What Happens Next?

It has been an interesting week. The Swimming Wellington (SW) Board had to admit they had been managing the business with an unconstitutional number of Board members. A 139 page report was distributed to the Wellington swimming community. There seems to be little dispute; SW behaved badly. The questions are, should there be consequences and what should they be?

It seems to me that members of the Wellington Board are collectively responsible for the events that occurred during their watch. The error of allowing an unconstitutional Board to govern is serious. It is not something that can, or should, be swept under the carpet. Redress needs to be done and needs to be seen to be done. I don’t see any option but for delegates at the Wellington Annual General Meeting to elect a new Board. The current Board has forfeited its right to govern. No one on the current Board should stand for re-election let alone be re-elected. If the old Board was prepared to govern unconstitutionally, what else has it done that we don’t know about? It is time for Wellington to find six new people, untainted by this scandal.

But there are others who must share the blame. In my view Swimming New Zealand (SNZ) is equally guilty. Remember they were asked to approve a request from Wellington for the Board to stay at seven members. SNZ gave that approval. There is nothing wrong with that. SNZ has the constitutional authority to make that decision. However SNZ was negligent when it did nothing about the failure of SW to obtain the approval of their members for the change. In my view, that neglect makes the Board of SNZ as remiss as the Board of SW.

There are too many occasions when the Board of SNZ disregards its responsibilities. They have done it on this occasion and they are still doing it by refusing to provide me with the report into the complaint about my coaching. And there should be consequences. SNZ Board members who approved the SW request should resign or be fired. Their actions have brought the sport into disrepute. For that there is a price that should be paid.

But is standing down the Board of SW and several members of the SNZ Board enough? Remember what these guys did. They operated the Board unconstitutionally. They conspired with SNZ for an unconstitutional Board to continue without the approval of the membership. When they were caught there was no sign of apology or contrition. Instead there was an attack on Swimwatch for pointing out their unconstitutional behaviour. It seems the Boards of SW and SNZ have learned nothing from this experience. They remain as arrogantly unrepentant as ever.

The purpose of punishment is to sanction bad behaviour and prevent it being repeated. I doubt that standing down members of these two Boards will achieve those goals. In the 139 pages distributed to Wellington members there is no sign of apology or repentance. All that can be seen is the egotism that caused their misbehaviour. Therefore I would recommend that some legal way is found to prevent the Board members involved in this fiasco from serving on any company or society board for one year. I’m no lawyer but there seems to be plenty of allowance in the Registered Societies Act for this to be achieved.

A clear message needs to be sent to all swimming administrators that you cannot operate unconstitutionally, you cannot ignore the membership and you cannot hide behind blaming the media for your bad behaviour. For these reasons a one year ban from all positions of management seems to be entirely appropriate.

For a long time Swimwatch has pointed out swimming’s management shortcomings. This episode proves that view was right. Events in Wellington contain lessons of value throughout the country. What other Regions have unconstitutional Boards? We know Auckland has five members on a Board requiring six. Manawatu appears to have seven members on a Board constitutionally limited to six; Wellington’s problem. And Board members like Lin Tozer and Bronwen Radford skirt with the rules by sitting on Regional Boards and working as club coaches at the same time. Lawyers can excuse or justify some of this bad behaviour. Just look at the effort the SNZ lawyer has made to explain away SW’s and SNZ’s actions in this case. But the reality and purpose of the rules should not be avoided by legal manipulation.

If six members is the approved constitutional limit then six members it should be. If the purpose of the rule is to prevent coaches associated with a swimming club sitting on Regional Boards then that is what should happen. No manipulation of employment contracts should allow the rule to be avoided. In my view that is dishonest.

Swimming in New Zealand is being badly managed. It is the ultimate irony that administrators happily disqualify a seven year old for a slight breaststroke hook and sit for years around a table with an unconstitutional Board. Ask them about the disqualification and you would be told that the rules are the rules. Young swimmers have to learn. But apply that logic to their behaviour and, oh no, it’s the fault of Swimwatch.

Remember when the Chairman of SNZ, Bret Layton used his annual report to rip into Swimwatch for pointing out that SNZ had lied on Lauren Boyle’s world record application. In my opinion he used legal niceties to excuse poor management and bad behaviour. What SW and SNZ have done in this case is not new.

Wellington members have an opportunity, at their AGM, to clean house and in the process send a message to the sport that poor management decisions will not be tolerated. For all that’s good in the sport of swimming I hope they take that chance. If those responsible for the chaos in SW are not severely sanctioned, poor administrators will see it as a license for them to misbehave.

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