Archive for March, 2019

A Failing Future

Thursday, March 7th, 2019

The future of world swimming is being played out before our eyes. Sadly New Zealand is being left out. Abandoned, we have not even received an invitation to the dance. New Zealand swimming is going to be absent from the top tier of world swimming, relegated to second class status. Cotterill, Johns and Francis will eventually realise world swimming has passed us by. Of course they will blame the clubs and the coaches. But the failure will be theirs and they should never be allowed to avoid the blame.

So what is this future that will pass New Zealand by? It was described recently by Craig Lord on the Swimvortex Facebook page. The table below shows a summarised version of what’s been going on.

British swim ace Adam Peaty took his first big stroke towards becoming a swimming millionaire today by signing up as ambassador and star of “The London Team”, one of eight multi-nation professional squads taking shape for the launch of the International Swimming League (ISL) in August.

The League, Peaty told this author, would “put swimming on the world sports map in between Olympics” in a way that FINA had failed to do. The British ace could be earning $5 million a year within five years if the League goes the way he plans, says Russian billionaire backer Grigorishin.

The world’s first professional swimming league will launch elimination rounds between August and December this year, half of them in the United States and half in Europe, London set to host one of four European events on November 23-24. Peaty will race at three rounds and aims to get The London Team to the super-final set for Las Vegas on the cusp of Christmas.

Of a total budget of $20m, $5m will be handed out in prizes to individual swimmers, while each of the eight professional teams, four based in Europe and four based in the United States, will receive $150,000 each in appearance fees, for a total prize pot of just over $6 million for swimmers. Beyond that, the ISL will fund all travel, accommodation and subsistence for teams to the tune of $3 million.

So there it is; the professional future of world swimming. It is as obvious as the nose on your face. Swimming is moving steadily along the path followed by world tennis, and athletics. In tennis the Australia, French, Wimbledon and US open events have more status than the Olympic Games. In athletics the Diamond League is growing in stature every year. Just ask Tom Walsh or Rafael Nadal. I’m pretty sure they will confirm that being in the top tier of their sports means competing in the Open tennis events or in the Diamond League.

In swimming, very soon, the same standard is going to apply. Swimmers not included in the 256 swimmers (eight teams of 32 swimmers in each team) competing in the ISL competition are going to be outside the best the sport has to offer. In future years every Olympic champion is going to be one of the highly paid professionals taking part in the ISL world league. Nothing is more certain than that.

And where is New Zealand in all this? Nowhere is the answer. I doubt that Cotterill, Johns or Francis even know that the ISL is happening. And if they do, my guess is, they probably don’t approve and, like FINA, believe the ISL should be resisted with all New Zealand’s might. Athlete welfare, swimming millionaires and sporting democracy are very low on Swimming New Zealand’s order of priorities.

Their cavalier disregard for refugee, Eyad Masoud’s application to join the IOC refugee team stems from the same pig-headed ignorance and disregard for an athlete’s welfare that has led them is ignore the future of world swimming. The sport in New Zealand is about to pay a very high price for the stupidity of those who live in Antares Place. If Cotterill, Johns or Francis had any idea about the future and good health of swimming one of them would have been on an airplane this week heading to London to secure a place in the ISL’s chosen 256 for Clareburt, Hunter, Godwin or one of a handful of others.

But, oh no, there is nothing in it for Cotterill, there is nothing in it for Johns and there is nothing in it for Francis so why should they bother. Besides, the Godfather of New Zealand sport, Peter Miskimmin, might not approve. So let’s put on another training camp. Let’s make a Cotterill song and dance about paying a trivial $400 contribution to a $5,300 travel bill. Let’s include Daniel Hunter’s name on a Francis Folly list. Let’s give them a SNZ t-shirt and a cap with their name on it. That should keep the troops happy. Hunter and Clareburt never wanted to be millionaires anyway. Besides we sure as hell can’t have swimmers earning more than any of the residents of Antares Place. Who do those swimmers think they are – Tom Walsh or Rafael Nadal – ridiculous?

I have little doubt that the warning contained in this post will be ignored just like ten years of warnings about the stupidity of centralised training were ignored. When finally SNZ realised the futility of their centralised training policy – Swimwatch was right – it was all years too late. The damage was serious. Repairs will take years. My guess is the same thing is going to happen with the ISL competition. Instead of getting New Zealand involved from the beginning, the attitude of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost will be to do anything but agree with David Wright. I guess that means, in ten years,  when a couple of New Zealand’s best swimmers should be enjoying retirement in million dollar homes in Wanaka or the Bay of Islands, instead I will be writing another, “I told you so” story.

Sadly that will all be too late for this and the next generation of New Zealand’s best swimmers.

Bigger Barns

Wednesday, March 6th, 2019

The title of this post refers to the Biblical parable known as the “Parable of the Rich Fool. It refers to the foolishness of a rich man who constantly builds bigger and bigger barns only to die without receiving any benefit. Donald Trump is a classic example of the parable of the rich fool. But so is New Zealand sport.

This thought was highlighted by a recent Sports Tribunal of New Zealand decision. The Tribunal ruled on a case where the New Zealand drug agency had convicted a recreational athlete of a drug offence. The person involved was a member of his local surf club as a result of a donation he had made to the club. He also played recreational golf. On that basis the NZ drug agency decided it had jurisdiction and convicted him of a steroid offense.

In a majority decision the Tribunal ruled that membership of a club alone bound everyone to the sport’s anti-doping rules, irrespective of whether the individual actually competed in a sporting event. The New Zealand drug agency was given approval to expand the definition of athlete to include recreational players.

I am in two minds. On the one hand I agree there has to be absolute and uncompromising policing of drug cheats. We cannot tolerate Sun Yang type episodes. On the other hand I wonder whether the New Zealand drug agency’s resources could be better applied than chasing down Sunday morning golf players.

If I had to rule on the case I probably would agree the drug agency should have the widest possible definition of athlete but should avoid prosecuting Tuesday night ping-pong player from Katikati. There are enough problems at the elite level of New Zealand sport to occupy the drug agency’s time and money. Who was getting away with what at the elite level while drug agency people were occupied with a charity member of a surf club? The agency should have the freedom to build bigger barns but should focus on what they have got already.

But the aspect of the Sports Tribunal case that did interest me was the push towards building a bigger empire. It is not only the drug agency that’s into that game. That is happening everywhere in sport. Upstart Ron Brierleys are seeking to build empires all over the place. None of them are in Ron Brierley’s league of course, especially not swimming’s Steve Johns, but that does not stop them trying.

Take swimming as an example. The attraction of bigger barns has been front and centre. While the existing barn is leaking and falling to bits, and in serious need of repair, Chairman Cotterill and CEO Johns are out looking for sites to build a bigger barn. You’d have to wait a long time to see Ron Brierley make that mistake. But that’s swimming for you.

Take the “teach the teachers” program. In his 2012 Swimming New Zealand (SNZ) Review, Chris Moller recommended that SNZ drop this function. It was one of the few Moller recommendations that I agreed with. There are far better private sector swimming organisations capable of teaching the teachers. Certainly it is a job for private enterprise not the occupants of Antares Place. But, of course SNZ needs a bigger barn. There was no way it is going to abandon “teach the teachers” even if Judith Wright, Gwen Ryan, Liz van Wellie, Rachael Johns and several others could do it better. Here is the only explanation we have had from SNZ.

The exceptions are Learn to Swim, where the Board of Swimming New Zealand explored all of the options available to it, and, for rational and justifiable reasons, chose to retain the “teach the teachers” programme as a separate business unit at that time

I call it an “explanation” but it is not. “For rational and justifiable reasons” does not explain or justify anything. What are the rational and justifiable reasons? If the Board is going to ride roughshod over the Moller Report that was approved by the membership, at a General Meeting, we have a right to know the details of the rational and justifiable reasons – or are they, as I suspect, just a case of wanting a bigger barn?

Of course the whole centralised training policy was based on building a bigger barn. SNZ saw itself as taking over the preparation of New Zealand’s best swimmers from private enterprise clubs. For ten years SNZ stripped money and talent away from New Zealand clubs and spent a fortune on coaching in Antares Place. It never worked. In fact New Zealand’s best swimmer at the time, Lauren Boyle, couldn’t wait to get out of that particular barn.

Her decision to leave could well have been the cause of the SNZ decision to abandon centralised training. Lauren Boyle may have lit the fire that eventually burnt down the SNZ barn. Well done and thank you Lauren.

Sadly the Francis Folly that replaced centralised training is just as bad. A North Shore age-group coach has been employed to organise elite training camps and wander around New Zealand telling good coaches how to prepare champion swimmers. Francis is just another SNZ barn, hopefully one that never has anything to do with any product of mine.

And finally SNZ’s, not so subtle, attempt to take over para-swimming is a classic bigger barn move. The clear motive is to latch-on to the spectacular success of Sophie Pascoe and others. Instead of saying SNZ won one bronze medal at the Commonwealth Games the organisation can distort the truth by claiming Sophie Pascoe’s two gold medals. The most recent step in the expansion into para-swimming is the cynical appointment of a para-swimming staff member. When SNZ run their core business so badly I have no idea why anyone would think SNZ taking over anything else was a good idea.

However the central problem with SNZ’s history of barn building is the distraction it causes. SNZ has a core business that is failing. Membership is DOWN. Income is DOWN. Government support is DOWN. Competitive results are DOWN. Without question the distraction of ventures into learn-to-swim, elite coaching and para-swimming have played a role in SNZ’s disastrous performance in its core business.

A Fox In The Hen House

Tuesday, March 5th, 2019

I see the Minister of Sport, Grant Robertson, has weighed into the bullying in sport issue. In a NZ Herald report he wept crocodile tears about athletes affected by a “win at all costs” mentality. Sadly he missed completely the critical matter of responsibility. But more of that later; let’s look first at what he said. The table below shows some quotes taken from the NZ Herald report.

Sport Minister Grant Robertson believes bullying is alive and well in New Zealand sport.

Sports and Recreation Minister Grant Robertson says New Zealand sport’s “win-at-all-cost” mentality is putting athletes’ wellbeing at risk.

Last year, New Zealand Athlete Federation boss Roger Mortimer said he believes New Zealand sport has lost its way and created an unsafe environment for some athletes.

Mortimer believes the issue is preventable and comes down to a lack of leadership in New Zealand sport.

Robertson told the Herald he believes the issue needs to be at the “forefront” and that Sport NZ, the governing body that oversees sport in New Zealand, are working closely towards changing the sporting environment.

“Through Sport NZ they’ve been taking a very close look at these issues in the context of the whole overall question around player welfare. And so that work is now underway.”

The minister believes improving the sporting environment for athletes will be beneficial not only for their wellbeing but also for the country’s sporting achievement.

Minister of Sport Robertson is right and horribly wrong. As he says, bullying is alive and well in New Zealand sport; the “win-at-all-cost” mentality is putting athletes’ wellbeing at risk.” That’s right, that’s true and that’s serious. Recognising the problem is an important first step. But what he does not address, what he leaves out altogether is who created the mess? Who caused the bullying culture? It sure as God made little green apples didn’t happen on its own. Someone was responsible for approving the use of bullying; someone promoted the culture of “win at all costs”.

Incredibly the person Robertson has put in charge of curing the problem, the CEO of Sport NZ, Peter Miskimmin, is the person who caused it. The fox has been put in charge of the hen house.

Let’s consider an example of how Miskimmin has encouraged the toxic environment that now infests New Zealand sports. Nowhere is there a better example than the sport of swimming.

Miskimmin has long been desperate for high performance results from swimming. After organizing a power grab of swimming in 2011, Miskimmin needed competitive success to justify the policies his appointed minions imposed on the sport. He planned to achieve competitive results using two policies – money and centralised training. He built a centralised training pool. He scoured the world for alien coaches from Australia, the UK and the United States – anywhere except New Zealand. He poured millions into the sport and he encouraged a policy that dragged talented swimmers from their home clubs to the Swimming New Zealand Antares Place holy waters.

And it didn’t work. For a while Lauren Boyle papered over the failings but the policies were doomed. Miskimmin is a vicious boss. Someone had to pay. And it certainly was not going to be him. Miskimmin decided the sport had let him down; the sport had failed to properly implement his policies. Miskimmin’s policies were not the problem. Swimming was the problem. Swimming was going to pay. He would do this by stripping swimming of the life blood it needed most – Miskimmin’s money.

Swimming would be taught a lesson. Winning was non-negotiable. Losing came with a high cost. Failure would not be tolerated. Other sports would learn from the price swimming was about to pay. The wages of losing was financial strangulation.

The table below shows how Miskimmin actioned his devious plot.

Year Sport NZ Funding $ Decrease % Decrease
2018 1,176,498 236,650 16.7
2017 1,413,148 245,882 14.8
2016 1,659,030 530,533 24.2
2015 2,189,533 305,759 12.3
2014 2,495,292 0 0
Total   1,318,824 52.9

And it worked. Oh, swimming’s results did not get any better. Miskimmin’s policies still prevented that miracle. But fear of Miskimmin’s financial wrath was communicated clearly. You see those who manage sport in New Zealand are not all that bright. They scare easily. But they know enough to understand that a 53% reduction in funding puts at risk the thing they value most – their own pay packet. Failing athletes cannot be allowed to get away with putting the bureaucrats cushy life-styles at risk.

The CEO of SNZ, Steve Johns, was very clear on that point when he addressed a meeting of swimming parents in Wellington. He explained that the best way to secure better funding was improved international results. Winning at all costs was accepted as established law. Miskimmin had made his point.

The fall-out spread wider than swimming. Sport after sport took harsh actions to avoid the same fate. Cycling, hockey, rowing and soccer all over-reacted; desperate to preserve their funding, desperate to curry favor with Peter Miskimmin.

And now Robertson has put Miskimmin in charge of implementing a more balanced approach. It is ridiculous. A more balanced approach would require Miskimmin to reject the policies he has imposed for a decade. Centralised training would have to go. Financial rewards and punishments based on competitive performance would need to be abandoned. And most of all the fox would need to be evicted from the hen house.

A Four Minute Mile

Monday, March 4th, 2019

Cooks Gardens in Wanganui

Most of my coaching has involved the sport of swimming. However the first fifteen years were spent coaching athletics. Following the instructions of Head Coach Arch Jelley, I supervised Alison’s track preparation. We were living in the UK. Every week Arch would send me Alison’s training. My job was to time her track workouts and report back to Arch with her progress.

They were great years. Alison ran in National Championships, Commonwealth Games and World Championships. Through Alison’s running I got to meet other great runners like John Walker, Dick Quax and Rod Dixon.

An aspect of the running of all four athletes was the contrast between their gentle aerobic runs and their track workouts. I’ve been on a thousand runs with Alison. We would chat away as the miles went by. Not that she would run slowly. Her regular eight mile (13 kilometres) hilly morning run in Scotland was usually completed in about 48 minutes. I’ve also run with John Walker through the industrial English northern city of Gateshead and around the exclusive golf course at the Selsdon Park Hotel on the outskirts of London. I’ve run with Dick Quax around Windsor Great Park and with Rod Dixon through forests on the outskirts of Munich in Germany.

But the contrast between their easy runs and their track work or racing was astounding. A transformation takes place that is beyond understanding. I recently went to watch the World Master’s Athletic Championships at the track in West Auckland. I was especially impressed with a Swedish woman who won the 30-35 age group 1500 meters. “Wow”, my brain said, “that’s really fast.” It was only when she finished I realised Alison used to run the same distance 30 seconds faster. Perhaps, thirty years ago, I should have shown her more respect.

Dick Quax once asked me to time and “easy” set of 10×400 with an easy 400 jog between. He was the world 5000 metre record holder at the time. So I guess I should have expected to be impressed. But wow, I was more than that. As he strode through 400 after 400 in 58 seconds it dawned on me. These guys inhabit a different space.

Or just try standing close to the edge of the track at the 200 metre mark when John Walker began to make his run for home. The power was quite simply beyond belief. The gentle Labrador that had run with me through the Gateshead cemetery this morning was a Cheetah in full flight, with its prey in sight. After winning a mile race John once asked me, “What did you think?” Oh my God I thought the first man to break 3.50 for a mile has just won an international race in 3.54 and he wants to know what I think. I struggled to find something to say; something sensible but not too complimentary. I failed.

Dixon, Walker and Quax – all three were four minute milers, all three I have watched race and run their gentle morning workouts. I do have some appreciation of the class it takes run a mile in under four minutes. I read the other day that more people have climbed Mt. Everest than have run a four minute mile. I can believe that. Everest might be difficult, but a four minute mile, that’s really tough and there is no Sherpa to push you through the last 400 metres.

With that experience you can imagine how impressed I was to read the following report on the Athletics New Zealand website. Dixon, Walker, Quax and an eighteen year old from Tauranga, called Sam Tanner, now have something in common. All four have run a mile in less than four minutes.

The first Sir Peter Snell International Track Meet took place at Cooks Gardens yesterday evening.

One highlight was Sam Tanner’s sub-four minute mile in the One Mile Championship, clocking a time of 3:58.41, a new NZ U19 and U20 Record.*

Head over to the ACE Rogers Sports Facebook page for more event videos and updates.

“One highlight” – can you believe that understatement? Eighteen years old, been training seriously for two years and a four minute miler – that’s a highlight all right; a highlight beyond belief. Congratulations Sam Tanner. What a wonderful achievement.

I was delighted to read about Tanner’s run. And I was pleased to read that his coach was a 2.13 marathon runner. With that background I am sure Tanner will be guided along a path other great New Zealand runners have travelled before. And Tanner also seems to have the assistance of a perfect role-model, Nick Willis. I read Tanner’s school mates call him “the Kenyan”. That just might be truer than any of them ever guessed.

Already Tanner has added to the story of amazing running that has taken place at Cooks Gardens in Wanganui; a history that began long before the all-weather track, shown in the title photograph, was installed. I am sure other milestones (excuse the pun) will follow. Congratulations again. As Mohammed Ali is quoted as saying, “You done splendid.”

Sold Out But Who Cares

Sunday, March 3rd, 2019

October 25th last year doesn’t seem too long ago. Truth is it’s only been 127 days. That was when Radio NZ reported the fall of former Olympic Triathlon Champion, Hamish Carter. Carter was exposed as a leaker of what was supposed to be confidential information, to former national track cycling coach Anthony Peden. He was exposed as a snitch.

In reporting Carter’s deception Radio NZ’s account included the comments shown in the table below.

The fall from grace of Olympic champion Hamish Carter is staggering,

His betrayal of trust of fellow Olympians undermines so much of what is good in sport.

At best, this is a severe case or poor judgement

You could understand if others who have told him things in confidence are now feeling a little nervous.

Now there are several issues quite apart from the monumental breach of trust.

Athletes’ trust in Cycling New Zealand and HPSNZ is no doubt in tatters but they were sold out by one of their own – a former athlete.

“Confidentiality is fundamental to having a trustful relationship with our athletes”. But the silence from Cycling New Zealand, HPSNZ and Sport NZ in the wake of Carter’s fall from grace is deafening.

At the time I agreed with Radio NZ’s attitude. I didn’t write anything about the episode, preferring not to risk the accusation of kicking a guy when he is down. After all he did resign and apologise. Radio NZ’s explanation of Carter’s apology and their opinion of its sincerity are shown in this next table.

Has he contacted the athletes involved and personally apologized or are a few trite lines in a statement all they are getting?

“I feel very sad to be moving away from sport, something I truly love and am passionate about,” the statement said.

“I hope that one day I can return, but for now I need some time away.”

It remains to be seen whether the “old boys club” will still be there to welcome him back.

So what do we know from all this? We know that Carter snitched on his mates. We know he resigned and faded from public view seemingly reconciled to serving a self-imposed period of home detention. It was time for Hamish Carter to atone for a shocking lapse of judgement.

But today we have been told the sentence for what certainly seems like Carter’s dishonesty is a mere 127 days. You see today Triathlon NZ announced they have appointed Carter as their General Manager of Performance.

In my opinion the dishonesty of everyone involved is overwhelming.

Dishonesty One – Carter committed the original sin by double-crossing his cycling mates.

Dishonesty Two – Triathlon New Zealand’s Chairman, Graham Perks, effort to sweep Carter’s deception under the carpet is pathetic. According to him there are no concerns about Carter’s dishonesty. He said, “That was dealt with in 2018. The sport is “lucky” to have him. A spokesperson lamely added that Triathlon NZ had,” Full confidence in his ability to do the job.”

Dishonesty Three – Carter’s wife Marisa is on the Board of Triathlon NZ. Of course she abstained from approving Carter’s appointment and will step down to ensure no further conflicts of interest. Too late Marisa – the smell of another double cross, true or not, will linger.

Dishonesty Four – The CEO of High Performance Sport NZ (HPSNZ), Michael Scott, said that the organisation was content with the recruitment process.

“Triathlon NZ, like all national sporting bodies, is an independent entity responsible for its own recruitment. We have been briefed on these two new appointments and are satisfied with the process that was followed,” he said.

There is no chance for New Zealand sport when this is the way they behave. The impression of disease and corruption is overwhelming. What Carter did was inexcusable. The Chairman of Triathlon NZ’s explanation is a pathetic whitewash. Carter’s wife has done the right thing but has left the stench of nepotism behind. And the boss of HPSNZ who promises us a new beginning and assures us of a bright new future has participated in the Carter dishonesty by giving legitimacy to a gigantic cover up.

In fact the opinion of the CEO of HPNZ is typical of the nonsense that comes out of sport in NZ. In his first sentence he says Triathlon NZ is independent and fully responsible for its own recruitment. And then, in his second sentence, he says Triathlon NZ has been required to brief HPSNZ and has received its approval for Carter’s appointment. That does not sound like independent freedom to me. Of course it is not. Scott is talking a mammoth pile of rubbish.

When Carter left Cycling New Zealand under a very black cloud, Radio NZ prophetically said,” It remains to be seen whether the “old boys club” will still be there to welcome him back.” Today we have the answer. If you have an Olympic Gold Medal, no matter what your sins, the “old boys club” will rally around and in 127 days all will be forgiven.

Wow, I wish Keith Hancox had been so easily forgiven. Months after his death and 27 years after his financial misdemeanors Swimming New Zealand has not mentioned his death or his contribution to the sport of swimming. Hamish Carter gets treated like a precious choir boy while someone who did make a difference to sport in general gets the Cotterill, Francis and Johns cold shoulder. Three years after investigating my coaching Swimming NZ has denied me the justice of sending me the investigator’s report. Hallowed Hamish Carter gets forgiven in 127 days. I can’t get justice in more than 127 weeks.

I have said before New Zealand sport is not being well led. This weekend we have further confirmation of that opinion. A word of caution to all triathletes – don’t trust the General Manager of Performance. There are some who have trusted him and lived to regret their mistake.