Downhill & Picking Up Speed

 I imagine even the sternest Swimwatch critic would agree that a central theme of much that is written here has been the damage caused to New Zealand sport by the funding policies of Peter Miskimmin. I even have an email from the CEO of Swimming New Zealand (SNZ) acknowledging this blogs role as a critic. The SNZ Chairman used his Annual Report to recognise our critical contribution.

Sadly their appreciation has not done us much good. Oh, we did manage to call for the removal of Jan Cameron before she was asked to leave. We did assist in turning down Project Vanguard; not that we wanted the Moller Report that followed. Few would doubt that the decision to abandon the shallow end of the Kilbirnie Pool was influenced by Swimwatch. And most recently the Clayton decision to change the SNZ high performance program has been a central theme of this blog for a decade.

While SNZ bureaucrats sit in Antares Place, fiddling while Rome burns, change has always come too late and at a huge cost. But their apparent incompetence is not entirely their fault. You see Cotterill, Johns and Francis have a master that they must obey. His name is Peter Miskimmin, the CEO of Sport New Zealand. Even when they know Miskimmin is wrong they lack the power, the will and the courage to do anything about it. Their wages, their motorcars, their lives are bought and paid for by Miskimmin. They are bonded slaves to their Sport NZ master and it shows.

But SNZ is not alone. Many Miskimmin sports exhibit the same flaws. Recently we have seen turmoil in cycling, football, hockey, rowing, netball and triathlon. Swimming may have led the collapse but others are following fast. Swimwatch may have predicted the failure but the main stream media is now on the case. The most recent example is an article written by Andrew Alderson in the NZ Herald this weekend. In it he reports on an interview with triathlon coach Chris Pilone. Here is a summarized version of the Alderson story. For those wanting to read the whole thing here is the link.

Frustrations with Triathlon New Zealand’s accountability have seen one of the sport’s finest coaches break his silence. Chris Pilone said the sport “should not be the recipient of public money” as a result.

“I think unless Triathlon New Zealand can… move away from ‘Masons Society’ principles there will be further problems within the sport.

“I know they are conducting some sort of internal review and hope this is a sign they are moving towards operating in a clearer and more transparent manner.”

Pilone’s comments follow the resignation of high performance director Mark Elliott. The organisation sent out a statement at 9.07pm on Monday, but offered no opportunity to question the decision via media.

Pilone said his recent dealings with Elliott differed markedly with previous experiences.

“Prior to the first four months of this year I had a very high opinion of Mark both as a person and also in his role as high performance director for various sports in New Zealand over a number of years.”

Pilone stressed the issue was wider than just one person or one organisation.

“In New Zealand, the only measure of success we have for the high performance programmes of the various Olympic sports appears to be medals at major championships.

Beard said they care about their people and participants.

“This includes our elite athletes. There will be an ongoing effort to improve. Triathlon will continue to work hard in this space and participate in any future collaborative efforts that aim to enhance the elite athlete environment.”

Pilone appreciated that on the face of it New Zealand sport had enjoyed plenty of medals success at recent Olympics and world championships.

“However, I have some reservations about how the whole the high performance environment works in Olympic sports. Events at Triathlon New Zealand over the last six years have done nothing to cause me to revise those concerns.”

All that seems pretty clear. A practical, successful coach is pissed off with the national federation. Sound familiar? It should, swimming has dozens of “Pilones” who feel the same frustration. Rowing had one and he resigned, cycling had two and they both caught a taxi to Auckland Airport, hockey has one and he is under the hammer – and football? Well who knows what goes on in New Zealand football?

It is a mess. Miskimmin caused the problem. Spineless bureaucrats, appointed in his image, slavishly obey his orders. And when knowledgeable people, like Pilone, voice their concerns all they get in return is empty management speak like “continue to work hard in this space” and “enhance the elite athlete environment”.

Cotterill, Johns and Francis are full of that jargon. Not that it does the sport any good. The three of them have had a year since the last Short Course National Championships. What have they accomplished? Bugger all is the answer. One Commonwealth Games bronze medal and that’s it. Don’t tell me about promising juniors. There are always promising juniors. That is not the measure of Cotterill, Francis and Johns’ success.

The Short Course Nationals begin this week. Of the 34 events, 20 (59%) of the fastest entry times, are slower than the winning times at last year’s Short Course Nationals. 53% of the fastest women entered are slower than last year and 65% of the fastest men are slower. But of even more concern than this year’s fastest entry times being slower than last year is the appalling drop in the depth of the entries. In almost every event the average of the top eight entry times are slower than the average of the eight finalists in last year’s championships.

Another way of saying the same thing is; in excess of $300,000 of our money has been spent on the wages of two bureaucrats in the past 12 months and in that time a majority of the events contested at the national championships have got worse. We need to face the fact that Francis and Johns are incapable of reversing the decline. With one small change I repeat the words of Chris Pilone, “Events at (Swimming) New Zealand over the last six years have done nothing to cause me to revise those concerns.”

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