Cry, The Beloved Sport

The title of this article is an adaptation of the title of a novel written by Alan Paton called “Cry, the Beloved Country”. The book is a social protest against the structures of the society that would later give rise to apartheid in South Africa.  Paton depicts whites as affected by “native crime” while blacks suffer from social instability and moral issues due to the breakdown of the tribal system.

It shows many of the problems with South Africa such as the detrimental effects of fear as indicated in the following quotation from the narrator in Chapter 12:

“Cry, the beloved country, for the unborn child that is the inheritor of our fear. Let him not love the earth too deeply. Let him not laugh too gladly when the water runs through his fingers, nor stand too silent when the setting sun makes red the veld with fire. Let him not be too moved when the birds of his land are singing, nor give too much of his heart to a mountain or a valley. For fear will rob him of all if he gives too much.”

I too am beginning to understand fear; as the waters run through my fingers; as the sun sets on my sport. For fear, it seems, is robbing me of it all. You see, I am not a political animal. For me a set of 20×100 or a 600 time trial has life and interest. I would far rather spend time with Eyad in a swimming pool than in any Swimming New Zealand Board Room. But occasionally events occur that must be protested. Whether I do any good is unlikely; but at least I fought for what was right.

Here is what I believe has happened. The current Chairman of Auckland Swimming is an immigrant from Namibia called Williem Coetzee. Let me bore you a little with some African history. I do so only because, I believe, it is relevant to the malaise that is eating the soul from my sport. Namibia is an interesting country. In 1920, the League of Nations mandated the administration of Namibia to South Africa. It imposed its laws, including racial classification. From 1948 South Africa applied apartheid throughout Namibia. In 1990 Namibia was granted independence from South Africa.

All that is relevant because sometime in the last two or three decades Williem Coetzee decided to leave the problems of Namibia and immigrate to New Zealand. Since then he has become active in the administration of swimming, rising through the ranks to become the Chairman of Auckland Swimming. I have always thought of him as an efficient if somewhat boring administrator; someone who would maintain the status quo but was unlikely to inspire. Through the saga of the destruction of West Auckland Aquatics he behaved well but, in my opinion lacked courage or conviction when those qualities were needed most.

However if what I am told did happen this week my opinion has changed. You see Coetzee’s time as Chairman of Auckland Swimming is up. He has served the constitutionally required number of terms. Coetzee has done his bit. It is his time to go. Now I don’t necessarily agree with term limits but if that’s the rules – that’s the rules. Coetzee should pack his cardboard box and leave the premises.

But evidently not. As I understand it, an Auckland Swimming Special General Meeting, set aside for one year, the rotation rule. Coetzee can extend his rule for a further twelve months.

I am hugely supportive of immigration. Asians, Arabs, Europeans, Polynesians, Africans and others bring diversity and interest. New Zealand is a better place for the variety immigration brings. The New Zealand I left 46 years ago to go and live in the UK was a far more boring and dull place than the county I have come back to today. Without question the multi-cultural influence has been a good one.

That is not to say New Zealand should take up all the behaviours of those who make their home here. Saudi Arabia restricts women’s rights. We do not want that no matter how many Saudis immigrate here. Americans love their capital punishment. We can do without that no matter how many Americans buy expensive South Island farms. China struggles with western democracy. Asians cannot expect New Zealand to welcome one party rule.

And South Africa and Namibia may have lived for years ignoring the rights of those they rule – but Williem Coetzee cannot come here and turn us into some African dictatorship. The rules are the rules. It is his time to go. He must leave. Because of the same rule many good people are leaving swimming Boards around New Zealand – Bone in Hawkes Bay, Sibun in Counties Manukau. If they can be honest and leave, so should Coetzee. That brand of African politics, we can do without.

I am however just as disgusted with Cotterill and Johns, from Swimming New Zealand, for letting it happen. What on earth do those two do for their positions of power, status and fortune? Aren’t they supposed to protect the sport from people who defy constitutional rules? But instead they agreed to the Coetzee proposal. Whether we are talking about my privacy or constitutional term limits – rules it appears mean nothing to Cotterill, Johns or Coetzee.

As I have said, I doubt that my protest will make any difference. But swimming bled again today. Soon they will rob us of it all.

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