The Benefit Of Diversity

Swimming New Zealand’s Business Guide

Our previous Swimwatch post discussed the value of diversity. Although it may be a little dull it is worthwhile discussing the subject in more detail. This is true because diversity explains why American swimming does so well at the Olympic Games and New Zealand does so badly. In fact since the Atlanta Olympic Games in 1996 New Zealand swimming has done worse than badly – the sport has done nothing. Two decades for no return is not good enough.

Why has this happened? Why has New Zealand won no swimming medals in the 5 Olympic Games since 1996 while the United States has won 156 medals? When you get beaten 156-0 it is time to start looking closely at the reasons. The excuse that America is bigger than New Zealand does not explain a difference of 156-0. If that was the case China and India would be well ahead of the United States. They have bigger populations. Not only that, if population was such an advantage, the United States would dominate all sports. And they don’t. For example in the same five Olympic Games the United States won only 9 of the 165 track medals available for events between 800 meters and the marathon. New Zealand won 2. The majority of medals were won by Kenya and Ethiopia; countries far smaller than the United States.

There is a big difference between being beaten 9-2 by the USA and 156-0. Clearly there is more to it than population. But what?

Gary Francis, Bruce Cotterill and Steve Johns have deviously suggested that poor New Zealand coaching is to blame. Of course they never come out and say it as bluntly as that. None of them are brave enough to be that honest. Instead they put New Zealand coaches down by promoting the need for coaching education. For example on the 25 August 2018 Gary Francis was reported in the NZ Herald as saying, “We are very confident by 2024 of having really strong coaches who know what they need to deliver.” In other words, according to Francis, New Zealand coaches in 2019 are not strong and don’t know what they need to deliver. These snide, underhand insults are disgusting; especially when they are a lie; especially when Cotterill, Francis and Johns are far more to blame for the 156-0 hiding than the standard of New Zealand coaches.

In fact Johns came close to admitting as much in the same NZ Herald report when he said this.

“But we haven’t been getting the results we’d hoped we would, and certainly from a High Performance Sport perspective what they had hoped and expected we would be getting.

“So to continue with the centralised model and expect to get different results is the definition of insanity.”

I am delighted Johns has called his Board’s decisions insane. That’s the closest he has got to the truth since he arrived on the swimming scene. I’m not sure Chairman Cotterill will appreciate CEO Johns calling him insane, but the sentiment is probably true.

And so, if it is not population or coaches, what has caused the 156-0 loss to the United States. In a word – diversity. Through five Olympic Games Swimming New Zealand (SNZ) spent about $30 million on centralised training. Jan Cameron and the SNZ Board insisted that their centralised program was about to stun the swimming world. For 20 years Swimwatch told SNZ their centralised programme would fail. But they knew best. Johns is right, Cortterill and his Board were insane. The loss is of such a magnitude that none of them should still be there.

But what was it about SNZ’s centralised program that made it so inferior to the Americans? Diversity is the answer. The problem with a centralised program, in world class sport, is that it diminishes the lifeblood of elite sport. It reduces competition. For example:

  1. Domestic completion was reduced by having all New Zealand’s best swimmers coached by one SNZ coach on the North Shore of Auckland.
  2. Coaching competition was reduced by denying New Zealand’s best swimmers access to a variety of training programs. It was insane to believe that the same sprint or distance based programme would suit every good swimmer. But that’s what Cotterill’s Board spent $30 million and 20 years trying to prove.
  3. Good regional coaches were starved of the country’s best swimmers and denied the education that goes along with coaching national champions.

I think I have made it clear before on Swimwatch that in many areas of life I am pretty far left of centre. Jacinda Ardern can count on my vote. I believe socialism has a vital role to play in supporting weak members of our society – the young, need to be educated for free, including university. The sick need to be cured in a socialist comprehensive system of healthcare. The elderly need access to universal superannuation and state provided accommodation.

But elite competitive swimmers are not weak members of society. Far from it. For elite swimmers the full force of pure capitalism produces the best results. For 20 years Cotterill tried to run a socialist elite swimming programme. For a far right autocrat like Cotterill I am amazed he couldn’t see the debilitating effect socialism was having on his sport. But he didn’t and that has hurt swimming badly. Just look at the results. The Americans would never make the New Zealand socialist mistake. In USA Swimming it is diversified capitalist competition all the way – swimmer against swimmer, club against club, high school against high school, coach against coach and region against region. By the time Rhi Jeffrey swam in the Olympic Games for the United States she was a tough, hardened capitalist competitor. That is why she won.

The problem New Zealand swimming still has is that the program Cotterill, Johns and Francis have introduced to replace centralised training does little to change the socialist nature of their decisions. All those collective camps and the folly of the Francis lists are straight out of Das Kapital. A week ago I watched a SNZ camp in progress. Believe me it did nothing to address our 156-0 losing record. Vladimir Lenin would be delighted with the way Cotterill and his mates are running SNZ – and that is insane. Just ask the Americans.

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