Archive for December, 2018

Bill Baillie 1934 – 2018

Saturday, December 29th, 2018

A few years ago – that’s not true. Many years ago, in 1968 or 1969, I had just completed high school in Wisconsin in the United States. Before heading off to Wellington to begin University I was working as a guide in the Waitomo glow worm caves. One weekend I was in Hamilton having a flying lesson. As I drove through town on my way to the airport I passed a large group of runners. I’m not sure of the event. I suspect it was the annual “Round the Bridges” race. Eventually I drove past the race leaders. There, out in front, was the unmistakable Bill Baillie; barrel chested, arms held too high and with a beautiful long relaxed stride, his powerful legs treating the miles with what seemed like effortless scorn.

Occasionally in sport you come into contact with greatness. When it happens it is the most obvious thing in the world. I remember one cold winter’s night at the Meadowbank track in Edinburgh, Scotland. I was there watching Alison’s training. The Olympic 100m champion, Allan Wells, and fellow Scottish sprinter and Commonwealth Games bronze medallist Cameron Sharpe were also doing their training. As I walked back down track Allan Wells came past doing a short sprint. I will never forget the impression of raw power. His spikes seemed intent on tearing great chunks of rubber out of the Edinburgh track. It was like a fast intercity train tearing through an empty suburban station. The presence of greatness, of unimaginable talent, was obvious and unforgettable.

I felt the same thing swimming against the Australian Olympic breaststroke champion, Ian O’Brien. Standing on the inside of the track watching John Walker win a mile race in Gateshead, England provided the same sensation of unbeatable power. But my first contact with Wells-, O’Brien- and Walker-type greatness was in 1960s Hamilton when I saw Bill Baillie leading the “Round the Bridges” road race. I drove on wondering how could anyone beat that?

The truth is, few did beat that. Baillie set world records for the 20,000m and one hour run, came 6th in the Tokyo Olympic Games, competed in four Commonwealth Games and won a New Zealand championship title in every event from 800m to six miles.

After Hamilton I met Baillie on three occasions. Arthur Lydiard introduced us at the Newmarket Olympic Pool.  Jane was there training. Arthur had come to watch and Bill was aqua-jogging, or aqua-running in his case. Bill was typical Bill; far more interested in Jane’s training and discussing how Lydiard training principles converted to swimming, than he was in telling me about his own career. His infectious enthusiasm and support of a fourteen year and her hard work was clearly sincere. There is a common bond among those who share a quality work ethic; a bond that crosses generations and genders.

The second occasion we met was at Arthur’s home in Beachlands.  We had a lot more time to talk. I told Bill that Alison was also a member of the Lynndale Athletic Club. I explained the impression he had made on me in Hamilton. Like champions everywhere he discounted his talent and gave credit to his training schedule. In one nine year period he had run a total of 38,844 miles (62,150 kilometres). That’s a stunning average of 83 miles (133 kilometres) a week, every week, through distance, anaerobic and speed training – bloody amazing. No wonder the man could run.

Finally we met again at a Waitakere Trusts Stadium track meet. We were there primarily to watch Nick Willis and the Robertson brothers compete in a race over 5000 metres. Bill was as infectiously enthusiastic as ever; telling me how impressed he was with the quality and versatility of Nick Willis running.

And I guess that is one of two abiding memories of this great New Zealander. First there is the quality of his career; the life-long impression he left striding through the streets of Hamilton; an example of world class that has never faded. And second his genuine interest in the sport’s careers of others. From helping Peter Snell through the endless miles of a distance conditioning program to sharing his love of sport with a fourteen year old swimmer in the Newmarket Pool. Over the years I imagine a hundred Snells and Janes have benefitted by their contact with Bill Baillie.

Sincere, kind, funny, tough and talented are words that come to mind when I think of Bill Bailie. New Zealand and New Zealand sport are better places for his life and running career. Bill – thank-you for everything.

2018 – What Will We Remember?

Thursday, December 27th, 2018

Let’s begin this Christmas post by discussing the performance of Swimwatch during 2018. The blog published 60 articles (this is number 61) and was read by 62,273 unique visitors. That compares with 28,000 in 2017 and 16,000 in 2016. To be fair those two years were affected by my coaching contract in Saudi Arabia. This year’s total is well short of the 2011 record year when the blog was read by 124,000 visitors. That was the year Peter Miskimmin conned Brian Palmer and Bronwen Radford and orchestrated a fatal coup of Swimming New Zealand (SNZ). Interest in the devious political intrigue at the time was high.

Not that the popularity of Swimwatch did much good. Miskimmin won, the constitution was changed, democracy in swimming died and the sport began a steady and inevitable slide into oblivion. Eight years later and every measure of performance has collapsed. Membership numbers are down. Income is down. International results are down. The only measure to go up is staff turnover. SNZ demanded that New Zealand’s best swimmers transfer to the national training programme and provided them with eight national coaches in eight years. The negligence involved in forcing swimmers like Lauren Boyle, Mathew Stanley and Mellissa Ingram to accept a coach a year was stunning. But did SNZ care? Did they even apologise? Did they acknowledge their role in destroying a generation of New Zealand talent? No, of course they didn’t.

Instead SNZ roll on convinced of their divine right to rule; certain that the sport is there to make a generous living for them. The 2018 New Zealand team sent to the World SC Championships is a classic example of the depths to which Cotterill, Johns and Francis will descend. While the swimmers were each invoiced $5,300, Francis and his fellow bureaucrats made the journey on the sport’s dime. The blind greed, the savage exploitation of that decision should never be forgotten; must never be forgiven.

No wonder the world’s best swimmers stood up to FINA in 2018 and demanded reform. When SNZ and FINA treat swimmers like slaves they forfeit the right to rule. The new ISL rebel organisation does not operate in a vacuum. In 2018 ISL found a receptive audience because of the naked greed of administrators like Cotterill, Johns and Francis.

But don’t expect those three to change their ways. These leopards are not about to change their spots. They are batting on a good wicket and that’s where they intend to stay. A couple of Swimwatch posts ago I included a quote from the Cuban freedom fighter, Che Guevara. He said, “The revolution is not an apple that falls when it is ripe. You have to make it fall.” That is exactly what is needed in FINA and SNZ. The apples have to be made to fall. 2018 has shown us that FINA and SNZ are not about to accept reform. Making life better for swimmers and swimming is not on their agenda. Eventually the swimming communities worldwide and in New Zealand are going to realise that truth and are going to turf bureaucrats like Coterill, Johns and Francis into the garbage can of swimming history. World class swimmers are moving in that direction using the American courts. New Zealand will follow. It is a legal case we intend to pursue in New Zealand in 2019. The rebellion that began in 2018 cannot have its conclusion come soon enough. I suspect the New Zealand High Court will be adept at picking apples.

In almost everything SNZ do, you can find deceit; some of it mild, some of it deadly serious. Take this week’s announcement of the entry numbers for the New Zealand open-water championships. Here is how the SNZ website trumpeted that news.

The largest number of athletes ever to enter the NZ Open Water Championships will gather in Taupo across EPIC WEEKEND to compete for national honours.

That is true. However it is also a lie. You see the extra numbers are the result of adding three new events. In previous years there were two open-water championship events. This year there are five championship events. The news report is simply not comparing like with like. Swimmers have been stolen from the EPIC program to earn more money for SNZ – hardly the way to treat a loyal sponsor.

The reality is that in the main 10k event 36 swimmers have entered the 2019 race. That is exactly the same number as entered the same race in 2016. The SNZ headline is a classic con. Double check everything. Don’t believe a word they say.

I object to the SNZ decision to steal swimmers from the EPIC races in order to earn more money for themselves. In my view it is a disgusting way to treat a loyal sponsor. But worse than that is what is going to happen to the additional income. Experience has taught us that it will all go to improving the lives of Cotterill, Johns and Francis. Daniel Hunter, Simon Perry and Emma Godwin are not going to benefit by one cent from the money SNZ is taking from the EPIC organisation. SNZ steal from everyone to benefit themselves. Anyone who believes for a minute that Cotterill, Johns and Francis have a shred of love for swimming and its members, in my view is sadly blind to the reality of the sport. And that is the lesson of 2018.


Sunday, December 23rd, 2018

There is a very good article in this morning’s NZ Herald. The story has an enormous title; “The year of the review – New Zealand’s broken system and broken athletes.” The author is NZ Herald journalist Dylan Clever. Here is the link to his article;

The number of reviews in 2018 is indeed impressive. Here is a list of their names.

1.    Triathlon New Zealand: Internal review2.    Rowing New Zealand: Internal review3.    Netball New Zealand: Mackinnon review

4.    New Zealand Rugby: Secondary schools rugby review

5.    New Zealand Football: Muir review

6.    Cycling New Zealand: Heron review

7.    Sport NZ: Cottrell report

8.    Hockey NZ: Dew report

Dylan Clever reaches the conclusion that sport in New Zealand is suffering because of an overemphasis on international results. Whether a coach is yelling at his athletes or waking up with one of them is all down to an unhealthy chase for gold medals. I agree with Heron. That is the overriding conclusion of all this reviewing.

Here is a much summarised version of Cleaver’s article.

By the time the Heron report into cycling had dropped there was such collective review fatigue among the sports journalism corps that it had all the impact of an Act Party press release.So disappointed were they by the lack of heavy lifting done by the sports journalism profession, they used the revelation vacuum to write a carefully worded op-ed under the name of HPSNZ chief executive Michael ScottScott made the now clichéd mistake of measuring non-brokenness (my word) with Olympic medals, when in fact it was the blind pursuit of these trinkets that has led to a wave of athlete resistance.

Yep, mark 2018 down as the year of athletes would go all Howard Beale in Network on us: “I’m a human being godammit!  My life has value… I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore.”

Earlier this month the Cottrell report into Elite Athletes’ Rights and Welfare was made public.

It was a thorough piece of work, with an interesting set of footnotes. The remarkably basic conclusions, however, could have been reached at a nominal cost using a simple eyes and ears test: treat athletes as humans, not pawns in the medal and title-hunting game.

My only criticism of what Clever has to say is his failure to address the underlying power motive for all the reviews. The superficial emphasis on “put athletes ahead of medals” and “protect athletes’ fragile mental health” is a superficial façade. In my opinion Miskimmin doesn’t care whether some Cambridge cyclist woke up in the wrong bed in Paris or rowing failed to perform at the most recent World Championships. What he cares about, and always has, is his personal power and his $500,000 a year pay cheque.

For over a decade Miskimmin has used the vehicle of sport reviews to consolidate and extend his power and control. The more threatened Miskimmin feels the more frequent the reviews. And if the reviews fail to reach the conclusion Miskimmin wants he thinks nothing of reviewing and reviewing again until he gets the words on a page that will serve his personal ends. It seems to me to be as cynical as it has been effective.

The best example of Miskimmin’s review tactic was his takeover of swimming. Between 2005 and 2012 Miskimmin authorised and paid for three reviews into the sport. Finally the last one, the “Moller Report”, came to the conclusions Miskimmin was looking for. Quick as lightning Miskimmin pounced. Swimming New Zealand’s (SNZ) constitution was changed. Any nod towards democracy was stripped from the sport. Miskimmin clones were vested with power. The control of Sport NZ was complete. The result has been catastrophic. Every year for a decade SNZ membership numbers have declined, every year international competitive results have fallen. In 2018 SNZ sent teams to three world events (the Commonwealth Games, the Pan Pacific Games and the World SC Championships) for a yield of one bronze medal. In my opinion that is a direct product of three Miswkimmin reviews, one power grab and six years of Miskimmin rule.

Any who questions the control Miskimmin has over SNZ should read the SNZ constitution, study the income statement and consider the sycophantic servitude of Cotterill, Johns and Francis. Miskimmin is in total control. And the result of Miskimmin’s authoritarian rule has brought the once proud sport of Mosse, Kingsman, Loader and Hurring to its knees. In 2018 even the feats of lesser athletes such as Langrell, Jeffs, Ingram and Burmester are impossible beacons on a faraway hill.

I have no doubt that the 2018 burst of reviews has the consolidation and extension of Miskimmin’s power as their motive. The sacking of a string of executives is the classic response of a dictator. Dictators the world over do it all the time. Just consider the Trump White House. The reason for their replacement doesn’t really matter. Performance is never the motivation. Bringing their replacements under control, into subservient obedience to Miskimmin, is the goal. In that the eight 2018 reviews have been universally successful. Miskimmin is back in absolute dictatorial control. Ten more years of unquestioned rule from Sport NZ in Wellington is assured.

The sports chosen by Miskimmin for review were also not selected by chance. Recent results of cycling, rowing, netball, triathlon and football have been poor. Miskimmin has been in charge, but he does not want to have the blame for poor results put at his door, so order a review and blame a coach with too loud a voice or too much sex drive. The answer is to bring in a weaker coaches who will do anything to avoid the errors of their predecessors. It does not pay to stand out in the Miskimmin Empire.

The same thing happened in SNZ. Remember when the sport went through eight coaches in eight years, until we ended up with a pawn like Lyles or an American age-group coach or a North Shore Club age-group coach running the show. Their competence was never the point. Were they loyal to Miskimmin was what mattered. Of course they are.

And that’s why 2018 was the year of the review.

Tremble With Indignation

Thursday, December 20th, 2018

The title of this post is a quote from a hero of mine, Che Guevara. The full quote says, “If you tremble with indignation at every injustice, then you are a comrade of mine.” Among many other famous quotes Guevara also said, “The revolution is not an apple that falls when it is ripe. You have to make it fall.”

New Zealand swimming needs a Che Guevara, not only for his revolutionary skills but also because, in his youth, he was a good competitive swimmer and rugby player. It seems he would have been right at home in New Zealand. I’d love to know what Che Guevara would have made of the Cotterill, Johns and Francis un-holy alliance. I suspect he would have sussed out and sorted out that weak kneed lot in a heartbeat. Including them in the same paragraph as Che Guevara is farcical. A bit like comparing three Jellyfish to a Tiger Shark

However I have strayed from the point of the post. This week in London some exceptional swimmers and their supporters were in the FINA orchard making the apples fall. I wish I could have been there. Here is what the press release, before the meeting, had to say.

A galaxy of stars, including 11 Olympic and 18 World champions from 10 of the world’s leading swimming nations, will gather at a brain-storming summit in London to help launch a new era for their sport.

The International Swimming League will host a two-day event at Stamford Bridge. The aim is to provide athletes with “the tools to build a brighter future for their sport in a professional environment”, starting with the creation of a global Swimmers’ Association.

Having a collective voice will help swimmers create the foundation for a better future, both during and after their sports career. This is the moment when athletes can make history as the pioneers who changed their sport for the better.

The League, led by financier Konstantin Grigorishin, intends to launch a swimming series of professional team matches starting from next year. Efforts to establish the League have so far been blocked by FINA, threatening suspensions, but waves of world-class swimmers, have urged the global body to think again.

While global sport is a lucrative business worth billions and swimmers generate hundreds of millions in revenue for FINA, swimmers work and compete as professionals but have, as Grigorishin puts it, “no salary, social guarantees, no welfare, no medical and life insurance, no pension rights”.

The League has pledged to change all that, starting with the creation of a Professional Swimmers Association that will represent athletes to build a fair partnership with regulators and event organizers, the welfare of swimmers and their rights to earn a living from their work will be paramount.

Two days later and the meeting has come and gone. Craig Lord has written an excellent report on the Swimvortex Facebook page. Of critical importance is the realisation that every FINA point made at the meeting is equally relevant to Swimming New Zealand (SNZ). Here is a summarized version of Craig Lord’s report.

Financier and ISL backer, Konstantin Grigorishin, explained the steps swimmers have to consider to convert swimming into a professional sports that would pay them regular wages, unlock their market value and deliver rights and responsibilities.

The monopoly run by FINA is not only past its sell-by date but is out of tune with national and international laws.

FINA’s monopoly includes governance that locks athletes out of the decision-making process. In response swimmers are talking to experts with a view to forming a Professional Swimmers’ Association.

Swimmers needed to recognise that their power rests in their right to withdraw from competition that did not agree to a fair share of revenue and consult over other aspects affecting athletes, including image rights and race formats.

Konstantin Grigorishin, delivered a simple message to athletes: “This is your mission. We can help you with the knowledge and point you to the great opportunity on offer. It is not our ambition to bring down FINA. We can co-exist if they understand that their role is that of a regulator of rules not people; if they understand that athletes have a right to share 50% of all revenues they generate as the stars of swimming.”

The mission for swimmers who wanted to raise their earning power in a competitive trillion-dollar global sports industry was to:

1. Establish their true market value

2. Determine how to unlock it

3. Build professional representation

FINA shares less than ten per cent of its revenue with swimmers that do not stretch to pension rights, insurance and other standard rights of employment. In contrast, ISL has pledged to share 50% of all revenues generated by its proposed series of team matches and has suggested swimmers accept nothing less from any competition organisers.

“Our goal is to promote swimming, expand its fan base, and create opportunities for swimmers and the sport. FINA’s apparent goal is to maintain an iron grip on its unlawful control of the sport at the expense of swimmers and any would-be competitors.”

What a breath of fresh air all that is. Of course FINA and SNZ provide those who earn their income with next to nothing. Of course their monopoly control is wrong and illegal. Of course change is well overdue. However the point made in the London meeting, and a point that I have been making in Swimwatch for at least ten years, is the argument made by Konstantin Grigorishin that the role of FINA (and SNZ) is to be “regulators of rules not people”.

Where SNZ has consistently failed is every time they attempt to get involved in managing the affairs of swimmers. Training swimmers has not worked. SNZ teams have consistently failed to perform. The teach learn-to-swim teachers program is a failed joke. Undeterred by a perfect history of disaster SNZ now want to take on para-swimmers. For all the reasons the other “people” escapades have failed, para-swimming will also founder and drown.

As recently as this morning I watched Gary Francis taking the World SC Championship team for a training session at the Millennium Pool. In my opinion he is ill-equipped for that job. It was a case of SNZ repeating the mistake that has ruined New Zealand swimming for the past 3650 days. In business school parlance it is called “sticking to your knitting”.  SNZ should regulate the rules of the sport and let others better equipped guide the careers of the athletes.

The Eye Of A Needle

Wednesday, December 19th, 2018

This morning’s training had finished. I was sitting in the Millennium Pool café drinking my customary cup of green tea and sharing a bowl of potato wedges. The table we had chosen was next to the door leading into the holiest of holies; the inner sanctuary of the Tabernacle where God’s presence appears; otherwise known as.the head office of Swimming New Zealand (SNZ).

For some reason today I noticed more activity than usual. Perhaps it is because of Christmas. A constant stream of busy people dashed from office to café and back to office. At least they looked busy. Some were clasping clipboards. They always give the owner a busy look. I remember my mother telling me about a well-known student in the high school where she taught English. His name was Tana Umaga He later went on to captain the All Blacks New Zealand rugby team. Tana was evidently famous for occasionally wandering around the school for an hour with a clipboard during a class he felt the need to skip.

The occupants of the SNZ offices looked as busy as Tana Umaga but we know none of them have a fraction of his sporting knowledge. In fact the male members coming through the door have a remarkably uniform appearance. They seem to cultivate the casual, sporting look. Dark trousers, shoes with too long and too pointed toes. Don’t they know medical science has long warned of the foot problems associated with those shoes?

But it is the shirts that afford membership of the SNZ holy order. Acceptable colours are white, cream, pale blue and pale pink. I’m no great fan of the pale pink. That’s probably a personality flaw of mine rather than any problem with the colour. The shirt neck buttons are undone. No one wears a tie. But the sleeves give away status and provide the ultimate message of casual and busy. Being accepted means rolling each sleeve half-way up the forearm. Busy and casual is the unmistakable sartorial message.

There is one inescapable question every time the SNZ door opens. What on God’s good earth do these people do? I mean I know what Eyad and Daniel Hunter and Emma Godwin do. They swim a lot. I know what Jon Winter and Andy McMillan and Monica Cooper do. Morning and night they manage scores of New Zealand swimmers. But how are their lives improved in any way by all this SNZ activity? What do the gallons of latté actually achieve? SNZ’s shirt sleeves are rolled up but do the arms do anything meaningful? Not that I know of.

Consider Gary Francis. He is coming up to his one year anniversary. Are we any better off for the $100,000 plus spent on his employment? Not if the results of last week’s World SC Championships are a measure of his contribution, we’re not.

The real mystery is, whatever goes on behind the four pillars and the veil of the tabernacle, is costing us a million dollars a year – $900,000 actually but let’s not argue about an odd $100,000 here or there.

Now I have to admit, I am a committed Jacinda Ardern supporter. In difficult times I think she is doing a terrific job of leading New Zealand. The warmth she displays to humanitarian and social causes is exactly what I would hope New Zealand should stand for. She has led us to support climate change legislation, she has doubled our efforts to build more houses, she genuinely cares about child poverty, she gave me an extra $140 a week to heat our house this winter, she pays for me to drive to the North Shore Hospital every week and she has sold our country to the world as a warm and caring place. She has earned my vote in the next election.

But there is one question mark on Jacinda’s otherwise stellar record. Why, oh why does she pay the rolled up sleeves, latté crew at SNZ $900,000 a year? She must know that there are better things to do with a million dollars than give it to the SNZ occupants of Antares Place. What sort of return has the government ever got from the millions given to SNZ? None that I know of. Nurses, teachers, police, firemen, pensioners, doctors and a dozen other occupations need the money more. There is no possible justification for wasting it. I have no doubt the New Zealand Prime Minister is a kind and caring person. But she should avoid being taken to the cleaners. It is time to re-write her cheque; time to make it out to a more worthy cause. She would be doing the country and the sport of swimming a huge favour.