Saudi Swimming – A Litany of Disaster

 Swimming New Zealand (SNZ) should look closely at Saudi Arabia swimming. That is where the policies being followed by SNZ are leading. Take a look New Zealand. Perceive the future. Why? Because, in my opinion, the problems present in the Saudi Kingdom have been caused by a New Zealander, pursuing typical SNZ policies.

My only satisfaction is that in the year I spent in Saudi Arabia I told them this is the ruin their disastrous policies would cause. The day I left to return to New Zealand I emailed the President and the CEO of the Saudi Federation a 5000 word report on reforms I thought were desperately needed. Here are the recommendations I made at the end of that report.

Recommendation One – Continue to promote Sibaha learn to swim.
The program is good but should be simplified in order to allow more independent schools to become Sibaha compliant. The policy should aim to spread the Sibaha initiative and not make it so exclusive that no one can qualify.
Recommendation Two – Abandon the SASF involvement in direct learn to swim and focus on promoting independent Sibaha compliant swim schools.
The SASF is best involved in promoting and policing the business of swimming. Independent private contractors can be responsible for day to day operations. By focusing on and lifting the standards of private operators the SASF will be more effective.
Recommendation Three – Abolish short term foreign coaching and foreign training camps
KSA swimming must be run by KSA people. Bringing in a foreigner once a year is not going to do that. The function required is to turn KSA based coaches into international coaches capable of high performance coaching.
Recommendation Four – Appoint a Head Coach with a new role
Appoint a coach with responsibility to coach KSA coaches – to improve the coaching environment and performance and to tutor KSA coaches in the importance of a 40/20/40 aerobic, anaerobic and speed training balance
Recommendation Five – Change amount of work
Introduce minimum weekly training distances and introduce penalties for non-compliance and rewards for compliance.
Recommendation Six – More competition
Make available a racing program of about 100 races per annum. Introduce two national championships and an inter-city league championship
Recommendation Seven – Website, Records and Results
Design an effective website that provides swimmers with current and relevant information and news and especially prepare national age group and open swimming records.
Recommendation Eight – Involve non-KSA born swimmers
Investigate with the KSA Olympic Committee, FINA and other KSA government agencies the practicality of allowing non-born Saudi residents to be members of KSA national swim teams.
Recommendation Nine – A coach driven environment
Undertake initiatives recommended in this Review that promote the importance and responsibilities associated with coaching in the KSA. To produce a coach driven sport.

As you can see several of these recommendations are very similar to the policy changes promoted on this website for New Zealand. In particular the recommendations shown in the table below apply to New Zealand swimming.

Recommendation Two – Abandon the SASF involvement in direct learn to swim and focus on promoting independent Sibaha compliant swim schools.

Recommendation Three – Abolish short term foreign coaching and foreign training camps

Recommendation Four – Appoint a Head Coach with a new role

Recommendation Five – Change amount of work

Recommendation Nine – A coach driven environment

Of course the President and the New Zealand CEO of Saudi swimming paid no attention to the Report or its recommendations. The CEO knew as much about swimming as Johns and Coterill. In my view the CEO’s performance, over the four or five years he was there, was equally catastrophic. For all the good my Report did, both of them must have pushed “Delete” the minute my email arrived. Not one of the recommendations was even attempted.

So what was the result of their blind ignorance? Well, when I was in Saudi Arabia I was told every effort had to go into getting Saudi swimmers to perform well at the 2018 Asian Games. This is where Saudi Arabia’s reputation was on the line. This is where Saudi Arabia had to be seen as a successful sporting nation. National honour and prestige were at stake in Jakarta. More than the Olympics even, it was important for Saudi Arabia to be seen as successful in a meeting of its Asian brother nations.

Well, this week the Asian Games swimming has been held. How did Saudi Arabia get on? Did the policies followed by the New Zealand CEO work? Did he earn the inflated income he asked the Saudi’s to pay? Did Saudi swimming stand proudly alongside China and Japan? Sadly, no, it was a disaster for the Kingdom.

From a population of 32.6 million – but only 16.3 million count because, unbelievably, women are not allowed to swim – the selectors were only able to name a team of one. That’s pretty sad until you remember that New Zealand could only find two home swimmers capable of swimming in the Pan Pacific Games. As I said look at Saudi Arabia SNZ and see your future if you continue with the destructive policies of the past decade.

The table below shows the results achieved by the one Saudi representative.

Name of Swimmer Event Time Place in Event
Bu Arish 50 Free 24.39 31st
Bu Arish 100 Fly 57.84 27th
Bu Arish 50 Fly 25.74 30th
Bu Arish 100 Free Failed to start N/A

Clearly, after spending a fortune on an imported New Zealand CEO, whatever reforms the New Zealander convinced the Saudis to try, didn’t work. He dismissed local coaches out of hand, just like SNZ. He imported foreign Head Coaches whose commitment to Saudi swimming was deeply suspect, just like SNZ. Instead of a coach led sport he had a bunch of Head Office ignorant bureaucrats telling swimming people how the sport should be run, just like SNZ. The Saudis got my Report for free. Pursuing its findings would have yielded a better Asian Games result. But the principal lesson from all this is the absolute certainty that the policies being followed by Johns and Cotterill are leading us inevitably to the same Saudi fate.

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