The Sound & Pain of Silence

Three previous Swimwatch posts have discussed the position of my efforts to gain access to the Marris Report, the legal arguments that support my position and the amount of financial damages Swimming New Zealand (SNZ) has caused me.

One of the features of what has happened is the punishment of silence. It is a cowardly, immoral and despicable means of sanction; features well suited to the SNZ halls of power. I described how the sanction of silence works in the Swimwatch post titled “Damages”. It is worthwhile repeating here.

SNZ Rules list ten sanctions SNZ can impose on a member found guilty of wrongdoing. Things like a reprimand, a suspension, an expulsion, a fine and the cancelation of results or awards can be imposed on guilty members. But there is an eleventh punishment that is far worse than any of the other ten. It is a sanction not published in SNZ Rules; it is the sanction of silence. SNZ are not allowed to use it. But they do.

If SNZ want to take a member down, they latch on to some trumped up charge, have a trial and refuse to publish the “not guilty” verdict. The swimming world immediately assumes the worst. Guilty as charged is the verdict of silence. A reprimand, a suspension, an expulsion, a fine or the cancelation of results or awards are minor compared to a lifetime spent under the cloud of suspicion created by SNZ’s silence. It is wrong. It is immoral. And we are in the process of having it ruled illegal.

I am not the first person to suffer at the hands of the SNZ silent treatment. Jon Winter knows the sanction of silence only too well. But with this case I certainly hope to be SNZ’s last victim.

As the quote says I am not the first victim of this SNZ tactic. SNZ frequently uses silence to punish its victims. Whenever SNZ feels they are in the wrong. Whenever they want to avoid admitting fault, their go-to position is to close ranks, stay silent and let their innocent victims die a death from suspicion and gossip.

Their spiteful behaviour has to be stopped. It is one reason why I am demanding the right to read the Marris Report and will sue SNZ for the damage they have done. Because you see I am not alone. Other coaches have been hurt. But don’t expect the New Zealand Swim Coaches Association to do anything about protecting its members. The Privacy Commissioner ruled that SNZ violated my privacy. The government ruled that I was maligned – but have I heard anything from the NZSCA? Has the NZSCA come to the defence of one of its wronged members? Not a word is the answer. They are pathetic

But let me tell you another story of NZSCA abuse. I’m going to avoid using real names or places because I want to avoid a debate over the details and it is the principle of what happened that matters, not the personalities. However I may well add these events to my Human Rights Tribunal proceedings. Time will tell.

So let me tell you about Coach A; a brilliant coach who has successfully coached national champions and representatives. Like most coaches swimmers from his squad attend several high schools. Competition between high schools is an interesting diversion from main stream club competition. Some time ago the local school district promoted its annual school’s relay competition.

The best Swimmer B in Coach A’s squad decided to enter a team from his High School C. Aware that High School C only had two good swimmers, Swimmer B decided to get two of Coach A’s swimmers from other high schools to swim for his High School C team. Ring-ins were allowed but only if the organisers approved the outsiders.

Swimmer B did not tell the organisers about his plans for the boy’s team and he also arranged for the high school’s girls team to swim the same swimmer twice. And that is what happened. The boy’s team swam with two ring-ins and the girl’s team competed with the fastest swimmer swimming twice. And both teams won.

That night Swimmer B posted photographs of the winning teams on social media. But by this time Coach A had heard about the cheating. He was furious well aware that the purpose of sport was to do more than win a swimming race. Coach A posted a comment under the photographs that said something like, “I’d be impressed if you hadn’t cheated.”

Would you believe it if I told you the father of Swimmer B took Coach A’s comment as an insult to his son and filed a complaint with the NZSCA? Would you believe it if I told you the NZSCA took the complaint seriously? Would you believe it if I said the NZSCA held a hearing and demanded an explanation from Coach A? And would you believe it if I told you the NZSCA found Coach A guilty of calling a cheat, a cheat and sentenced Coach A to media training with one of the NZSCA chosen ones, Coach D. I’ll tell you more about Coach D shortly.

The good news is that Coach A had enough backbone to tell the NZSCA to take a running jump. There was no way he was going to accept a reprimand for doing the right thing; for calling out bad behaviour. It is unbelievable that another SNZ organisation would seek to sanction a good coach going about the business of calling out bad behaviour in his team. SNZ and the NZSCA should be ashamed of themselves – again!

Today, when Coach A asks for an update on his case, he gets the silent treatment. Unless we add his case to our Tribunal case Coach A will forever live with the cloud of being reprimanded for abusing a swimmer on social media. A national organisation, that should protect their member, instead decided to protect a cheat and his parents. Where on earth have I heard of that before.

Before I finish let me tell you about Coach D, the person chosen by the NZSCA to instruct Coach A.

In January 2000, a swimmer of mine was in Sydney to compete in the Australian World Cup event. She was fifteen. At the New Zealand Winter Championships in Wanganui in September 1999, she had improved her PB in the 200m breaststroke from 2:48 to 2:38 in one swim and showed no signs that her improvement was going to stop. The night the swimmers arrived in Sydney, Coach D took her aside after dinner in the Novotel ballroom. He told her that she should pack her bags and go home now, before competing, because she was too slow and always would be. He told her that she was “an embarrassment”. He told her that she would amount to nothing and should stop trying. I received a virtually incoherent phone call from a Sydney payphone that night, having to embark on the dreadful task of comforting my teenage swimmer trans-Tasman, who’d been told by Coach D that she was predestined to failure and ridicule. I talked her round. She agreed to ignore what Coach D had said and compete anyway.

Within two years, my swimmer was New Zealand champion over 200m breaststroke, first short course in Rotorua in September 2001, then long course in Auckland in early 2002 where she also won the 100m title. Less than two years later, she broke the New Zealand open record for the short course 200m event, a record that stood for over three years before being bettered by Kelly Bentley, trained by Gary Hurring in Wellington. In August 2002, my swimmer took up a full ride scholarship to Washington State University, where she qualified for and swam in the NCAA Division I Championships in both the 200 yard breaststroke and 200 yard individual medley and was part of the team that broke the WSU university record in the 4 x 200 freestyle relay in 2005.

Imagine if she had listened to Coach D and thrown away her swimming career before it had even begun. Coach D has no place telling anyone, let alone Coach A, how to conduct themselves online or anywhere else.


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