniforms. Their arrogance was overwhelming. Meanwhile every private coach in the country was helping organize a sausage sizzle outside Mitre10 or a raffle night at the RSA in order to get their wages paid or some help with travel to the national championships. The idea of SNZ representing all its members was a distant dream.

And finally there was a savage punitive element in the way SNZ treated swimmers outside the SNZ centralised program. Swimmers who remained loyal to their home coach were denied access to SNZ facilities and services. At the Manchester Commonwealth Games swimmers like Jon Winter, Toni Jeffs and Liz van Wellie, were excluded from team meetings because they trained outside the SNZ centralised program. Their loyalty was punished. Ironically the only swimmers to win medals at that Games were Liz van Wellie and Toni Jeffs. That fact did not receive much mention on the SNZ website or by its arrogant CEO.

It is a wonder that SNZ coaches survived the assault. Certainly their reputation and morale were badly damaged. Tell someone they are not good enough for long enough and their behaviour will begin to reflect the cruelty. That damage will not be repaired in five minutes. Gary Francis may attempt to con the New Zealand swimming world with his soft tones and gentle rhetoric but the organisation he works for were savages without mercy and should not be forgiven quickly. New Zealand coaches are not Nelson Mandela.

In spite of their mauling by the national organisation when I look around the national championships I am inspired. It seems to me New Zealand has a very strong body of very good coaches. Excuse the pun, but the pool of good coaches is very deep. And they do not all work in the big cities. People like Monica Cooper from Northland, the unrelated Paul and Dean Kent from Auckland, Judith Wright and Jana Wilkitzki also from Auckland, Alison Fitch and Graeme Laing from Waikato, William Benson from Hawkes Bay, Jon Winter from Kapiti, Gary Hollywood from Wellington, Dave Prattley from Canterbury, Jeremy Duncan in Southland and a dozen others stand in comparison to coaches anywhere.

Why then was I told today that Gary Francis had gone begging to Hilton Brown and Mark Bone for help in identifying New Zealand’s emerging talent? Yesterday’s men – what would they know? It is difficult to avoid the thought Francis is on a mission to ingratiate himself with some ex-high profile coaches. If so, there is nothing more embarrassing that a little man trying to curry favour.

Whatever the reason, once again it is a Francis and SNZ put down of New Zealand’s current coaches. There are a dozens of coaches in New Zealand capable of providing that sort of advice without resorting to a couple well past their coaching sell-by date. In my view if Brown and Bone had an ounce of good judgement they would have told Francis to start trusting the coaches that the country depends on. The whole thing stinks and points pretty clearly at why we are in such a mess. Right now Francis is digging the SNZ hole deeper rather than getting us out of it.

Until I saw some more sense coming from his work, even if I was coaching a swimmer with the speed talent and ability of Michael Phelps I wouldn’t let that swimmer go within a hundred miles of a Johns, Francis, Bone and Brown cartel. The advice that has been accurate for twenty years remains even more so today. If you are a good swimmer, stay at home, with your own coach. Do your own thing and keep well away from the cancer called SNZ.

Ward Two

Wednesday, June 27th, 2018

You may have already read of my admiration for the Waitakere Hospital. If you missed it here is the link. In fact I get a bit annoyed at some who insist on calling Waitakere, a hospital. A health spa, I’m prepared to accept. A health resort is preferred.

But I have spent this week in a new medical location – Ward Two. Of course I shouldn’t need to tell you where Ward Two is located. To live in New Zealand means you will know that already. But for new arrivals reading this as they jet into the country Ward Two is in the North Shore Hospital. And I tell you what – Ward Two is very good. Is it as good as or better than Waitakere? That’s hard to say. Let me explain why.

North Shore Hospital is huge. The internet tells me there are 600 beds. I was ordered to report to Ward Two at 10.30am on Monday morning. I arrived far too early at 9.30am. As I walked up to the reception the head nurse for the ward, a chap called Jason, smiled and warmly exclaimed, “Hello, you are Mr. Wright, aren’t you? Welcome to Ward Two.” An hour early, in a 600 bed hospital and the guy knew my name – unbelievable. I know $600 a night hotels that can’t match that standard of service. You can’t help but think this might not be so bad after all.

By 10.30am, my due arrival time remember, I had been admitted, provided with a cup of tea and an efficient doctor had my lungs connected to a plastic pipe that was draining three liters of unwanted fluid from my left lung. I recently read a report from the United States that offered their opinion of a national health service such as New Zealand and the United Kingdom. The table below shows part of the report.

Last week, the most senior Republican on the Senate finance committee, Chuck Grassley, took NHS-baiting to a newly emotive level by claiming that his ailing Democratic colleague, Edward Kennedy, would be left to die untreated from a brain tumour in Britain on the grounds that he would be considered too old to deserve treatment.

“I don’t know for sure,” said Grassley. “But I’ve heard several senators say that Ted Kennedy with a brain tumour, being 77 years old as opposed to being 37 years old, if he were in England, would not be treated for his disease, because end of life – when you get to be 77, your life is considered less valuable under those systems.”

I don’t know what Chuck Grassley knows that I don’t. But I do know that at the time I was due to arrive at Ward Two I had already been welcomed and treated and was beginning my recovery. And Grassley’s comments about age are rubbish as well. This morning the same doctor that connected my lung to a plastic pipe was removing the connection. She wanted me to begin taking some blood thinning medication. As part of her explanation she said, “You are still very young and we want to make sure you don’t have a stroke.” My wrist band tells me I am 70 years and 3 months. Not quite sure how all that fits with Grassley’s Ted Kennedy story. Oh that’s right it doesn’t.

This morning after being freed from the plumbing I was feeling sufficiently better that I began exploring the ward. To add more steps I left the ward to walk to some comfortable couches that are in a sun-trap in the corridor. I’d only been there five minutes when my nurse, her name is Vanessa, trundles up with her blood pressure machine. She says, “Thought you could hide from us didn’t you.” My God I thought, not only do they welcome you, they’re on the alert in case you try and escape as well.

There is one other chap I should mention, Dr Janak De Zoysa. He has been supervising my care and is brilliant. Whether it’s good news or bad he quietly explains what’s happening in a measured tone that gives the impression he has all the time in the world just for you. I remember when I was learning aerobatics my instructor quietly said, as we spun towards the sea, “David it is time to recover this airplane.” Some professionals inspire confidence – Dr. De Zoysa is one of those.

I have to get this posted and prepare myself for lunch. I’m looking forward to that. Today is bacon and egg savory pie, some jelly and ice-cream, orange juice and a cup of tea. Sounds good and it usually is.

You have probably guessed I’m a bit of a Ward Two fan. If you break a leg skiing in Queenstown this winter or are having a baby in the Chatham Islands get yourself into Ward Two of North Shore Hospital. It is a renal ward but I’m picking they can probably do good legs and babies as well. Ward Two, you can’t beat it any day. They will know you are coming.

Targeted In – Never To Leave

Tuesday, June 26th, 2018

Remember the bad old days when the only thing harder than being selected to play rugby for New Zealand was getting out of the team when players were passed their best. There have been numerous examples of players being selected after their sell-by date. The reason is obvious. It is easy for selectors to add a player. Dropping a national icon like a Meads or a Shelford; now that is tough. But in many ways the dropping decisions measure a sport’s maturity and determine its right to walk on the world stage.

The decision to drop players is good because it clears a path for new talent and it tells old and new alike that only their very best will be good enough to stay in the team. The cost of delinquency will be high and immediate. There is no place for sentiment in elite world sport.

I was reminded of all that as I listened to Gary Francis bang-on about the Francis Plan. Athletes would be selected on the basis of the Francis Table of times. Once selected swimmers would be entitled to the best Swimming New Zealand (SNZ) could provide. But there was no discussion about being dropped, apart from an assurance your position was safe for two years. What a cop-out. A vital part of the plan was skipped over lightly. And the bit that wasn’t skipped over is open to deception and abuse.

Because SNZ already have a targeted team. It’s called the Aqua Blacks. The SNZ website tells me these are the twelve members of that team. I have excluded para members.

Bradlee Ashby Lewis Clareburt Carina Doyle Helena Gasson
Bobbi Gichard Daniel Hunter Corey Main Georgia Marris
Samuel Perry Bronagh Ryan Matthew Stanley Laticia-Leigh Transom

There are one or two names missing that I would have thought should have been on the list. Gabrielle Fa’amausili for example. However that is a subject for another day. Today’s question is those included in the team. Should they be there, or should they be dropped?

Now I have no idea of the personal drama going on in these people’s lives. You can only read the tea-leaves and wonder. But there are questions that Gary Francis should answer, questions that will demonstrate whether the SNZ elite program is in good hands and deserves to be taken seriously. Or is it instead just more of the backsliding that has led us nowhere for twenty years?

Bradlee Ashby for example. Three or four times a week I visit his training pool. On too many occasions recently I haven’t seen him at training. Is that because he is skipping workouts? The poolside gossip is that he has girlfriend problems. Who knows?  But he does not appear to be entered in the Opens. It is a bad look and raises the unfortunate spectre of dodging his new rival, Lewis Clareburt. Remember New Zealand’s greatest athletes – men like Loader, Walker, Dixon and Quax? They scoured the world looking for close competition. They would have enjoyed nothing better than to join in an Ashby/Clareburt-type scrap. Instead one half of the fight is away doing something else. If true, all that combined with the publicity mistakes made prior to Brisbane would have been enough for me to drop him from the team.

And Helena Gasson has some of the same questions to answer. It seems that her progress has stalled and now she is missing the National Championships. Is Francis issuing a strong “please explain” letter? Because if he doesn’t the program is not being managed the way it should.

Bobbi Gichard hasn’t swum a PB in the 100 or 200 backstroke since 2015. She has been through a variety of clubs and coaches which is never a good sign. Her only two entries in the Opens are a couple of relay swims. There is work for Gary Francis to do.

Georgia Marris also appears to be skipping the Opens. The list of New Zealand’s best swimmers who are dodging the event should be giving Francis cause for concern. But it won’t. All will be forgiven. SNZ is devoid of the character required to make the tough calls.

Goodness knows why Bronagh Ryan isn’t entered. Women’s breaststroke swimming in New Zealand is in a parlous state. It needs all the competition it can get. New Zealand swimming will be hurt by these defections. The look and the reality are terrible. Gary Francis would being doing the sport a big favour by addressing something this serious instead of spending money on reinventing tables that FINA does better and for free.

Matthew Stanley lives in Australia which may be some sort of excuse for missing the Championships. However these days the return flight from Brisbane ($809) is less than traveling from Invercargill ($934). Besides, SNZ should pay the fare for a swimmer of Stanley’s ability. The other sad feature of Stanley’s absence is it robs the Championships of a good race between the old guard (Stanley) and the new boys on the block (Reid and Clareburt). These matchups are the making of a sport. It’s a pity SNZ gets it wrong every time.

And finally Laticia-Leigh Transom isn’t swimming. The same Australian comments made in respect of Stanley apply in her case.

So what Gary Francis has on his hands is a targeted Aqua Blacks team of twelve swimmers. Of these, seven are not swimming in the National Open Championships or are only entered in a couple of relays. Just imagine Steve Hansen’s reaction if a majority of the All Black squad found a reason not to play. All hell would break loose. But in swimming it won’t be a problem. Johns and Francis will find excuses to sweep the mutiny of New Zealand’s best swimmers under the carpet. Leadership requires courage. In my view Johns and Francis don’t have the strength of character to initiate the bold response required. And in the process swimming in New Zealand will become another step poorer.