Chameleon In Wadaland?

 Swimming New Zealand (SNZ) announced this week that Dr David Gerrard has been appointed SNZ President. I’m not sure what to make of the decision. Is it good? Is it bad? Or doesn’t it really matter all that much?

Let’s deal with those in reverse order. Perhaps the appointment doesn’t matter. After all, the position is primarily a figurehead role. The President can attend SNZ Board Meetings but doesn’t have a vote. He can discuss problems with the CEO but has no power to order compliance. Influence and effectiveness depends on the President’s power of personality and his desire to see change. Time will tell whether Gerrard has the personality and the desire to bring about reform in New Zealand swimming.

And that’s where the bad comes in. From all I’ve seen it is such a shame that, part-way through medical school, Gerrard had his personality surgically removed. He comes across as the ultimate political animal; quietly spoken, agreeing with everyone, never rocking the boat. Gerrard and Francis obviously attended the same finishing school. But is that approach effective? It certainly works for the individual. Gerrard has, I was going to say climbed but slithered is a better verb, his way to the top of various bureaucracies. He is or has been New Zealand Olympic team Chef de Mission, Drug Free Sport New Zealand Chairman, World Rugby Member, Anti-Doping Advisory Committee and Chairman of Therapeutic Use Exemption Committees of WADA, Drug Free Sport NZ, FINA and World Rugby.

That is a good Resume. But, has Gerrard been effective? Has he brought about change? And that is where the cracks begin to show. His most recent appointment is to the position of Chairman of the Therapeutic Use Exemption Committee of the World Anti-Doping Agency. In one form or another Gerrard has been working for the world doping agency since 2013. What has happened in that time?

That’s the rub. WADA is a mess. Take Russia for example. WADA was responsible for imposing and maintaining sanctions on Russian cheats. The Agency did this pretty well until September 20 when they decided to abandon all that’s good and decent and allow Russia back into world sport. In spite of clear evidence to the contrary they also found no link to the Russian President, ignoring the Putin signed law that prohibited any doping samples leaving the country without being tested in Russia first.

Craig Lord recently wrote about WADA’s spineless behaviour in Swimming World. Here is the link to his article. It is well worth reading.

A key paragraph in Graig Lord’s conclusion is shown in the table below.

The WADA Athletes Commission said they were “devastated” to hear of reinstatement (of Russia) “without the completion of the roadmap” as originally agreed. In a statement, the athletes noted: “We had expected that WADA would stand up for clean athletes and clean sport, instead we have seen nuance and pragmatism overtake justice and accountability. The roadmap that clean athletes and WADA had been relying on ended up with WADA coaching Russia on how to ask for concessions, changing the terms, and the world’s athletes being cut out.” Truth hurts sometimes — and both Russia and WADA ought to be smarting over this from the athletes:

“Russia has used its athletes, committed the biggest doping scandal of the century, corrupted the anti-doping and sport movements, and has now been welcomed back on a promise, without even complying with the rules. This is not good enough.

And in all the time Russia was abusing its own athletes and shafting athletes from all over the world, Dave Gerrard has occupied a prominent position in WADA, the organisation responsible for ensuring justice. I’m told New Zealand voted against the reinstatement deal. But did Gerrard speak up? Did he resign in protest? Did he do anything that was effective? Did he protect New Zealand swimmers when it was really important? Sure as hell doesn’t seem like it.

Perhaps Gerrard is just a pretty face with a flash CV. Perhaps there is not much substance behind the mask. Perhaps he is all fine-sounding words. Perhaps he has no more spine that the world agency that made him one of their Chairman. I don’t know. The jury is out. We will soon be able to see whether the WADA disaster is merely a temporary stain on an otherwise stellar career or is in fact representative of Gerrard’s political manoeuvring.

Which brings us to the good aspects of Gerrard’s appointment. That’s easy – product knowledge. For many years the lack of product knowledge in the Head Office of SNZ has been of serious concern. The combined total of what Francis, a club age-group coach, Johns, a failed high school sport’s swimmer and Cotterill, a masters recreational triathlete know about elite world swimming would occupy the back of a very small postage stamp. No one is suggesting Schubert type knowledge is needed to run the national swimming federation. But you do need to know something. The vacuum that passes as knowledge in Antares Place is seriously bad.

The arrival of Gerrard addresses that problem. Dave Gerrard certainly knows about swimming. The table below shows the highlights of his swimming career.

·         6 x National 110 yard men’s butterfly champion (1962, 63, 65, 66, 67, 68).

·         10 x National 220 yard men’s butterfly champion (1960 – 1969).

·         1962 British Empire and Commonwealth Games, Perth, Australia – two finals

·         1964 Tokyo Olympics representative – semi-final.

·         1966 British Empire and Commonwealth Games, Kingston, Jamaica – one gold and one bronze medal and a third final

Not only was Gerrard successful, he did it through an era when New Zealand sport, especially athletics, dominated world sport. I doubt the influence of that time has faded from Gerrard’s memory. It still burns bright in most of us who lived and competed through those years.

If the appointment of Gerrard can bring to modern New Zealand swimming something of his product knowledge, combined with the successful spirit of the 60s, SNZ will have found itself a very fine leader indeed. His first step though should be to sort out the shambles that is WADA’s gutless treatment of a bunch of Russians cheats.

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