Canberra To Close

I read with considerable interest today the news that the National Swimming Training Centre (NTC) in Canberra is to close. The decision was announced by Swimming Australia’s Chief Strategist High Performance, Alex Baumann. Remember him? He’s the one who used to be the boss of High Performance Sport New Zealand (HPSNZ). More on the irony of that later.

Baumann explained the Canberra decision by saying, “With two years to go to Tokyo it was important we evaluated all eleven of our High Performance Centres to ensure that the support we provide is meeting our performances objectives.

“We are very fortunate to be in a position, through the support of Sport Australia, Principal Partners Hancock Prospecting and Optus, and our other partners, that we can provide world-class facilities and support in programs all over Australia.

“This means that athletes, including developing athletes, now have more choice than ever regarding the location of their training programs and there is no need for a centralized residential program.”

In my opinion Baumann is a two-faced carpet-bagger. For years he sat in his HPSNZ office and accepted close to $500,000 in pay, probably the highest salary paid in New Zealand sport. Through all that time he demanded that Swimming New Zealand (SNZ) follow a centralised training policy. Government funding was conditional on SNZ obeying Baumann’s orders. And first among those was loyalty to the centralised Millennium training program.

In 2014 Baumann said that his instruction from the Minister of Sport was, “To ensure that New Zealand is consistently one of the most successful sporting nations in the world” To do that Baumann said New Zealand swimming needed to “Establish a one stop shop high performance entity.”

For years SNZ slavishly followed the instructions of their master. They poured millions into the centralised training program. They employed the Baumann endorsed David Lyles. That lasted five minutes before Lyles was made redundant. SNZ tolerated any instruction, obeyed any order, likely to keep the Baumann checks rolling in. And none of it worked.

Baumann’s orders were sounding symbols, signifying nothing. No medals and two generations of New Zealand’s best swimmers lost. Baumann’s orders were destructive doctrinal nonsense. But worse than that, it now appears there was no conviction or principle behind the Baumann policy. While he was in New Zealand Baumann went along with Miskimmin’s grand plan. Miskimmin wanted a centralised empire. Baumann built it for him. That expediency cost the country millions and, for swimming, achieved nothing. And it looks like the whole centralised training idea in cycling and rowing is about to fall over as well. All the signs have a familiar SNZ look. CEO’s are leaving and coaches are resigning or being sacked. Baumann’s signature “one stop shops” are looking increasingly like “last stop terminals”.

But worst of all it appears Baumann didn’t really care. In 2017 he packed up and went to Australia. When he found the Australians had discovered that “one stop shops” didn’t work, Baumann decided they didn’t work either. After just one year in the place Baumann has closed the world’s best known “one stop shop”. What a transformation. Twelve months on and he is promoting the Swimwatch argument that he savaged during his time in New Zealand.

Even the worst Swimwatch critic would have to admit we have been consistently vocal in our criticism of centralised training. We have instead promoted the American decentralised system. From the moment Jan Cameron came up with the idea that we should copy the Canberra model we have been its biggest critic. Baumann and his mates dismissed us as ignorant troublemakers. And now Baumann is doing what we said he should have done a decade ago. As I said, carpet bagging in the extreme.

That either means Baumann is a person who has had a “road to Damascus” moment of enlightenment or just goes along with the prevailing opinion of whoever is paying his wages. I know which one I think it is but will leave you to decide your personal answer. While you ponder that just consider what New Zealand could and should have done with the millions spent pursuing Baumann’s fantasy.

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