Those Damn Lists

The SNZ Antares Place Trinity

I see British journalist and one of the world’s leading swimming reform advocates, Craig Lord, has just published an article on the Swimvortex Facebook page. Some readers may remember that Craig Lord was the guy who almost single-handedly managed to get FINA to ban full-length swim suits. Swimming is a better sport because of Craig Lord. His views deserve our respect.

His most recent article discusses the publication of the British Swimming Squad list for 2018/2019. Craig Lord points out the failings of Federation prepared lists. For example Commonwealth Champion, Aimee Willmott, is dropped from the British list because she did not swim a PB this season. Hannah Miley, another Commonwealth Champion, is also dropped for the same reason. You have to wonder at the gulf in performance between the UK and New Zealand. Swimming bureaucrats in the UK drop two Commonwealth Champions. New Zealand bureaucrats are dancing in the street when the whole country can only muster one bronze medal. Both are wrong. And both are wrong for the same reason.

In both cases bureaucrats, who know very little about swimming, are made responsible for decisions way above their pay grade. In the case of New Zealand, Chairman Cotterill, does some recreational triathlons. CEO Steve Johns was a mediocre pool swimmer at high school. Gary Francis coached an Auckland age-group club squad. Nothing in their past equips them to decide the fate of the country’s best swimmers.

As we have argued in Swimwatch the problem is also the subjective nature of the lists. It is the worst of all worlds. Incompetent people are producing worthless lists based on a flawed policy. And the solution is so very simple. Drop the lists, drop the training camps, except before a major event, and as Craig Lord says make “team selection a professional exercise in which the winner wins the day and gets funded until defeated, fair and square.”

We all know that in New Zealand idiots are running the asylum. It sounds like the UK might be as bad. Take for example two decisions announced by Swimming New Zealand (SNZ) this week. The first told us that SNZ was putting on a training camp junket in Auckland. The second said that the swimmers selected to represent New Zealand at the World Short Course Championships would each have to pay $5000. SNZ pay a fortune to drag swimmers up to Auckland for a week of fun and games and at the same time charge the nation’s best swimmers $5000 to represent the country at a World Championships. That is not right.

In forty years coaching I have yet to see a training camp, anywhere in the world, that does any good. This one will be no better. Toni Jeffs walked out of one SNZ camp. The first day’s warm up began with several 200 butterfly swims. Toni was a New Zealand 50 butterfly champion but I never asked her to do 200s in the warm up. The whole thing was a sick joke that took no account of the individual circumstances of the athlete. I didn’t blame her for pulling the pin on the whole thing. Since that experience I have never allowed a swimmer of mine to attend a SNZ camp – unless it was immediately before a major competition.

SNZ camps are run either by coaches who are obsessed with demonstrating how tough they are and set mammoth schedules that require a month recovery when the swimmer gets home or by feel-good coaches intent on having swimmers enjoy their week in the big city. The games they play might be fun. Everyone might leave saying how wonderful it all was. But, either way, camps are a waste of time and money. Swimmers would improve more by staying at home, doing their normal work.

But what about the money? Well that would be better spent paying the full cost of attending the World Championships. If a swimmer is good enough to represent the country they should have their air fare and accommodation paid for. Some of the stuff SNZ has done to swimmers is disgusting. When Nichola Chellingworth was first selected to swim for New Zealand in the Pan Pacific Games she received a detailed invoice for user-pays items. Included on the invoice were three SNZ caps. SNZ expected national representatives to pay for their SNZ caps. That is about as low as it gets. But that’s what they did.

On another occasion two swimmers that I ended up coaching, Jane Copland and Rhi Jeffrey, were selected to swim in a Pan Pacific Games in Yokohama. Both got through to finals. In fact Jane broke a NZ record as part of the 4×100 Medley Relay. When they got home Rhi was, quite rightly, sent a USA Swimming cheque for her success. When Jane arrived home she was welcomed back with a SNZ invoice for $3000 for the user pays portion of her trip. No wonder the Americans beat us to death.

And it’s not about how much money the Federations receive. It is what they spend it on that matters. They can waste it on training camps or spend it on eliminating the punitive cost of representing the country. Of course right now the training camp option will always win. A training camp provides Johns and Francis with the opportunity to strut around the pool for a week beating their chests and boasting about the wonderful job they are doing. Who knows, if they are really lucky a reporter from the NZ Herald may do a story on their wonderful camp. What’s in it for the bureaucrats? That is what the whole thing is really about. That is what our money is being spent to promote.

Craig Lord concludes his article by asking British administrators this question. “Which of you have taken a pay cut for this failure; which of you have been forced to look for another job because you ‘underperformed’? Wow, would I love to get the chance to ask the Father, Son and Holy Ghost that run SNZ that question. They put on training camps for their own deification, they get paid way more than they earn and at the same time they charge workers, like Hunter and Perry, $5000 to represent the country. There is something really sick about our values when that’s our idea of justice.

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