The Almighty Dollar

 Some readers may wonder what is at the heart of our criticism of Swimming New Zealand (SNZ). The answer lies in the boring and dusty tomes of political philosophy. You see it is our belief that private enterprise is the best way of structuring competitive sport. That does not mean we support doctrinal right-wing bigotry in all areas of New Zealand life. In fact the government has a vital role to play in managing areas responsible for the weaker member of society. For the young, society should provide free education, for the sick, society should provide a free health service and for the elderly, society should provide for their care.

But elite competitive sport is not populated by weak members of society. Private enterprise is the vehicle best suited to providing world class competitive sport. The USA has the most private of private club-based competitive swimming structures and is the world’s strongest swimming nation. Most importantly a private enterprise environment allows for vital structural diversity. Swimmers can choose between a variety of clubs and programs depending on their interest and program preference. Market diversity is best and vital for providing a healthy, strong, competitive and elite sport.

Sadly the CEO of Sport NZ, Peter Miskimmin, does not see it that way. Instead of using his power and money to encourage and strengthen sporting private enterprise, he has focused on building a huge socialist empire. Millions have been poured into centralised structures under the control of sporting federations. Why has he taken that option?

The only reason I can think of is his wish to promote his own power, power that allows him to control a personal sporting empire. From day one Miskimmin spent the government’s millions on building huge sporting bureaucracies. In sport after sport MIskimmin increased the size of national federation head offices. That did not make sport more efficient but it did multiply Miskimmin’s empire and his influence. In every case the people employed were Miskimmin clones bought and paid for by central government. And when it was done Miskimmin controlled the sport. In swimming for example Johns and Francis know that without Miskimmin’s money they don’t get paid. The same reliance is apparent in football, cycling, rowing and triathlon. Thanks to high profile and independent Willis, Adams and Walsh, athletics has largely avoided Miskimmin’s snare.

Having established control of the head offices of the main Olympic sports Miskimmin set about his next step. He started promoting centralised training centers under the control of and managed by coaches employed by national federations. Simple really; Miskimmin controls the head office; the head office controls the national training center; ipso facto Miskimmin controls the training provided by most of New Zealand’s Olympic sports.

This example of rampant socialism represented by Miskimmin’s policy will not work, certainly not in main stream Olympic sports like swimming and athletics. And the introduction of the Francis Folly will not change that truth. Antares Place still has far too much control over the provision of swimming training. Squad lists of privileged swimmers and worthless national training camps have not changed. From all that I see the promised demise of the centralised training squad hasn’t happened. Certainly the coaching intern and squad swimmers are still occupying lanes at the national training center.

Centralisation will fail for a number of reasons. As we have said, it fails to provide the competitive diversity so vital to sporting success. Centralisation compromises the life-blood of sport – competition. In almost every decision made by SNZ competition is compromised. For example, artificial regions have compromised club competition. And second, the people employed are not fit to lead the sport. They were employed for their obedience, not their competence. They are overpaid to buy their loyalty to the Miskimmin cause. CEO after CEO of sports in New Zealand are plaster clones of one another. The expression, “couldn’t run a piss up in a brewery” was invented for Miskimmin-run sports.

And it has led to the most stunning wrongs Just imagine this – Johns is paid in the order of $160,000. Lauren Boyle after she won a World Championships was paid $40,000. No one on this good earth will convince me that Steve Johns is worth four times more than Lauren Boyle. That is a pathetic disgrace. Boyle’s contribution as a case of winning well, as a model of good behavior and as an example of how to manage a career, is worth more than Johns should ever be paid.

Swimwatch has reported previously on the disgustingly low percentage of SNZ’s income (less than 10%) paid to swimmers. But that’s what you get when you socialise a competitive industry. Just ask those responsible for dismantling Soviet industry. The New Zealand federation follows the example of FINA. The world body spends 5% of its income on swimmers. The other 95% is wasted on first class air fares, posh offices, five star hotels and Michelin dinners. London’s Craig Lord has long fought to see FINA improve its payments to swimmers.

Reform will involve reversing the Miskimmin steps that resulted in the cancer. He started by seizing control of the Head Offices. Just before the Moller Report the swimming Regions almost took back control of SNZ. Miskimmin recognised the danger and bulldozed a weak Brian Palmer and Bronwen Radford into rolling over, giving the sport away. The Francis Folly is pointless window dressing. That does not change control of the sport. Certainly never trust Cotterill, Johns or Francis to bring about change. Turkeys do not vote for Christmas.

Reform needs to start with the Regions constitutionally taking back control of Antares Place. Only then can the structure be reformed. Only then can clubs genuinely share power in the sport’s management. Only then can swimmers be rewarded by being paid a minimum of 50% of the sports income. Only then can we move away from paying obscene salaries to the likes of Johns and Francis. Only then can SNZ get out of learn-to-swim tuition. Only then will the centralized training group be immediately closed down. On and on it goes. But first secure constitutional control of Antares Place. The rest will be easy and fun – especially handing Johns his “Don’t come Monday” letter. Can I do that?

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