Is The Swimming NZ President About To Be Dumped?

Swimming New Zealand (SNZ) has just elected Dr Dave Gerrard as its new President. Gerrard is a medical doctor, an ex-Commonwealth butterfly champion and is currently chairman of an important World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) committee. On the surface his selection as SNZ President appears to be an inspired choice. Well educated, a successful athlete and an international administrator – what else could SNZ want? But is it as good as it seems? Are their gathering clouds in the Gerrard CV that should concern us all?

You see, all is not well at Gerrard’s international job. WADA is a mess. Much of it has to do with the organisation’s leadership. In that role Dave Gerrard is a key member. The current shambles at WADA is described by Craig Lord on the SwimVortex facebook page. Here is the link.

One obvious question has to be asked. If things are falling apart in Dave Gerrard’s WADA, is he capable of contributing to the equally shambolic SNZ? We can get some insight into the leadership problems at WADA and their likely impact on SNZ by looking at the WADA complaints. These have been articulated most clearly by four times Olympic race-walking medalist, Australian, Jared Tallent. The Australian is lending his support to the Reform Proposal Paper launched by Rio 2016 Para-Powerlifting Silver Medalist Ali Jawad titled “The Alternative: Reforming WADA’s Governance for a new Anti-Doping Age”. The tables below summarize his findings.

 WADA’s governance, in its current form, is not fit for purpose. In the absence of leadership at the top, it’s now incumbent on the athletes to drive the much-needed change.

Does this mean SNZ has employed a President who is included in a report that says there is an absence of leadership in his current job? That needs to be investigated. Because the last thing SNZ needs is further lack of leadership.

High-profile athlete intervention on WADA’s governance puts further pressure on the global regulator to make significant changes in what has become the greatest crisis in its 19-year history.

Are SNZ really employing a President who is being publically associated with “the greatest crisis” in WADA’s 19-year history? Did the Board of SNZ investigate the validity of these claims before endorsing Gerrard’s selection? If they didn’t, it is an example of further gross negligence. If they did, why were we not told and assured SNZ were happy these leadership accusations had no merit. Either way the Board of SNZ have acted poorly.

The Plan calls for the sport and government representatives on influential WADA Committees to be replaced by fully independent members; instead of alternating between the worlds of sport and government to ensure that there is much greater scrutiny of the decision-making process that impacts the lives of athletes worldwide.

Here again the organisation, in which Gerrard plays a leading role, is being accused of requiring far “greater scrutiny of the decision-making process”. Even the greatest Swimwatch critic would have to accept one of our leading complaints is the need for greater scrutiny of SNZ decisions. If Gerrard is involved in the same problem on a world scale at WADA, then hopes for reform at SNZ stand little chance of success.

 WADA has changed for the worse in the last few years, with it becoming increasingly close to the IOC, and, as a result, increasingly compromised and conflicted in the global fight against doping. Athletes are now deeply worried about the direction WADA is heading, and, in the absence of there being the robust and single-minded leadership that we require.

That is hardly the most glowing reference I have seen on a CV. An absence of robust leadership and a change for the worst, sounds just like the sort of President SNZ needs right now. Oh, I know Johns and Cotterill were ecstatic with delight when the appointment of Gerrard was announced. But then I doubt they would know what robust leadership looked like even on a good day. My bet is they were stage-struck by the name Gerrard and never bothered to investigate the alleged reality behind the name. There have been plenty of managers who have made that mistake.

The lack of independence, along with the fact that decisions that impact the livelihoods of clean athletes are made surreptitiously and “behind closed doors”, are two areas of huge concern to international athletes. This is not how something as important as anti-doping should be run. I encourage my fellow athletes to back these proposals, and I encourage WADA and the IOC to start listening – they must remember who they represent.

Increasingly this does not sound good at all. The last thing SNZ needs is a President who is accused of making surreptitious decisions behind closed doors. There is already far too much of that in SNZ. If only half of this WADA report is true our chances of seeing reform from President Gerrard are fading fast. Remember when SNZ used to publish Board minutes. Looks like those days are not about to come back any time soon. Cotterill and Johns may have found a mate in the new President.

The way that the IOC and WADA members have responded to bullying allegations is totally inappropriate. It is beyond belief that those who are supposed to represent the athletes treat our voices with such contempt. It’s equally disappointing that WADA and the IOC have maintained a virtual silence on the matter, which implicitly suggests an acceptance of bullying.

Swimwatch readers will know that for weeks I have been asking SNZ to provide me with a copy of the report into allegations made against my coaching. SNZ flatly refused. Without question that decision is a form of bullying; might over right. We will see where this fight ends up. The Human Rights Commission sounds good to me. We will see how tough Cotterill is in that forum. Sadly it should never end up like that. But if these accusations against WADA are true it looks like we cannot look to President Gerrard for relief from a bullying injustice.

We are urging WADA leadership will start engaging with the proposals in the crucial lead up to the next WADA Foundation Board Meeting on 15 November in Azerbaijan.

I would recommend the Board of SNZ keep a close watch on what happens at WADA over the next few weeks. It could be that the new SNZ President is up to his eyeballs in trouble. If that is the case, it may pay to start looking now for an uncompromised replacement.

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