We Are Not Alone

The “Comments” section of this blog has recently been a subject of discussion. Some commentators paint the decision to turn off the “Comments” facility as a signal that I want to dodge criticism and stifle debate. That view is not true. The section was turned off because the blog was being inundated with American advertising spam. We were spending hours deleting pleas to buy American cars, life insurance and medical products.

In return for closing the “Comments” section I published a promise that any email sent to me at nzdaw@yahoo.co.nz, asking to be published, as long as it obeyed acceptable decency standards in terms of profanity and the like, would be published in the main body of the blog. And that is what has happened. If anyone wants to comment on a swimming subject, they only need to put pen to paper, send it to me and it will be posted on the site. The author can be anonymous or named. I do not mind free speech. I welcome views that are different to mine. Debate is good for all of us.

Getting the balance right can be difficult. On the one hand Swimming New Zealand (SNZ) and its agents complain about the “Comments” section being turned off. On the other hand there are those who have had their opinions published and write to me asking for the posts to be taken down. If you write to me about a swimming topic, unless I am told it is “off the record”, it will be published. My inclination is always to publish. Fresh air is the best disinfectant.

One of my serious complaints about the SNZ constitution introduced in 2011 was the swing towards secrecy. For example before 2011 SNZ published the minutes of their Board meetings. The new Constitution saw an end to that democratic feature. It is ironic that SNZ and its agents are the leading critics of the Swimwatch decision to close the “Comments” section. Every email they want published complains about the same thing. They clearly see it as an attack on their freedom of speech. The implication is that David Wright wants to broadcast his opinions but deny everyone else the same opportunity.

Their words ring pretty hollow when SNZ’s website does not allow comments. They have an extensive news section. Currently it displays nine stories about subjects as diverse as learn to swim, age group championships, world championships and the Taupo open water championship. I happen to know that there were aspects of the open water championship that caused great concern. But could those concerns be published on a SNZ comments section on their website? Certainly not, no way, never. Have any of my comments been published on the SNZ website? Certainly not, no way, never. Have SNZ’s emails to me been published on Swimwatch? Always. Hard to argue with those facts.

It is typical of those who run SNZ. Throw insults at opinion writers like me but suffocate free speech in their own backyard. They should read the Sermon on the Mount. “Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye.”

It is reassuring to know that Swimwatch is not alone. I am not alone. In recent months there has been a noticeable increase in readership. The site now has close to 1500 readers a week. Some readers are hugely influential in the world of swimming. They might not always agree with me but that is a good thing. No one ever argued I was always right. But there are opinion leaders reading Swimwatch who have led the sport forward in ways SNZ and its agents never have and never will.

Here are two comments sent to me recently that illustrate what I mean.

“If the definition of disagreement or the verb ‘to disagree’ is vendetta, then we can only assume that this federation is working on its own ‘vendetta’ with any members who disagree with the way its running its affairs and the sport of swimming. Here is what a critic of a federation that has, unquestionably, deserved criticism, has faced since he spoke out in support of a Syrian refugee who swims well enough and trains hard enough to merit a place in the Olympic refugees team, provided he is supported, in official word and signature only (at no cost), by the relevant sports authorities in the nation that accepted his application for asylum. Here’s David Wright’s latest on the matter … complete with the view that ‘My opinion might not be to everyone’s liking but its suppression is not the answer’ and a very sound reason why a comments section is closed (just as it is on many federations blogs, facebook communities and forums the wold [sic] of swimming over … )”

And a second comment.

“Oh gosh, so familiar. That is exactly what I was accused of – a vendetta – for raising issues of concern and then asking again when there was no proper response. The resort of those who have no actual reasoned response to make and thus have to resort to abuse.”

The real issue is how the sport of swimming treats a refugee; how New Zealand as a country treats a refugee. Some lawyer trying to beat up on David Wright is not important. The Swimming Federation bitching about not being able to say what they like on the Swimwatch blog is even less important. But how the lawyer and the Federation deal with Eyad is very serious. That speaks to our heart. That throws light on our soul. And it is that test that SNZ has failed.

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