Archive for March, 2019

This Is Not Who We Are

Sunday, March 17th, 2019

I doubt there is a New Zealander anywhere, of any political persuasion, who would argue with the words from New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern – “this is not who we are”.  New Zealand was chosen by a madman because, by killing here, he could make the point that nowhere was safe. Our goodness was our vulnerability. Our goodness is the reason for our hurt. But I reject the idea we should retreat into darkness. I see no reason for New Zealand to become less welcoming to refugees. I do not believe we should arm the police or change our open, generous society because one lunatic took advantage of our compassion.

I guess I feel particularly hurt today because I have a couple of mates who are Muslims. Eyad came to live in New Zealand as a refugee from Syria. I met him when I was coaching in Saudi Arabia. I managed to get him special permission to train with me. Until then he had been denied access to my public Saudi swimming pool because of his Syrian nationality. I convinced him that he would never face that injustice in New Zealand. After yesterday I know I lied. Now he cannot pray without wondering whether he will leave the mosque alive. I am so sorry Eyad. All I can ask is that we agree with the Prime Minister, “this is not who we are.” Our life must not change. You must swim as you always have. You must study engineering as you do. You must pray as you always have. One madman must not change the goodness we enjoy.

Another Muslim mate is Eyad’s older brother Yamen. He also trained with me in Saudi Arabia. He is a dentist and still lives in Jeddah. This morning I had a WhatsApp message from Yamen. It said simply “We stand with New Zealand”. Makes you think doesn’t it? New Zealand had just been the scene where 49 Muslims had been murdered for being Muslim and he still stood by us. I know he will be concerned about his little brother in New Zealand. I imagine his emotions will have changed from admiration for the opportunities available to Eyad to deep concern. But still he found room to feel for our country. Thank you Yamen. Rest easy. Your brother is safe. This is not who we are.

And to Eyad and Yamen’s mother and father I apologize for the concern you must have for the safety of your son. I must tell you about Yamen and Eyad’s mother and father. They escaped from Syria because of the war. Their father got a job as a doctor in a local Jeddah hospital. When I was in Jeddah I trod on a nail walking to the pool. My foot became infected and the concern and attention given to me by Dr Masoud probably saved my foot. But his concern did not stop there. He instructed his sons that I was not to be allowed to walk to the pool ever again. I asked him why. The walk was good for me.

“David,” he said, look at yourself in the mirror. Have you seen your white Scottish complexion? We have lived in the desert sun all our lives and no sane Arab walks for an hour in the midday sun in Jeddah”.

He was right and was probably the reason I survived so comfortably through a year in the oppressive heat of Jeddah. His wife and Yamen and Eyad’s mother is a genuine, sincere and gentle women. I have often joked and asked the two boys how such a lovely mother could end up with two sons like hers.

But in addition to the Masoud family there was Loai, Mohamad, Talal, Dena and a dozen others I count as friends. In fact Talal was one of the world’s best pool managers. When I was due to arrive in Jeddah he was convinced my name, David, meant I was certain to be Jewish. One look at me when I walked into his office corrected that impression. He laughingly told me about his forecast and for the next year insisted on introducing me as the Biblical King David.

Loai was a good swimmer – probably the best Saudi Arabia has had. Before being coached by me he lived in the United States and had trained with Dara Torres coach Dennis Lober in Florida and Mark Schubert in California.

Dena is Saudi aristocracy. Her husband is the son of the man who nationalised Saudi oil and formed the huge oil company, Aramco. Dena is a dentist and a competent triathlete. I got to know her as a result of helping her with her swimming training. Her hospitality toward me was welcoming and sincere. I had dinner at their home on a couple of occasions. It was a fascinating look inside the life of the very, very rich in Saudi Arabia.

The point I am trying to make is that in my experience Muslims do not deserve the pariah label handed out by Trump. They are mates of mine, good and honest people. Jacinda Ardern is right – they are us.

Of course there are many things about Saudi Arabia I do not like. Their human rights record is a disgrace. However my sense of national superiority took a huge blow yesterday. Unbowed but humble we need to accept that our country has been the scene of hurt for many delightful and very blameless Muslims. For that I am genuinely sorry. This is not who we are.

Lord Coe Running Amuck

Wednesday, March 13th, 2019

 Ovett  – a winner on the track and in the after-match

Would someone do the world a favour by sacking Lord Coe?  He is the current President of the IAAF. Problem is, he is running the organization into the ground (excuse the pun). He seems to manage the affairs of the IAAF according to his own arrogant idea of what’s right and wrong. Not that that should surprise anyone. When he was running I thought he was a self-important upstart.

Back in those days I used to travel around Europe with Alison and some other New Zealand runners. The competition between Coe and Ovett on the track might have been intense but back in the hotel Ovett was the personality winner every time. No wonder Ovett and Coe were rumored not to get on. Ovett was a bloody good bloke. In my opinion Coe was too self-important.

But what does my opinion matter? Coe has worked his way into the UK House of Lords and been elected President of the IAAF.  The same smarmy sucking-up to those in power that served him well in his PR battle with Ovett has been equally successful in his life after athletics. But is there clear logic and fairness in his decisions. No is the answer. In my opinion his decisions are bigoted and do a disservice to international sport. They reflect a mind that is convinced of its own superiority. What Coe thinks is good, in his mind, is good for everyone.

First, the case of South African 800m runner Caster Semenya. She won the 800m at the London and Rio Olympic Games. She also won the same event at the Berlin, Daegu and London World Championships. Obviously she is a very good runner. But Lord Coe is on her case. You see Caster Semenya was born with an abnormally high natural testosterone level, a condition called hyperandrogen. I fail to understand how Caster’s inherited testosterone talent is any different from the talents inherited by Coe, Ovett or Bolt. But Lord Coe doesn’t see it that way. Caster is female and doesn’t fit Lord Coe’s prejudiced view of what a woman should be like. I’ve no doubt Coe prefers the white, blonde feminine wall-flower sorts. So he set out to screw Caster’s athletic career. In April 2018, Coe announced rules that required hyperandrogenous female athletes to take medication to lower their testosterone levels, effective beginning in November 2018. Any respect I had for Coe’s career as an athlete disappeared.

Coe had no right to beat-up on an athlete for a talent she was born with. The whole point of track and field is to find out who in the world can run, or jump, or throw better than anyone else using only the trained talents they had at birth. Caster has only ever done that. Coe’s order to take drugs to lower her testosterone is just as objectionable as those who take another drug to boost their testosterone. Both are guilty of using drugs to alter their performance. In my book that order makes Lord Coe just as much a drug cheat as Ben Johnson.

Coe’s odd attitude towards women is highlighted in his strange personal life. If the rumours are right he was married and had four children with wife number one, had a fling with girlfriend number two and finally married a divorced mother of two. One of his sons from marriage number one was the best man at wedding number two. I have no idea what that was supposed to prove – possibly only that everybody loves Daddy Coe no matter how far or fast he has wandered.

But his most recent decisions affecting the IAAF Diamond League are really bad. Here is how they were reported by the BBC.

The number of events at Diamond League meetings will reduce from 32 to 24 next year, officials from the IAAF announced on Monday.

In a year-long review, the international athletics governing body also decided each meeting will scale down from two hours to 90 minutes.

There will be just 12 Diamond League meetings as opposed to 14, and only one season final from 2020.

And the longest distance track race will be 3,000 metres.

“We can make the Diamond League even stronger and more relevant to the world our athletes and our fans live in today,” said IAAF president Lord Coe.

The new season, which starts on 3 May in Doha, will be the 10th edition of the competition.

‘Alienating your audience’ – athletes and coaches express their frustration.

American athletics coach Steve Magness wrote on Twitter: “Way to shoot distance running in the foot. It’s a missed opportunity to figure out how to connect to the masses.

“Your most viable potential audience are the people who do road races, park runs, etc – 5k is a universally understood distance. Figure out how to connect versus alienating your audience.”

British distance runner Eilish McColgan, who reached the final of the women’s 5,000m at the 2016 Olympics, expressed her anger at the proposal.

Great Britain’s Dai Greene, a gold medallist in the men’s 400m hurdles at the 2010 Commonwealth Games and 2011 World Championships, was unhappy at the reduction in the number of Diamond League events.

He wrote: “It’s hard enough to get into top-scoring Diamond League events and in 2020 the IAAF are planning two less on the circuit.

“Getting into races is so often who you know, agents helping out their mates etc – and now this influences who attends a championship.”

I agree with the critics. Just because Coe has never liked anyone who runs around a track more than four times is no reason for the 5000 and 10,000 to be dropped from the Diamond League. The two races can be riveting drama. Dick Taylor’s 10,000 in Christchurch in 1974, Dave Bedford’s World Record 10,000 at Crystal Palace, London in the 1970s, Vladimir Kuts 10,000 at White City in London, Mo Farah’s 5000 in London, Billy Mills and Bob Schul in the 10,000 and 5000 at the Tokyo Olympics and a dozen others are as good or better than any 10 second flash in the pan.

I have no idea why athletic snobs treat distance events so badly. Swimming does the same thing. Open water 800m and 1500m are treated as second class citizens. I understand it coming from Cotterill, Johns and Francis. They don’t know any better – but Lord Coe certainly should.

Proud To Be A Socialist

Tuesday, March 12th, 2019

Swimwatch was a blog idea first suggested by a mate of mine, Edward. His thought was that the sport of swimming could do with an independent opinion. I agreed. Since then the blog has focused on swimming but has also ventured into the world of track and field, rugby, tennis and general sport’s administration. Occasionally my political views have been revealed in my sporting opinions. But what I have never done is publish an exclusively political essay. Today that will change. It will change because I have become increasingly annoyed at right-wing Americans who slag-off my country, New Zealand, by calling the socialist political philosophy we follow with every abusive name they can find.

So what does being a socialist country mean? Wel,l in addition to the normal collective functions of government such as providing roads, paying for the justice system and providing a military presence, socialism means society has a collective responsibility for its weakest members. And that’s where we differ from a society like the United States. Socialists accept the principle that we have a collective national duty to pay for those of us who are weak and vulnerable. In particular that means society will pay to look after the young, the sick and the elderly.

First the young – what does looking after the young mean? It means providing free education for all. It means providing the means by which young people can mature and learn to be strong and independent. And yes it means giving young people the skills they can use to provide for future generations of young people. It also means that the provision of free education should not stop when a young person gets to university or technical college. Society has a responsibility to provide free education until an individual’s education is completed.

Second the sick – what does looking after the sick mean? I know maternity care is not an illness but caring for the sick means providing state medical care from birth to death for everyone. I was appalled to discover that giving birth in the United States costs a family $10,000 rising to $30,000 by the time pre-birth and after-birth care was included. When I first went to live in the United States it took me years to get my head around the changed function of a hospital. Growing up in NZ I was used to looking on hospitals as a service society provided. Then in the US hospitals were no longer a service. They were factories where doctors went to make a profit. Socialism means rejecting the profit motive and preserving the social service of medical care. And not only hospitals but doctors visits and prescriptions as well.

And finally the elderly. Even socialist NZ has more that it could do in this area. Society should look after those who are no longer able to work. Housing and food for the elderly should be society’s payment for the years the elderly have contributed to the welfare of others.

Of course there will be those who abuse these socialist principles. Every freedom is open to abuse by someone. Freedom of expression allows some to publish porn. Generous unemployment benefits mean some will give up looking for work. But the abuse of the few has never been a reason to punish the deserving.

I guess the next question is does socialism work? A swimming parent I knew in Florida is forever publishing pictures on Facebook of litter strewn streets in Venezuela with captions about the failure of socialism. But is that accurate or fair? Let’s look at some comparative figures between the USA and NZ.

Item NZ USA UN Rank NZ UN Rank US
Life Expectancy 81.61 78.69 17 31
Happiness 8 18
Democracy 9.26 7.98 4 21
Murders 0.99 per 100K 5.35 per 100K 213 94
Rape 25.8 per 100K 27.3 per 100K
Corruption 87 71 2 22
Infant Mortality 4.31 per 1K 5.97 per 1K 27 38

So the decision is yours. Where would you choose to live? In a capitalist country where you were more likely to die at birth, were surrounded by less happy people, were more likely to be raped or murdered, had to deal with a more corrupt bureaucracy, vote in a less democratic political system and die three years earlier. Or would you prefer to live in socialist NZ where your chances of living at birth were better, where you would enjoy life more, where the probability of being raped or murdered was way, way less, where elections were more democratic and officials less corrupt and you would live three more years to enjoy it all. And so USA, stick your capitalist bigotry where the sun don’t shine. Don’t feed me your capitalist BS when the results are so provably bad. The only freedom you seem to be offering is the freedom to be miserable. Keep on spending your money on guns and death and, please promise to stay well away from our back yard.

My views on a benevolent socialist society do not mean I support government interference in all aspects of NZ life. I said society had a duty to support weaker members of the group. That does not include sport. For example private enterprise clubs are far better equipped to manage the affairs of swimming than the bureaucrats that sit in Antares Place. For years Cotterill, Johns and Francis have attempted to take control of training, learn-to-swim, registration and competition – you name it and Antares Place wanted to own it. The three of them could well have authored the “Das Capital” of swimming. I bet Cotterill’s friends would love to know his hidden communist leanings. You don’t believe me? Then explain why he supported “centralised” training for the past ten years. Because, you see centralised means communist. And in competitive sport I agree with the Americans – it does not work.

And that’s the end of politics for another ten years. In our next post we will return to the world of sport; this time to track and field athletics.

Physiology 101

Sunday, March 10th, 2019

The Auckland Age Group Championships were held this weekend. They seemed to be better organised than in the past. Oh, there were a string of problems that are part of swimming in Auckland’s West Wave Pool.

For example the West Wave roof leaks like a sieve. On Saturday morning a heavy shower put spectators in as much risk of getting wet as the competitors.

I have no idea why Swimming Auckland holds on to the “Live Results” facility on its website. Meet after meet goes by without any live results. What has happened? Are the officials too lazy? Has the facility broken down and no one knows how to fix it? Or does the Board of Swimming Auckland not care anymore? My money is on the “don’t care” option. Certainly I know that if Jo Draisey was still sitting in the administrator room, she would no more allow the “Live Results” function not to work than fly to the moon.

Swimming Auckland hangs on to their ridiculous back door/front door policy. All competitors, coaches and officials must enter through the door at the back of the pool and leave through the main doors at the front of the pool. The two doors are probably 400 meters apart – that’s quarter of a mile. I have written before about the difficulty the Swimming Auckland decision is for the handicapped. A car parked at the back door to enter the meet easily demands a long walk through the front door at the end of the meet. Only Swimming Auckland would support a decision that made attending a swim meet as difficult as possible. Actually, that’s not true; I have no doubt that Swimming New Zealand would make the same hair-brained decision.

But the decision that amazed me most was when Swimming Auckland decided to award age group medals for the 50, 100, 200 and 400 meter events but no age group medals in the 800 and 1500 meter events. Why was that decision made? Which lunatic decided that was a good idea? Why are 800 and 1500 meter races of less value than sprint and middle distance races?

We get no help from the meet poster. In fact the meet poster certainly implies medals will be awarded for all age groups even in the 800 and 1500 meter events. Here is what the meet poster says.

Medals will be awarded to the top three Auckland place-getters in each event by age group.   12/13, 14, 15, 16, 17/O. A maximum of two visitor medals will be awarded in each age-group in each event if finishing in the top three places.

There will be no medal presentations. Medals can be collected by Team Managers at the conclusion of the Session.

It is off the point of this post but do you see the news that “there will be no medal presentations”? I don’t want to be difficult but I’d love Swimming Auckland to send me an email explaining why the meet was stopped for 20 minutes on nine occasions to present medals. The most annoying feature of Swimming New Zealand is their refusal to comply with their own rules or, in some cases, the law. It looks like their junior Auckland partner is following Swimming New Zealand’s example.

Anyway back to the medals. The poster seems clear – medals will be awarded to 12/13, 14, 15, 16, 17/O age groups in “each” event. I presume the word “each” has the same inclusive meaning as it had when I was at school. But without explanation only three medals were presented in the 800 and 1500 meters as though these events were open men’s and women’s competitions – age group medals were not awarded. Why? How does Swimming Auckland explain its decision to ignore the meet poster; to disregard its own rules?

My guess is they figure young swimmers should be discouraged from swimming 800 and 1500 meter events. The best way to do that is to restrict entries and deny young swimmers the reward of a medal for placing in these events.

If that is the basis of Swimming Auckland’s decision it is ridiculously stupid. Swimwatch readers will know I am no great supporter of junior age group competition. I think far too much competitive stress is placed on young children – especially by Swimming New Zealand. Those three Junior National Championships are a disgrace. Everything about them is bad.

However physiologically one fact is certain – the physical stress of a young person swimming 800 or 1500 meters is a lot, lot less than racing 100, 200 or 400 meters. In fact the physical adaptation required to withstand the anaerobic stresses involved in swimming  middle distance events are not even present until 15 or 16 years of age. If you want to really physically hurt a swimmer below 15 years of age race him or her over 100 and 200 meters – races with a high anaerobic content. All the stuff Swimming Auckland encourage. All the hurt they support.

If you want something gentler, something young bodies can tolerate encourage them to swim high aerobic, low anaerobic events like 800 or 1500 meters. All the stuff Swimming Auckland discourages. All the benefit they deny.

Swimming Auckland should read some basic physiology before they decide to reward anaerobic events (100, 200 and 400) that hurt young bodies that have not yet developed the anaerobic capacity to handle the anaerobic stress of racing these events. Swimming Auckland should seek advice before they decide to penalise young children from taking part in aerobic events (800 and 1500) that will not only cause no harm but will physiologically benefit young children.

It may be that some readers wonder why I am so appalled by some New Zealand administrators – especially those living in Antares Place. The reason is decisions like this one. Decisions that science has long taught us are doing harm to New Zealand’s under 15 year old children – decisions that year by year are destroying the sport of swimming.

The Company We Keep

Friday, March 8th, 2019

Swimming New Zealand (SNZ) is one of those organisations that just can’t catch a break. On a rainy day they carefully carry an umbrella to avoid getting wet – walk into the kitchen and a pipe bursts showering them with water. They could donate an old pair of pants to the Salvation Army and forget the $20 note they left in the pocket. They are amazing. They could play against themselves and lose. This week alone there has been a further example.

I wonder if you remember when SNZ was desperate for sponsorship. State Insurance had just packed their sponsorship bags. That was after State, whose sponsorship was aimed at water safety, discovered SNZ staff were sailing around Lake Taupo without life-jackets. Government funding had been cut. SNZ was running out of money and friends. Then along came a company I’d heard of in my corporate days, international insurance agency, AON.

SNZ was delighted. Someone had agreed to financially support the Open and Age Group national swimming championships. In fact their excitement was at such a pitch they lied to AON about the benefits of the sponsorship. The SNZ website proudly proclaimed, “The announcement comes following the growth of participating swimmers entering both championships every year.” That wasn’t true but, what the hell, it sounded good. And in a time when we are told Trump’s crowd sizes are the biggest ever, when they are not, one more lie between friends doesn’t really matter?

As things have turned out, I need not have worried about the lie. AON are well accustomed to exaggeration. AON and exaggeration are positively hand-in-glove. You see AON have offices all over the world. Their organisation in the United States is huge; so huge in fact that one of their customers is a guy, who only deals in huge – Donald Trump.

We learned about AON’s connection to the President from Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen. During Cohen’s testimony to the House Committee on Oversight and Reform Cohen explained that Trump had provided AON with fake information about his wealth. In particular Trump had told AON that a house he owned was worth $291 million when the actual value was less than $50 million. Using the false information AON had gone out to secure discounted insurance cover. Without question AON should have been more careful. They should have checked the information they were given, especially when the source was Donald Trump. Using Trump supplied data without checking its truthfulness to obtain insurance cover or anything else is asking for trouble.

As you might expect the whole thing is becoming really messy. Congress has ordered AON to turn over all the documents it has referring to the Trump business. At this stage no one is saying AON have done anything illegal. But the investigation is certainly focused on determining whether someone has been guilty of insurance fraud.

Perhaps we should cut SNZ some slack. How were they to know that the company offering them sponsorship was about to play a central role in the biggest scandal in the world right now? You have to admit though it is pretty typical of SNZ – almost get it right but never perfect. And now their only sponsor is embroiled in a Donald Trump outrage. Another SNZ comedy to go with a thousand other comedies.

Continuing the theme, I thought I might introduce SNZ Chairman, Bruce Cotterill, to Brian Le Gros, owner of the appropriately named White House strip club in Auckland. Then SNZ could do this thing properly. In addition to the AON financial gossip Brucie could add his very own SNZ Stormy Daniels’ moment. It could well be the climax of his career as a sport’s administrator.