Archive for April, 2019

Bone Of Contention

Monday, April 22nd, 2019

Tonight’s TV news gave some publicity to Mark Bone and a new pool opening in Auckland. I have never made a secret about the fact I have little or no time for Bone. He’s just not my sort of guy. TVNZ however worship at the house of Bone. But there is another side to that story. Here is a post that was first published in February 2017. Do leopards change their spots?

A Bone To Pick

Wow, I have clearly been away from New Zealand for too long. Sitting here in the Red Sea port of Jeddah I have lost contact with the comings and goings of swimming in New Zealand. As recent Swimwatch posts will show I have been making an effort to catch up. My plan is to turn up at the New Zealand National Championships in April with one of my better Saudi swimmers. Actually Eyad is not from Saudi Arabia. He’s a Syrian whose family escaped the bombed out destruction of Aleppo. He is a sprinter and will swim in the 50 and 100 freestyle and butterfly events.

But in the course of trolling through various New Zealand swimming sites I came across some information that made my blood boil. You see I have some knowledge of what it’s like to prepare for an Olympic Games and have things not go to plan. Of course I have no knowledge of the deep hurt felt by a swimmer. Their hurt is personal and private; a hurt only known to them and for them to bear.

However in 1992 I was the coach of Toni Jeffs at the Barcelona Olympic Games. After winning a bronze medal in what was then the world short course championship Toni was a favourite to make a final in the Barcelona Games. She ended up 27th in the 50 freestyle. And it was not her fault. I badly misjudged the speed work portion of her training. I pushed way too hard. Nothing was ever good enough. If Toni swam a 45 second trial I demanded 42. If she did 20×100 I increased it to 40×100. This was the Olympic Games – time to go further and faster, much further and much faster. And Toni to her credit delivered.

But, by the time we arrived in Barcelona Toni was desperately unwell. My training had been way over the top. One evening in a café on the Barcelona waterfront we were having dinner and she just fell off her chair, passed out on the floor. She was run down to the point of exhaustion. Looking back on it, she did a remarkable job of swimming the length of the Barcelona Pool.

The result hurt me, because I knew it was my fault. But the result hurts the athlete far more. It is their result. The victories and the losses belong to the athlete. And for that they deserve our respect and our assurance that we will refrain from invading their joy or their sorrow. And do you want to know who taught me that? A guy called Arthur Lydiard.

A week later Toni and I were in a nearly empty Koro Lounge at Auckland Airport, waiting for a flight to Wellington. A family group was sitting not far away. The husband walked over to our table and asked, “Are you David Wright and Toni Jeffs?”

I said, “Yes, hello.”

He said, “Well I just want you to know that our family got up at 1.00 in the morning to watch you swim and you let us down.”

There was nothing I could say to diminish the swimmer’s hurt. What he said was not fair. It was not right. It was ignorant of the facts and oblivious to the pain.

I was reminded of that story when I came across a paragraph written by Lauren Boyle on the news page of her website. This is what it says:

NOVEMBER 2016 – Radio Sport NZ enquired about having a chat, but can wait until hell freezes over for anything from me. Straight after my races at Rio de Janeiro Radio Sport aired an unjustified character attack on me by an ex Swimming New Zealand official. No apology or retraction was forthcoming. What Mr Bone would know about my illness, fightback, or for that matter anything much around elite competition, I could write on a small piece of rice paper. Age group swimming; maybe! However on a positive note I should record my appreciation for the public support I received in response to this.

Of course I then clicked on the New Zealand Herald link to see what Mr. Bone had said. And here is a summarized version of what I found.

12 August, 2016   

Former national swim coach Mark Bone has launched a stinging attack on New Zealand swim star Lauren Boyle, saying she had conceded defeat before she even got to Rio de Janeiro. Boyle’s preparation has been blighted by injury and illness, but Bone said the best swimmers push through those sorts of issues.

“I got the impression going in that that she has already thrown it away. You’ve just got to close your mouth and get on with the job and see what comes out of it,” Bone told Radio Sport’s Kent Johns. “You can pull some excuses after the event. I don’t like to see excuses coming out before the event. You’ve got to get out there and lay it on the line.

“Psychologically, she had given up before the event had even started.

“They overcome adversity and they do it in spite of [illness]… You have to look at the campaign that she’s had. Swimming New Zealand has given her everything that she’s wanted – the opportunity to train offshore, all the resources. I’m disappointed with the fact she swum, I guess, as badly as she has done.

“Is it good enough for Lauren Boyle? Absolutely not.”

The comments of Mark Bone did not surprise. On several occasions I have been the subject of Bone vitriol. I have heard him publically pull apart swimmers coached by me and, I suspect, principally only because they were coached by me. It has long been my opinion that he is an unsuitable person to comment on swimming matters during television broadcasts. And I have that view, not because he does not know the sport. But because he has opinions like those reported in the New Zealand Herald. You see I’ve come across Mark Bone types before. Indeed I met one once in the Koru Lounge at Auckland Airport.



Sunday, April 21st, 2019

I have mentioned before my application to see the Marris Report into complaints made about my coaching. It has been and continues to be a long and difficult road. It is important for me to win the case. There is no way Swimming New Zealand (SNZ) should be able to investigate any member and then refuse to give that member a copy of the final report. That is flat out wrong. Whether the person being investigated is innocent or guilty they have an unquestioned right to see the final report into their behaviour.

I don’t want to go into too much detail on why that should be the case. We are right in the middle of this SNZ issue. It would not help our cause to discuss every last thing SNZ is doing wrong. And so we won’t do that.

But what I do want to discuss is why it is important to all SNZ members that I win this case. It is important because any one of you could be investigated at any time for a breach of SNZ rules. If that occurs I am sure everyone would like to think they would have access to the result of the investigation.

If I win the chances of the accused gaining access to a final report from SNZ get better. If I lose SNZ’s conviction that they can hold onto a final report and not show it to the accused receive a boost. SNZ is attempting to place itself above the law and that is bad for all of us.

I have mentioned before that we were at the stage of having our application to see the report being considered by the Privacy Commission. This has now been completed and we have been made aware of the Privacy Commission’s findings. I do not want to discuss those findings. They are best kept confidential to be used at the next Human Rights Tribunal stage.

However what I can say is that I am pleased the Commission has come to its determination. I suspect SNZ – not so much.

But there is one sentence in the report of the Privacy Commission that I believe is important to share with you. Here is what it says. The capitals and bold print are mine.


Just consider that sentence for a moment. The organisation responsible for swimming in New Zealand is being told by the government’s privacy Tsar that it needs to go to school to learn about privacy. That is a damning accusation if there ever was one.

Here we have a sport populated with a majority of young female members and the national organization responsible for their care is so bad at privacy issues that the government are recommending it receives remedial training. Who is that specifically? Is Cotterill’s privacy knowledge deficient? Does Johns have privacy failings? Who specifically needs to go back to privacy school?

The Privacy Commissioner is right about SNZ’s need for privacy training. My case is a perfect example. That is why it is important for me to win by seeing the Marris Report. While SNZ believe they can deny me access to the report all sorts of bad things are possible. Take, for example, last week at the NZ Age Group Swimming Championships. SNZ posted on social media a publicity photograph taken in the girl’s changing room. It was eventually taken down but – too late, the damage was done.

You see that’s the problem. When SNZ disrespect privacy, as much as they are doing in my case, anything is possible, even publishing photographs taken in the changing rooms used by teenage girls. And so SNZ if you are tempted to think that the disruption caused by David Wright is unnecessary trouble making, read again the recommendation of the New Zealand Privacy Commission.


Oh and stop publishing photographs on social media taken inside the girls’ changing room at your National Championships.

Legal Immigration

Sunday, April 14th, 2019

Since Donald Trump moved into the White House immigration into the United States has become a hot topic. Most attention has been focused on the border with Mexico. However immigration in general has not escaped Trump’s wrath. It’s odd that he should be so rabid in his condemnation of immigrants. His current wife and one ex-wife are immigrants into the United States.

In my time I’ve done my fair share of immigration into the United States. In 1967 I first entered on a Student Visa to study on a scholarship for a year in Wisconsin. I entered through San Francisco Airport and spent my first week in the student accommodation at Stanford University. The only problem was going for a swim in a local pool that allocated three hours each week for local nudists. You are right – I chose the same three hours. I didn’t realise my mistake until I was changed and walked out to the pool to discover I was the lone swim suit owner. I retreated and waited for the three hours to end.

My next long term stay in the United States was in the US Virgin Islands. I began my stay on a visitor’s visa. The club wanted time to work out whether I should be their coach and I wanted time to decide whether I wanted to spend two years on a small island in the Caribbean. When we decided the answer to both questions was “Yes” I returned to New Zealand to get a permanent work visa. I decided to apply for an O1 Visa. This was a pretty ambitious move. The O1 Visa is a prestigious document. Here is how the US Government’s website describes the Visa’s conditions:

“The evidence to be submitted must demonstrate that the applicant is truly extraordinary. “Extraordinary” entails a high standard as applied to business persons, scientists, educators and athletes.”

Swimming New Zealand and the NZ Olympic Committee would never have approved the visa, however the US Government thought the deeds of Alison, Toni, Nichola and Jane plus a couple of popular swimming books counted as “extraordinary” and stamped an O1 Visa into my passport.

The guy doing the stamping in Auckland assured me I would never have a problem getting into the USA with an O1 Visa. He said my O1 Visa was the first one he’d seen. What had I done that was so famous? I didn’t want to say nothing in case he took the visa away, so I mumbled something about being a swimming coach at the Olympic Games. That seemed to work. I was spared the embarrassment of admitting I’d made a hash of my Olympic experience.

Equipped with my “easy” O1 entry into the United States I flew back to the Virgin Islands. The first flickers of concern occurred when the immigration officer at the Virgin Island’s Henry E. Rohlsen Airport seemed to study my passport and its shiny new visa for way longer than was necessary. I was certain his attention was because he had never seen anything quite so prestigious.

Then he asked if I could come with him. You never say no to that sort of question especially when the person asking has a gun. I followed him into a small office. He asked if I could wait while he made some enquiries. I agreed. After half an hour I thought I’d ask what was happening. I went to the office door. It was locked. All I could do was wait. Eventually, an hour later, the immigration officer came back smiling and said, “Welcome to the Virgin islands Mr Wright. Please enjoy your stay.”

“Um, thank you.” I said, “Is it okay to ask why I’ve been sitting in a locked room for an hour and a half?

Well, it is the strangest thing, he said. “There is a David Wright from New Zealand who is on our immigration watch list for passing bad cheques in Texas. He is younger than you but we had to call New Zealand to make sure it was a different David Wright.”

If I ever find that other David Wright we are going to have a serious conversation. The guy totally ruined the thrill of my first O1 entry into the United States.

The consulate officer in Auckland was right about the Visa though. On almost all other occasions it provided easy entry into the country. One immigration officer in Miami Airport insisted on telling me about his father who had been on the 1936 American Berlin Olympic Games diving team. Clearly he thought swimming and diving were the same thing.

Apart from the first time I used the O1 Visa the only other time it gave me a problem was the last time I used it to enter the United States. I was returning to Miami after spending a month in Europe at the French high altitude facility in Font Romeu and attending the three Mare Nostrum meets in Barcelona, Canet and Monte Carlo. I presented my passport in Miami in the normal way. The immigration officer studied it and his computer for several minutes and said, “Why are you trying to get into the United States on expired documents?”

I knew immediately what he meant. I explained that I’d been in Europe for a month and while I was there my newly applied for Green Card had been delivered. I didn’t have it of course but Alison did and she was in the airport waiting for me to arrive. I could either enter with the O1 Visa or we could go to reception and use the new Green Card.

“No,” he said. “You are trying to enter the US on fake documents. That is illegal. Go to that illegal immigrant’s office over there.”

I did what I was told and sat down in this awful room; full of really distressed families arguing with immigration officials. Babies were being sick. Mothers were crying. Fathers were yelling. Suspicious looking 20 year olds with facial tattoos were grouped together plotting something. It was awful. I waited for an hour and a half before it was my turn. I explained what had happened. The official frowned. My heart sank.

“Good God, you should never be here,” he said and stamped my passport.

I walked out to find a concerned Alison with my Green Card. The first time I used it was a couple of months later also at Miami Airport. I handed it to the official at the same desk that had caused me problems on my previous journey. The official glanced at it, didn’t stamp anything, smiled and said, “Welcome home.”

What a difference a card makes.

Leadership On Show

Friday, April 12th, 2019

Leadership is a strange quality; easy to see, impossible to copy. Leadership in swimming is currently on full display. Not, as should be happening, in the halls of FINA power but by the leaders and swimmers involved in the International Swimming League. ISL’s voice comes from the pen of the UK’s Craig Lord. When swimming is reformed, and it will, thousands of us will owe Craig Lord our thanks.

Sticking your head over the parapet is not easy. Even in little old New Zealand it has its dangers. But when, like journalist Craig Lord, you accept the challenge of reforming world swimming – wow, that’s a whole different game. Those in power, desperate to silence dissent, have two methods of response.

First they ignore the dissenter’s opinion. Their intention is to send a message that the debate is beneath their dignity. They are way above the insane rantings of the clearly deranged. Refusing to acknowledge the reformer’s existence will, they hope, lead the world in their direction.

And when that doesn’t work they attack the messenger. The message gets ignored. According to those in power Craig Lord is on a personal vendetta; he has always been a trouble maker. Even in New Zealand I have been accused of the same things. Every communication I get from Swimming New Zealand involves a personal insult to me and my blog. I love it. It means I have passed the “ignore him and he will go away” stage.

If my New Zealand experience is anything to go by I hate to think what Craig Lord has put up with. After all he is dealing on the world stage. The vehicles he writes for have huge international reputations. The stakes are immeasurably higher. But so, I guess, are the rewards for a job well done. And it is being well done.

All those thoughts came to mind when I read today a new post on Craig Lord’s Swimvortex Facebook page. Here is the link:

I recommend you read it. This is what leadership looks like. This is the meaning of reform. Lord’s comments begin with this paragraph.

“FINA Future can only be bright if the regulator submits to long-overdue independent review and reform that national federations should be pressing for on behalf of the athletes they serve and represent.”

There you have the problem summarised in one sentence. FINA needs to reform and swimming federations, like Swimming New Zealand, should be pushing for that reform. Instead of sitting around denying me a report into my coaching, instead of swanning off to the USA to inspect the work far more qualified people are already doing, Swimming New Zealand should be spending their time on what really affects the sport.

Consider the thousands spent sending Gary Francis to the USA this week. According to the Swimming New Zealand newsletter, “Gary Francis is currently in the USA visiting our NCAA based Athletes in their home programs.” Can you imagine that? What is that going to achieve? A North Shore age-group coach inspecting the Florida, Kentucky and Georgia NCAA programs. In my opinion another waste of our money. Thousands more to add to the millions Swimming New Zealand has wasted. When they consider the past decade how do they sleep at night?

Instead Swimming New Zealand should be addressing serious issues such as those being discussed in the Craig Lord post. Sadly I suspect Swimming New Zealand doesn’t have a clue what Lord is talking about. Even if they did I doubt any of them would have the courage to peek above the parapet and join the movement for change. Just read the Craig Lord report. World sport is on the move and New Zealand is getting left behind.

Sadly it is not Francis, Cotterill or Johns who are going to pay for that. Yesterday I was talking to the father of a girl about to leave for the Age Group Nationals in Wellington. Like a thousand Dads before him he was full of hope and expectation. It is always refreshing to share their excitement. I never disclosed the impossibly difficult path Swimming New Zealand has placed in front of his daughter. I suspect he would take my concern as the bitterness of old age. But it is confronting when you come face to face with excited expectation that has no idea of the reality of its future.

I hope the North Shore Dad reads this post – but far, far more importantly I hope he reads what Craig Lord has to say on Swimvortex. His daughter’s swimming career depends on it.

Paid To Do Nothing

Wednesday, April 10th, 2019

Mohamed Ali is quoted as saying, “It is often the pebble in your shoe that causes the most problems, not the size of the mountain.” One such pebble exists in the sport of swimming. I have never understood why Swimming New Zealand fine swimmers for scratching outside of certain times. The swimmers have all paid to enter the event, but if they then decided not to swim, get stung with a fee for the scratching. Not just any old fee either. Often the scratching fee is three or four times more than the cost of entering the race. Why is that? How is it possibly justified? The answer of course is it is not.

Swimmers who enter a competition pay an entry fee to buy something. What have they bought? They have bought the supervision of a referee, a starter, a couple of judges, three time keepers and some administration staff to manage and report the result of their swim. But primarily they have rented a lane of water to swim in for a specified distance. That’s what their entry fee pays for.

What the entry fee of around $10 means is that for the thirty seconds or so that it takes to swim 50 meters swimmers have rented that lane from the organiser. The lane has been temporarily bought and paid for by the competitor. For the duration of the race, it belongs to the swimmer. Why then should the swimmer pay again if he or she decides not to use it?

At the point the organiser accepted the swimmers money the lane was available solely to the swimmer. If he or she decided to swim the race inside the rules they would be rewarded with a result. If they swam the race outside the rules they would be disqualified. If they did not swim at all they would forfeit the opportunity to get a result. Under no circumstances is there any justification to levy a fine.

Once the entry fee has been paid and accepted, what goes on in the lane, even if nothing happens, is the responsibility of the person who rented the lane space. The organisers have no involvement.

Oh, I’ve heard all sorts of reasons to justify punitive scratching fines. When Brian Palmer was at Auckland Swimming he had a list of reasons as long as your arm. Empty lanes, he said, meant the centre was losing money, the meet would go one for ever; it was unfair on officials and was an insult to spectators. None of that is true and certainly none of it takes precedence over the right of a swimmer who has paid to rent a lane to use the lane in any way they want.

The absence of a swimmer is not costing the organiser any more. The cost of the entry fee covers the cost of hiring the pool and the swimmer has already paid for that. After the payment of the entry fee whether the lane is swum in or not has no financial effect. Empty lanes do not mean the meet goes on any longer than originally planned. When officials and spectators got their program before the meet began they anticipated a meet of a certain length. That does not change if someone decides not to swim in a race. The meet stays the same length.

There is no justification for a double fee in the form of a fine for “late” scratching. It has all been paid for in the entry fee, including by swimmers who scratch.

Most importantly there are good reasons for over entering and late scratching – reasons that should not end up attracting an exorbitant fine. The races selected for a swimmer are very much part of a swimmers final preparation.  Longer races improve endurance. Shorter races improve speed. Races over the athlete’s best distance are necessary to perfect the race plan. At the time of entering an event the balance of longer, shorter or on distance may not always be obvious. For that reason I have often entered all three in order to select the one I need closer to the time and when I have access to the swimmer’s most up-to-date training information. No way in the world should I be expected to pay extra for doing what’s right for the swimmer.

Think of entering a race like hiring a rental car. If you hire the car for five days and on one of the days decide to stay home and not drive anywhere the rental firm don’t fine you for the day the car was not used. They do not make you pay extra for the day off. Hiring a lane to swim a race should be viewed the same way.

Booking a seat to fly from Auckland to Wellington is the same. If you miss the flight and their airplane flies with an empty seat the airline don’t fine you for the missed flight. You pay for the ticket and that’s all. Most airlines would not mind at all if their seats were booked and paid for and no one turned up to fly.

Monopoly sports like swimming tend to financially exploit their position in the market. They charge like wounded bulls because they have no competition. Scratching fines are an example of their bad behaviour. That is why we will be challenging their uncompetitive monopoly once one or two other legal issues are sorted out.