The Worm Turns

 A week ago Swimwatch posted an article that discussed the rampant political correctness overtaking New Zealand sport. Here is the Swimwatch link to that story.

I was beginning to despair. Cycling, rowing, netball and hockey were turning themselves inside out because a few sensitive wallflowers couldn’t hack being told to shape up or ship out. The wallflowers were being aided by a clueless class of bureaucratic sports’ administrators. Typical of that breed are Steve Johns from swimming and Ian Francis from hockey. The overpaid CEO’s of New Zealand sport rush in front of television cameras to assure Peter Miskimmin that their sport would get to the bottom of some new coaching carnage. Sport after sport tried to excel at being the most concerned about the mistreatment of the wallflowers.

But this week it seems the worm has turned. Common sense has begun to return. It started with seven of New Zealand’s best hockey players writing a letter of support for their coach. Good on them. It is impossible to know what goes on behind the scenes in situations like this. But from the outside, Mark Hager, the long-time women’s hockey coach, seems like a pretty straight up and down bloke; a bit old school perhaps but that’s a coaching benefit from all I’ve seen. So, well done to the seven women who sought to give hockey back some honesty and some backbone.

Their letter was followed by a series of three articles; two in the New Zealand Herald and one in Stuff. All three made the same point Swimwatch made a week earlier. This cry of, “I’ve been bullied” was nothing but fake news and political correctness run riot.

The first article was by Mike Hosking. I have to tell you I find almost everything about that man objectionable. From his ridiculously permed hair to his hard right-wing political views he is thoroughly offensive to me. I even voted in the petition to have him thrown off the leader’s debate prior to the last General Election.

However, on this occasion, I find myself in agreement with Mike Hosking. Here is a, much summarised, version of what he said.

I am very pleased to see some sort of rear-guard action from the hockey players who don’t think Mark Hagar is an ogre.

I have refrained from saying anything due to the fact I am merely a hockey fan not an insider, but there was always a sneaking suspicion, watching the complaints of the aggrieved, that there just might be a little bit of personal softness driving the overall upset.

So it is with much relief we hear today from former players who have penned an open letter in defense of the coach.

Yes, he’s hard. Yes he’s demanding. But guess what?

This is elite sport and that’s what separates the winners from the losers.

The second New Zealand Herald article was written by Anendra Singh, the Hawke’s Bay Today sports editor. Here is some of what he said.

Are our sport coaches bullies or is it simply a case of political correctness gone mad?

The recent case of Black Sticks women’s hockey coach, Mark Hager, brings to head a rash of incidents where elite players have put their mentors under scrutiny over alleged inappropriate behavior.

Without all sides of the story, it’s difficult to ascertain culpability.

And finally Ian Anderson on the stuff website has this to say.

Culture seems to be the key word now for New Zealand sporting organizations. Winning seems to be the key determinant for funding for New Zealand sporting organizations. So what takes precedence – or can the two co-exist?

Last week’s email error from women’s Black Sticks coach Mark Hager sent Hockey New Zealand down the review road, where it could meet for coffee with Cycling NZ, Rowing NZ, Netball NZ and NZ Football.

​On the Gold Coast in April, the Black Sticks basked in a golden glow at the Commonwealth Games gold medal. None of the players at the top of the podium seemed aggrieved that Hager had overseen a breakthrough tournament win.

While no one wants their flaws exposed to others, if your coach says you’re not training hard enough, the obvious course of action would be to train harder.

NZ’s sprint cyclists won a handful of medal at the Commonwealth Games.

Since then, head sprint coach Anthony Peden stepped down from his job among complaints from athletes and staff which included bullying, drinking and an inappropriate relationship with an athlete.

It’s understood the best-performed members of the NZ track team – sprinters Eddie Dawkins and Sam Webster, the country’s most prolific medal-winners on a bike – had no issues with Peden.

Athletes rightly require an avenue to voice their concerns over mistreatment and bullying, as does every employee – the relationship between coach and sportsperson cannot be a fully dictatorial one.

Yet the line between being in charge and being a bully in cajoling sporting endeavors may not be easily determined by those athletes in a high-pressure environment.

I am all too aware of what’s it is like to be wrongly accused. I am all too aware of what it is like to be denied common justice by a National Federation. I know swimming has treated coaches like dirt for ten years. I am in the middle of just such a case. The sort of people we have running swimming would throw their grandmother under a bus if it furthered their bloated lifestyle. There is no justice in the decisions they make, no decency, no standard of right and wrong; just a vacant void of self-interest and greed. But the problem is wider than me. These people who are denying providing access to my investigator’s report, who breach the sport’s Code of Conduct and who deny me any semblance of natural justice, would do the same to you.

From this very personal perspective I am delighted the worm in sport is beginning to turn. I am pleased some commentators and good athletes have had the courage and common sense to take a stand on behalf of the good men and women who have coached New Zealand sport.

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