In The Course Of Justice

I see that Swimming Wellington has issued their final letter on the subject of disciplinary proceedings conducted in relation to the ex-coach of the Masterton Swimming Club. The letter, dated the 10 August, tells us that the coach committed the following transgressions.

  1. The coach gave a swimmer an energy drink and told her not to tell her parents.
  2. The coach showed a swimmer her phone that contained obscenities.
  3. The coach attempted to block the Swimming Wellington investigation.
  4. The coach excluded some swimmers from information and activities.

For this list of crimes the coach has been suspended from coaching in Wellington for a year and has to complete an approved counselling session. All that seems fair enough. Certainly Swimming Wellington appears to have done their best to follow correct and open procedures in relation to the investigation and dispensing justice. The coach appears to have been kept properly informed throughout the investigation and decision process.

What I want to do here is question the role Steve Johns and Nevill Sutton played in the investigation. Nevill Sutton is the Chairman of the New Zealand Swim Coaches and Teachers Association (NZSCTA). He lives in Wellington and is on the Swimming Wellington Disputes and Disciplinary Panel. He was also copied with the final letter in his role as the NZSCTA Chairman. In other words he was up to his eyeballs in the case, I suspect thoroughly obsessed with beating up on a miscreant coach.

Whether Sutton should be a member of the disciplinary panel at the same time as he is Chairman of the NZSCTA union charged, in part, with the coach’s protection is a problem. In most circles, I suspect, that would be called a conflict of interest. But that doesn’t seem to worry Sutton.

And that behaviour, in my opinion, has been pretty typical of Sutton during his, far too long, tenure as the NZSCTA Chairman. When there is a chance to curry favour with those in power by beating up on the weak Sutton, is in there, with bells and whistles. Of course Sutton would stand on his soap box and claim he was protecting the reputation of all New Zealand’s coaches. The one bad apple had to be dealt with.

But when it is difficult Sutton is not so tough. Tough? He is more like a marshmallow. Remember when he was going to defend the sacking of Donna Bouzaid and Gary Hurring? That died a death. Remember his pathetic response to the decision to continue using the shallow end of the Kilbirnie Pool. That was pathetic. In my opinion he is weak and ineffectual. Sadly the lack of leadership means that the NZSCTA is equally ineffective as a union representing New Zealand coaches.

Let’s test my theory, shall we? I am involved in a disciplinary case with Swimming New Zealand (SNZ). The accusations made against me were far worse than the Masterton case. Giving a swimmer a can of V doesn’t get anywhere near what I was accused of. SNZ decided to investigate and, for three days, I was interrogated by their independent investigator. A report was sent to SNZ and it was buried. Before the investigation SNZ promised to give me a copy but that never happened. They lied. On the basis of their promise and common justice I asked for a copy of the report. Steve Johns declined my request. The Privacy Commissioner is currently investigating that decision.

If ever a case screamed injustice this one does. I incurred substantial costs defending myself against trumped up accusations. I was made promises that were never kept. I assume I was cleared of the charges, but I don’t know. None of that matters to those who run SNZ. As far as they are concerned I am not entitled to see the final decision.

And so Nevill Sutton here is a case for you to investigate. Why do I pay my $100 NZSCTA annual membership? Not just to get into the National Championships. I want to be represented. I want the union to protect my employment conditions. What are you going to do about it? You showed how tough you were beating up on a Masterton coach for handing out a can of V. Let’s see if you are as tough in dealing with Steve Johns. You can beat up on New Zealand coaches. Can you defend them?

My guess is, not a chance. Bravery and principle are not the first words than spring to my mind when I think of Nevill Sutton. But we will see.

Which brings me to Steve Johns. I see he has been copied with the Wellington final letter. If Wellington or anyone else thinks they will get justice from that quarter, forget it. Remember this is the guy who reneged on a SNZ promise to provide me with a copy of the report into the accusations made against me. On the basis of that evidence, I wouldn’t trust a word he says. If he can lie about that he can lie about anything. Cotterill should be equally ashamed. As Chairman he has a duty to ensure the staff in his organisation honour their commitments. In this instance he has not done that. Even if I had not been given the assurance of access to the report, the laws of privacy and natural justice require Cotterill to insist that I am provided with the report. All those fine words Cotterill writes and speaks mean nothing when the organisation he runs is a cesspool of dishonesty. The pair of them couldn’t lie straight in bed.

And so, apart from avoiding handing out cans of V to your swimmers, what are the lessons from the Masterton case? In my opinion the case teaches us very little about coaching behaviour. One of the complaints isn’t even about coaching. It’s about obstruction of justice. Two of the other three are hardly capital crimes. Most coaches have given a swimmer a soft drink occasionally and treat conscientious swimmers better than others. I bought Eyad a cup of coffee this morning and asked him if his parents would approve. Worse than that SNZ saw me do it. Does that earn me a year’s suspension? Of course not.

As for treating conscientious swimmers better, I did read recently where Michael Phelps’ coach, Bob Bowman, said, “Of course dedicated swimmers get preferential treatment. For a start they are at training more often. If you want to improve your individual skills, working with someone one on one is very effective. I advise talking with the coach of your team to set it up, but I think it’s very good.” He is right. I talk to Eyad more often than the once a week fitness swimmer. By definition he is treated differently. Does that mean Bowman and I should serve one year bans?  Of course not.

Obscenities on the coach’s phone sounds like the worst charge. It was a dumb move to put obscenities beside club members names and even dumber to show them to one of the swimmers. Whether that justifies a year’s suspension and a lifetime reputation wound is doubtful.

But, when compared to my case, what Masterton does do is highlight how badly we are served by our masters. Nevill Sutton, Bruce Cotterill and Steve Johns have behaved appallingly. They are as sanctimonious as saints when it comes to a squabble in rural Wairarapa but disappear like cowards when the going gets tough. Sutton will feel as proud as punch; a judicial giant that has been able to beat up on a small-town swim coach. But will he take on Steve Johns in a case of real injustice? Not bloody likely is the answer to that. No wonder the sport is in a mess.

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