A Sign of Reform – But Beware

On the 11th August Andrew Alderson wrote an article in the NZ Herald that discussed the possibility of reform at High Performance Sport New Zealand (HPSNZ). A summarised version of his article is shown in the table below.

For those wanting to read the article in full, here is the NZ Herald link. https://www.nzherald.co.nz/sport/news/article.cfm?c_id=4&objectid=12105378

High Performance Sport New Zealand has proposed a restructure which could result in job losses and a revision of roles at the organisation.

The news is the latest chapter in a tumultuous series of recent events within the sporting sector. A series of reviews are ongoing, and key staff such as cycling coach Anthony Peden, football coach Andreas Heraf and rowing high performance manager Alan Cotter have been high profile exits from their respective NSOs.

HPSNZ is faced with reassessing the fundamental values of sport in this country and whether the desire for medals or tournament victories has trumped athlete well-being.

The revelation of a restructure comes after Grant Robertson, the minister for sport and recreation, rebutted the theme of journalist Dylan Cleaver’s “Midweek Fixture” column in Friday’s Herald.

Cleaver wrote that New Zealand sport is “fundamentally broken” because of an outdated HPSNZ funding model that “denies access to taxpayer dollars for those who do not achieve results in pinnacle events”.

Robertson took issue with that premise, but then concurred with several of Cleaver’s points.

That, combined with the proposed restructure which the ministry must be aware of, suggests work is required to fix – or at least re-adjust – the priorities of the country’s sporting landscape.

Scott has taken the initiative. Now sports fans await the results of his endeavours.

Whenever I hear news that Swimming New Zealand (SNZ) or Sport New Zealand are about to undergo reform my spirits soar in the hope that something better is about to occur. Swimwatch readers will be aware that the appointment of Gary Francis caused one such burst of optimism. Alas it was not to be.

The business of sport is full of reforms that are cons designed to consolidate bureaucratic power or to convince gullible shareholders that better days are ahead. Swimming has had both of these.

The 2011 Moller Report was an example of the first. Brian Palmer and Bronwen Radford fell for Miskimmin’s ruse and naively agreed to a course of action that ruined the sport for a generation. With barely a nod towards democracy Miskimmin and his subordinates consolidated their autocratic grip on power. Remember when Moller told the SNZ General Meeting that all his reforms had to be accepted or none at all. Remember when he demanded that Brian Palmer be sacked from his position as Auckland CEO. Mind you he was probably right about that. In my opinion the Palmer and Radford legacy in swimming will forever be tainted by their capitulation to the 2011 Miskimmin con.

The appointment of Gary Francis is an example of the second type of sport’s con. It was a classic Clayton’s reform. Preceded by the big announcement and introduced by a series of information meetings, it has all the appearance of reform but nothing has changed. The SNZ centralised program continues on and the random selection of young swimmers remains much as it was before. A pampered few continue to cost millions of our dollars. A cossetted and babied minority live like royalty while the rest of the sport starves. The joke that passes as administration in swimming has stayed exactly the same; the same cars, the same $100,000 salaries, the same unnecessary junkets, the same bloated staff numbers, the same chronic waste. The only visible change is the added cost of the Francis’ salary. I suspect the current investigations into rowing, football, cycling, netball and HPSNZ will be similarly cosmetic.

The centralised training policy imposed by Miskimmin in all these sports is the problem. And that is not going to change. Miskimmin will employ every con available to preserve that feature of New Zealand sport. That policy is the foundation of his iron grip on power. As swimming has shown, centralised preparation is riddled with waste and fails to yield results. But it does very successfully concentrate and consolidate bureaucratic power. That’s what Miskimmin likes and that’s why it is not going to change.

The Miskimmin emphasis on centralised preparation has had an unfortunate side effect. The concentration of power and inflated salaries for little real responsibility has attracted the particularly incompetent to careers in sports management. Average high school students go off to study “Sport Management” in some regional polytechnic.  They emerge with a “trade certificate” – they call it a degree, but it is not – and then arrogantly set off to wield disproportionate power over organisations whose Boards are amateur part-timers and don’t really care about results. As a consequence the average sport in New Zealand is badly managed. Duncan Laing was right. Learning management along the lamb-line or boning room of your average freezing works produced a better manager than the business babble bullshit that passes as management in SNZ.

Just look at some of the decisions that these so called managers have made recently. Rowing New Zealand told Eric Murray he couldn’t come back to New Zealand for the birth of his child because soldiers at war had to stay in the field. The way the sport treated Emma Twigg showed a similar disregard for common decency. The decision of SNZ to deny me access to the results of an investigation into a complaint about my coaching was also wrong and dictatorial and disregarded all acceptable management standards. Those responsible for a decision like that should be doing something else in life. Instead SNZ pays them well in excess of $100,000 and sends them on junkets to Japan.

And finally, centralised training combined with poor management has produced a pampered class of athlete babies. The recent string of complaints about being yelled at are a typical product of the cosseted class that results from the fawning treatment athletes are being educated to expect. It is certainly not the way to win Olympic medals. That is a game for tough men and women, something Miskimmin’s empire knows very little about.

There is much more that could be written on the subject of Miskimmin’s folly. Why was Lauren Boyle’s world championship only worth $60,000 when Steve Johns is paid more than twice that every year? Why are 41 people paid over $100,000 in HPSNZ? The slippery slope just goes on and on.

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