Behind Closed Doors

This morning I had a discussion with a friend. She was concerned that the series of Swimwatch stories about the elusive Marris Report was giving away too much information to “the enemy” – Swimming New Zealand (SNZ). The four stories she was referring to are, “How Corrupt, This Corrupt” that publishes the Privacy Commission’s final report into their investigation of my privacy complaint. The Commission reached the following conclusion, “Consequently, it is my final view SNZ has breached principle 6 of the Act and has interfered with your privacy.”

The second story in the series was “Promises Made Promises Broken”. This post discussed the legal shortcomings of the excuses used by SNZ to justify their secrecy. The post sets out the legal case for providing me with a copy of the Marris Report.

The third story was “Damages”. This explained the makeup of the $240,600 damages claim that has been included in the Human Rights Tribunal case. The amount included $3,600 in lost book sales, $162,000 in lost wages and $75,000 in hurt and reputation damages.

And the fourth and final post was, “The Sound and Pain of Silence”. This story explained the tactic of silence frequently used by SNZ to punish those who criticise their actions. They make an accusation, throw buckets of mud and vanish to watch their victims suffer. Nothing to do with us they say.

My friend is right. The Swimwatch series does “give-away” our current position, our plans for the future and our claim for damages. There are no secrets. “The enemy”, as she calls the inhabitants of SNZs Antares Place office, knows everything. Of course there are dangers in that. Of course SNZ will try to use the Swimwatch information to screw me blind. Of course it helps “the enemy”.

BUT – the decision to openly discuss all aspects of the privacy case is justified for the following reasons.

First, it would be the height of hypocrisy to criticise SNZ’s code of silence and then use the same policy myself. SNZ tell the membership nothing. Their Board Meetings are secret. Significant events like being found guilty of a breach of privacy go unreported. SNZ run a closed shop. With considerable justification I have been extremely critical of the policy of silence. I have called it a “cowardly, immoral and despicable means of sanction”. It would be impossibly duplicitous for me to resort to the same tactic.

Second, I have been hurt by the SNZ’s use of secrecy before. I do not want to make the same mistake again. During the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games I asked if Toni Jeffs could live with her mother in a hotel rather than the Olympic Village. Permission was granted. Before we returned to New Zealand SNZ published a story that Toni had left the village without permission. I complained. A meeting was held in the Olympic Committee offices. It was decided that SNZ had lied and Toni was owed an apology. SNZ apologized on the condition that their apology would remain confidential. I agreed. And that was a huge mistake. For years afterwards I was asked about why I was involved in the Olympic “absence without leave” case.

Two years after the Games I was driving from Hawkes Bay to Wellington. I called into a motor garage in Pahiatua to get a flat tyre repaired. The mechanic doing the repair asked me, “Are you the coach of that swimmer who ran away from the Olympic village without permission?” That’s what SNZ’s secrecy earned me. I will not be caught the same way again.

Third, others have been hurt the same way. In the post, “The Sound and Pain of Silence” I told the story of a coach who called out a high school swimmer’s misbehaviour and was the subject of SNZ’s silent treatment. It has gone on for years. It must be stopped. Reform will not be achieved by indulging in the same cowardly wrongdoing. It is important to show you can be right, you can win and you can be open at the same time.

And fourth, the openness demonstrated by the Swimwatch stories is not done to attract publicity. On the contrary publicity is a sad by-product of informing swimming’s membership. Swimwatch stories on this subject are no “look-at-me” ploy. The membership has a right to know that those who run their sport have been recommended by the government to undertake a course of privacy training. SNZ sure isn’t going to tell them, so we will. As they say – fresh air is the best disinfectant.

And fifth and finally I remain convinced that disclosing the truth can never hurt. So SNZ get to know our financial claim. So they get to read our interpretation of the Privacy Act and SNZ Rules. So what? If our position is sound, if we tell the truth, if our claim is justified, whether SNZ know about it or not will not matter. The Courts are not stupid. They will decide on the merits of our case no matter what SNZ know beforehand.  As sure as god made little green apples being open with the truth beats being secret with a lie. That’s a message SNZ still has to learn.

And so I am deeply grateful for my friend’s concern. Certainly she has my best interests at heart. She wants to see the Marris Report case resolved in a way that benefits the membership of swimming. She wants me to win. However with all the risks involved we will stick with fresh air. It sure beats the stale, putrid fumes that seep under the doors of the SNZ office.

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