Writer’s Block

For two days I have been struggling to think of a subject to write about. I did consider commenting on the need for New Zealand’s best swimmers to address the disgraceful treatment they receive from Steve Johns and Gary Francis. Being treated as inferior, being poorly paid, being stung for airfares and accommodation won’t change while those affected say nothing. The abuse will continue to hurt generation after generation. The world’s best swimmers have finally realised that truth and have stood up to challenge the FINA dictatorship.

New Zealand’s best swimmers desperately need to follow their lead. Daniel Hunter should be doing an Adam Petty in New Zealand. Lauren Boyle should have done a Katinka Hosszu when she had the power of being one of the world’s best swimmers. In every case change has only come about when athletes demand to be treated properly. Johns and Francis are not going to change voluntarily. There is too much personal benefit in screwing the financial life out of New Zealand’s best swimmers.

Just look at how track and field athletics has changed. But it took the courage of Loraine Moller’s demand for equal pay to initiate that reform. New Zealand swimmers should not sit in Northland or Taranaki or Hawke’s Bay or Wellington or Christchurch complaining quietly about the disrespect handed out by SNZ.  They need to do something about it.

They need to inflict pain on Johns and Francis. They need to cause them discomfort. And they need to make the New Zealand public aware of the reason they are causing SNZ to squirm. At the National Championships why not qualify fastest for the final and then refuse to swim. Why not qualify for the Commonwealth Games and then refuse to travel. Imagine if the sixteen swimmers selected to compete in the World SC Championships had publically burnt their $5,300 SNZ invoices in Auckland Airport and then refused to board the flight. My bet is it would be the last time Johns and Francis would charge swimmers to represent the country at a world championship.

Mohandas Gandi called his protest against the authoritarian British rule of India an act of civil disobedience. That is what it will take to change Johns and Francis. Francis even comes from the country that oppressed India. He should know better than to copy the worst features of colonial rule in New Zealand swimming.

In the end I decided not to write about the sins of the governing body. This Christmas Alison and I were on holiday with our daughter, grandson and son-in-law. It was a really spectacular week. One afternoon our four year old grandson was playing peacefully on his tablet computer. I’m not sure what happened on the screen but speaking quietly to himself, in a perfect British accent, he said, “Oh no not this crap again.” I think it is best to avoid the same sentiment from Swimwatch readers.

So I thought I might reminisce one more time about life and sport at Wairoa College. In my last year at Wairoa College, it was called the Upper Sixth Form, the school had some sporting success. We won a silver medal in the North Island Secondary Schools Swimming Championship. We won the senior team title in the Hawke’s Bay Poverty Bay Cross Country Championship and we won the Hawke’s Bay Poverty Bay Antony Eden Public Speaking Championship. I was lucky to play a part in all three events.

Second in the North Island Secondary Swimming Championships was predictable. My competition was Greg Meade from Gisborne. Try as I might I never could beat bloody Greg. He was New Zealand junior medley champion so I was pleased with the silver medal. I was not so pleased later that night when Greg and I followed our normal North Island Secondary School’s habit of going to Palmerston North’s late night movie. I’m not sure whose plan it was, so I will say we, had the idea that rolling Jaffas down the wooden floor of the theatre would be a hilarious thing to do. It was until a flashlight-armed usher kicked us out into the night.

The Hawke’s Bay Poverty Bay Senior Cross Country title was unexpected. Wairoa College selected the team of five runners based on a road race around the school. My mate Donald from Te Reinga and I were both in the trial. About a mile from the finish the leading pack had been reduced to about eight runners that still included Donald and me. Then 200 meters ahead a local farmer opened a gate to let fifty or so cows out onto the road to walk to their milking shed. Six city runners stopped in their tracks. I too was somewhat concerned but tough Donald ran on oblivious to the bovine dangers that lay ahead. I followed very closely behind as Donald swatted and swore his way through the herd. By the time we came out the other side we led the still stationary city kids by 400 meters; a lead far too big to be threatened. We were on the school cross country team. A couple of weeks later Donald and I flew down to Napier, in a Cookson newspaper airplane, for the main event. I was the second Wairoa runner home behind Billy van Berkham who, in the trial, had been caught behind the cows. The team was good enough. When the points were tallied Wairoa had won the senior championship.

The Antony Eden Oratory Competition was held in Havelock North. On the strength of winning the school speaking competition I was selected to represent the school in the provincial final. The subject of everyone’s speech was “Churchill the Orator”. I’m afraid I cheated a bit and got my mother to write the speech. It was stirring stuff. I don’t remember it all, but the first line was, “To the peoples of the Commonwealth Churchill was a voice”. The rest of it must have been okay as well because the judges picked me as the winner.

And some would say, “He hasn’t shut up since”.

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