2019 Auckland Swimming Championships

Another Auckland Championship is about to begin. It runs from Wednesday through to Sunday this week. Someone has had the courage to change the location from West Wave to the Millennium Institute. That’s a good move. West Wave is showing serious signs of age. It was built in 1989. The past 30 years have not been kind. If my experience is anything to go by the cooperation Auckland Swimming will get from the Millennium staff will be miles ahead of the unbelievable cartel that calls itself management at West Wave.

Attending a swim meet at West Wave has become a real chore. Rules that make no sense combined with a facility that has all the appeal of a pensioner’s mobility frame does nothing to inspire elite performance. Changing location is a step in the right direction.

Inspiration to excel will not come from a better facility run by better staff on its own. Swimming needs a shot in the arm; something to excite attention; something, dare I say it, controversial. How I fondly remember the days when TV1 used to call me and ask if Toni Jeffs was swimming in this event. If the answer was yes TV1 News would send a camera out to West Wave to film the races. They did that because she was a bloody good swimmer; a bronze medallist in the World Short Course Championships, but also because there was an interesting story to tell. Toni was sponsored by a strip club; she crossed out the “no alcohol rule” before signing her SNZ athlete contracts; she questioned officials tucking into free wine and cheese while swimmers struggled with burnt two dollar sausages and flat orange cordial. Of course TV found that interesting. Add to that the antics of Paul Kent who once vented his frustration at an official by famously throwing a chair into the pool; and John Steel who was swimming captain of the UCLA team; and the brooding, tattooed Nick Sanders, clearly New Zealand’s fastest freestyle sprinter. There was a sport television loved.

Coaching too was a different world. Lincoln Hurring, Ross Anderson and Judith Wright. Even Jan Cameron and Tony Keenan were personalities that didn’t get pushed around by anyone – certainly not anyone from Swimming New Zealand. To be fair there are signs that some independence is on the way back. Jon Winter, William Benson and others in places like Whangarei, Matamata, Palmerston North, Christchurch and Invercargill show signs of singing “The Internationale”. It is long overdue. Winning a decent swimming race is going to take more than hanging on to the coat tails of the tired as West Wave crew that run Swimming New Zealand.

And it is not as if there are not great stories to tell. Take Eyad for example. How many New Zealand swimmers come from families who were bombed out of their home in Aleppo? How many swimmers escaped on their own to live in another country as a refugee? How many refugees have been treated as well by their host country and as badly by their swimming federation? It is a good story, a story that needs to be told. But is Swimming New Zealand going to do that? Not as long as he’s coached by me they are not. Never mind – their loss.

But Eyad is not the only swimmer with a story to tell; a story that gives the sport a personality; a story far more important and interesting than the size of Bruce Cotterill’s ego or Steve Johns corporate SUV.

I don’t know a fraction of the stories some of our best swimmers have to tell. But I’d love to know more about the initiative shown by Emma Godwin to start her “Give-a-little” page to raise the $5,300 Swimming New Zealand asked her to pay to get to the World Short Course Championships. That’s an important story.

I’d like to know how the swimmer from Raumati is getting on who lost her teeth diving into a race that Wellington Swimming insisted should start in the shallow end of the Kilbirnie Pool. Her misfortune changed Wellington swimming. It is a story that should be told.

How have Christchurch swimmers survived the Canterbury earthquakes and Mosque shootings? There are stories with huge human interest.

Am I the only member preparing to face Swimming New Zealand in Court? How many fires is Steve Johns fighting? What is the real story behind Liz van Wellie, Toni Jeffs and Jon Winter’s Manchester Commonwealth Games’ experience? How did Paul Kent get on coaching in Saudi Arabia? There are a hundred and one good stories to tell, stories that give the sport life.

They are not the sanitised froth favoured by Cotterill, Johns and Francis. They do not revolve exclusively around the inflated egos that populate the offices of Swimming New Zealand. They are real, important and interesting. Let’s see what we can do about making that change for the good later this week.

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