Archive for August, 2019

It’s The Other Guy Over There

Thursday, August 8th, 2019

Compared to some, 71 years old is incredibly young. But I find it strange how people far younger than me work so hard at making me older than I am. Let me give you three examples.

First there is Jasmine. I help her with her swimming. She’s English, is in her early 20s and has been in New Zealand for a couple of years. In every way you would call her a modern, with-it product of the 21st century. Phrases like independent, a mind of her own, even opinionated come to mind when you think of Jasmine. Certainly there is nothing from the 1950s about Jasmine.

It came as a surprise therefore when she asked me why I always drank coffee after training. Why, she asked, didn’t I drink tea?

I explained to her, as I am about to explain to you, that I have always prided my coffee drinking background. From the years spent hidden behind a Benson & Hedges smokescreen in the Victoria University’s Fritz’s Café – named after the guy who owned the franchise – drinking instant coffee and debating whether the All Blacks should tour South Africa, coffee has always been sophisticated, tea always for old people. Tea is what my grandparents drank in the church hall every Sunday. Tea is what my father cooked up in a Thermos over a fire on picnics down by the river. Tea was Victorian and, not that I knew, probably disgusting. Certainly a double shot of coffee was the beverage of choice, the beverage needed to stimulate a thoughtful discussion of the world’s political problems.

For sixty years I lived sure and confident in the value of coffee and without warning my values were being attacked by a twenty year old telling me to drink tea. I was, I thought, being forced to be old before my time. I asked Eyad for his advice. He said drinking tea was fine. I asked my wife. She’s younger than me. She agreed with Jasmine and Eyad. I asked my daughter, Jane. She said I was being silly.

In desperation I agreed to sample one cup of green tea at the Millennium Pool’s Wholefood Café. I was surprised. It was refreshing. Not as heavy as coffee and just as stimulating. And so every day, after training, I now drink green tea. I’m told it has become the “modern” thing to do.

My second example involves the general election. I understand that a question asking whether marijuana should be legalised is going to be included on the ballot paper. I, of course, will be voting for its legalisation. Not that I have any interest in smoking the stuff. In fact I am probably one of the few members of my generation who can hand-on-heart say, I have never had a puff of marijuana. That is the result of never having anyone offer me a joint rather than any personal stand on principle.

My vote will be for legalisation because of the personal freedom involved. Those that enjoy a joint should be allowed to puff away in peace without being haunted by the prospect of spending six months in prison. For too long police and court resources have spent far too much time and money trying to prevent a relatively harmless activity. In my opinion when it comes to marijuana the whole world needs to chill; needs to sit down quietly and have a smoke.

I thought I would get support for my enlightened views by consulting Eyad and several of the nurses in the North Shore Hospital clinic I visit. They are all in their mid-twenties. Without question they would agree with my enlightened views. Oh, how wrong can you be? They were horrified. How could I vote for marijuana? Didn’t I know it was the slippery slope that leads to opium and other hard drugs? Wasn’t I aware of the savage results it had on young children? Battered and bruised I changed the subject. How was it I thought that I was 71 and thought I sounded like 21 and these 21 year olds sounded like they were 71? I haven’t figured that out yet bit I’m still going to vote yes for legalisation. Just don’t tell Eyad or the Apollo Clinic nurses.

My final example involves a television program. The programs a person watches on television can tell you much about their personality and age. Considerable study has been conducted, especially in the USA, in order to target political advertisements at selected population groups.

American reports tell me that TV shows offer marketers key insights into personality. For instance, very modest people are more likely to watch the blue-collar hero shows while altruistic people tend to prefer cooking shows and reality shows with happy endings.

Personality determines what we consume, what TV shows we watch, what products we buy, and all the other decisions we make — political choices, for example.

I am told that if you’re a fan of competition based shows, like Dancing With The Stars, Survivor, The Bachelor, or Biggest Loser, you probably have a bit of a competitive streak that you’ve yet to discover and all you really want to do is win, win, win.

Watching daytime talk shows like Dr Phil, or even tabloid programs like Maury or Jerry Springer Show, could signal that you are tuned into others and really enjoy listening to people’s problems — the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Sorry, I’d love to tell you about which show is my personal favourite. I know you will be interested to learn what my favourite guilty pleasure TV show says about me. It may be deeply telling. It way explain the problems I have with Swimming New Zealand.

But it is going to have to wait for my next post. You see, “Coronation Street” is about to start.

Just a Pakeha

Tuesday, August 6th, 2019

Many years ago – in fact I can tell you exactly how many years – I was eleven years old. So it was 60 years ago. I was a student at the Te Reinga primary school. Te Reinga is a small rural community, 34 kilometres north of Wairoa, on the east coast of New Zealand. Where the Ruakaturi and Hangaroa Rivers meet, just above the spectacular water falls, that’s Te Reinga. The settlement holds a special place in Maori myths and legends. The cave beneath the falls is the home of the female Maori God, Hinekorako or goddess of the Ngati Hine Hika of Te Reinga.

The Te Reinga School had 80 students and 3 teachers, one of whom was my mother. I was the sole “pakeha” student in the school. My mother claims she first realised how well we had been accepted into the community when a car drove past on the main road outside the school. That was an uncommon event at Te Reinga. Sufficiently uncommon that we all peered out the window to identify the passer-by. My mother asked the class, “Who was that?”

“Oh, just a pakeha,” came the reply. It was a seminal moment. Clearly we had been accepted. The guy driving past was just a pakeha, but we were community, strangers no longer.  It was a proud and warm moment.

I was reminded of that event yesterday. I have mentioned before the North Shore Hospital clinic I visit. Goodness knows how the New Zealand health service would survive without the support of nurses from the Philippines, Korea and India. They certainly do a fantastic job of keeping me up and running. Their orders of what I’m allowed to do and not allowed to do come thick and fast. Health is not their only speciality. Today I made the mistake of suggesting that God may be female. After all the New Zealand Prime Minister and the Governor General are female, perhaps the boss of the universe was of the same gender. My nurse was horrified. The bible called God, the “Father”. How could God possibly be female? I gave up the debate. Clearly the boss of the clinic was not going to be distracted by my heresy.

But back to my pakeha story. I discovered today that another nurse from the Philippines, Jacque, is getting married on the 16 December 2019. Relatives and friends are flying in from the United States and the Philippines. An orchard in Kumeu has been booked for the ceremony and the reception. A priest will officiate. It sounds like a grand occasion.

I was interested to find out more. Jacque had met her future husband in an Auckland coffee shop two years ago. “What did you say to him?” I asked.

“Oh, no he spoke to me,” she exclaimed, clearly disapproving of the idea that she had initiated the contact.

“Did you know?” she asked, “That I am the only nurse left in this department that is not yet married?”

“Well you certainly need to fix that,” I facetiously replied. “Is he from the Philippines as well?” I asked.

“Oh no,” she replied, “He is a pakeha.”

So there you have it. What a super job Jacque is doing caring for people like me. What a fantastic job she has done accepting New Zealand as her home. And she is marrying a pakeha. I could not be happier. New Zealand is a better place for her presence here. And that too will improve for her on the 19 December when she marries her pakeha. I wish them both well.

The Best Journalist In The World – But

Sunday, August 4th, 2019

The best swimming journalist in the world is Craig Lord from London. And not just because he writes for one of the world’s most respected newspapers – The Times. Although that does help. He is also the principal author behind the respected Facebook swimming blog, Swimvortex. The causes Lord has championed have made a real difference to the sport.

Almost alone he took on the swimming establishment and had flotation swimsuits banned. I argued against that reform. My view was that the suits were no different from any technological advance. Rubber athletic tracks, fiberglass polevault poles, rubber cushions in a high jump pit, ledges at the back of starting blocks, backstroke starting ledges and floatation swim suits – what was the difference? And I was wrong. The sport is fairer and better now that the suits have been banned.

Craig Lord has also led the world in demanding improved policing of drug cheats. He has stood firm in opposition to performance enhancing drugs through the excesses of East Germany, Russia and China. He has highlighted the inaction of WADA, FINA and the IOC. Swimming and sport in general is a cleaner and better place because of the courage of Craig Lord.

Most recently Craig Lord has been a leading public voice encouraging professionalism in swimming. He has seen the appalling exploitation of swimmers and has given his support to initiatives aimed at providing the world’s best swimmers with a fair slice of the money cake. Good swimmers need to be paid. Craig Lord has made it his business to make sure they are.

As you can tell I am a Craig Lord fan. Swimming needs people like Lord with the courage to identify a need for reform and set about making change happen. They say bad people get away with bad things when good people do nothing. Bad people are not going to get away with much when Craig Lord is around.

But he has argued one recent case that I believe is wrong. It could be that, like the swim suit saga, Craig Lord may turn out to be right. However here is the case for the opposition. I think I am stating Craig Lord’s position correctly when I say he is of the view that the South African runner Caster Semenya should be banned from all competition because of her natural high level of testosterone. In putting that case Lord is agreeing with the IAAF who has banned Semenya from competing unless she takes drugs to reduce her testosterone level to what the IAAF considers to be “natural” for anyone calling themselves female.

I disagree with the IAAF and Craig Lord. Every Olympic champion has physical advantages. Normally those advantages are called “talent”; qualities the gifted are born with that give them an advantage over others. Of course Semenya’s testosterone is an advantage – so what. Why is that any different to Phelps’ extra long arms or Usain Bolt’s unusually long legs? Are world governing bodies about to rule on how long arms and legs can be to qualify as human?

But most of all I object to the enthusiasm with which Craig Lord and the IAAF have become drug cheats. For years Craig Lord and the IAAF have preached their condemnation for athletes who take drugs to alter their performance. Without qualification I agree with that position.

The WADA code is not only clear, it is accepted by Craig Lord and the IAAF. This is what it says.

The purposes of the World Anti-Doping Code and the World Anti-Doping Program which supports it are:

• To protect the Athletes’ fundamental right to participate in doping-free sport and

• To ensure harmonized, coordinated and effective anti-doping programs at the international and national level with regard to detection, deterrence and prevention of doping.

The position of the WADA code is clear. Sport must be “doping-free”. Sport must have processes in place that detect and prevent doping.

It is simply impossible for Craig Lord and the IAAF to argue that they support the WADA code; that they promote dope-free sport when they trumpet loud and long their wholehearted support for ordering Semenya to take drugs to alter her performance. Their support of a drug free sport is a naked sham.

In fact there is merit in the view that Craig Lord and the IAAF should be investigated and sanctioned for ordering and encouraging an athlete to take performance altering drugs. Of course the IAAF will claim that their order was not performance enhancing. So what? WADA’s code does not refer to performance enhancing. What Lord is supporting and the IAAF are ordering is performance altering. That is all that matters.

I recall articles written by Lord that condemn the doctor, Ba Zhen, who was involved with Sun Yang’s obvious cheating. I am aware of the condemnation of BALCO for supplying American baseball players with steroids. But is the behaviour of Lord and the IAAF in the case of Semenya all that different? They are ordering an athlete to take drugs for the purpose of altering her performance. Drugs are drugs. For Ba Zhen and BALCO read Lord and the IAAF.

You see, I don’t care what the purpose of taking the drug is. I don’t care whether the drug is designed to speed up or slow down. Once we start debating the reasons for taking performance altering drugs more and more exceptions will be allowed. Doping free means doping free no matter how loud or long Lord and the IAAF argue that their exception must be allowed.

When it comes to drugs you are “all in” or “all out”. It is a slippery and steep slope when you begin to make exceptions for the administration of drugs that support a cause you happen to like.

And finally the argument that ordering the doping of Semenya is fine because the IAAF and a Court in Switzerland have legitimized the order is nonsense. Many horrendous acts have had official state approval. A brief reading of world history through the 1930s and 1940s will confirm that is true. Because the IAAF says doping Semenya meets with their approval does not make it right.

The IAAF and Lord need to stand by the WADA code; “to protect the Athletes’ fundamental right to participate in doping-free sport.” And that includes Castor Semenya.

Jack & Jill Went Up The Hill

Friday, August 2nd, 2019

There seems to be a fundamental difference between those that are very good at something and the masses of try-hards. Master coaches like Arch Jelley and Arthur Lydiard make coaching Olympic athletes so very simple. Do this and this and this, don’t do this and the result will work. There is none of the complicated coaching jargon that infests the world of sport’s science and administration. I gave up asking one Swimming New Zealand (SNZ) Head Coach for advice. He would talk for fifteen minutes and I couldn’t understand a word he said. I changed to asking Duncan Laing instead. He spoke in sentences I understood. I guess it was our shared freezing works background.

But it is true, coaches like Jelley, Lydiard, Hurring, Laing and Schubert have or had a knack of cutting through forests of jargon and exposing the essential truth. “Keep it simple” is invaluable advice. Sometimes though, it is difficult. How do you explain something that’s going on in sport right now? How do you square a circle that includes the following facts?

First there is Hubbard. Competing AS A MALE Hubbard set New Zealand junior weightlifting records in 1998 in the newly established MALE 105+ kilogram division with a snatch of 135 kg, a clean & jerk of 170 kg and a total of 300 kg.  Those MALE records were later surpassed by MALE David Liti.

Subsequently HUBBARD transitioned to FEMALE and became Laurel Hubbard.

AS A FEMALE at the 2017 Australian International & Australian Open in Melbourne, Hubbard competed at the heaviest 90 kg+ category, winning the gold medal. AS A FEMALE Hubbard qualified for the 2018 Commonwealth Games, but an elbow injury during the competition forced Hubbard to withdrawal from the event while leading the field. AS A FEMALE Hubbard won two gold medals at the 2019 Pacific Games in Samoa.

And second there is the South African runner Caster Semenya. She was born FEMALE in Ga-Masehlong, a village in South Africa and grew up in the village of Fairlie, deep in South Africa’s northern Limpopo province. Semenya has three sisters and a brother. AS A FEMALE Semenya attended Nthema Secondary School and the University of North West as a sports science FEMALE student.

AS A FEMALE Semenya participated in the 2008 World Junior Championships in the 800 meters and did not qualify for the finals. She won gold at the 2008 Commonwealth Youth Games with a time of 2:04.23. AS A FEMALE Semenya won gold in the women’s 800 meters at the 2009 World Championships with a time of 1:55.45 and at the 2017 World Championships in her new personal best, 1:55.16. AS A FEMALE Semenya also won the silver medal at the 2011 World Championships in the 800 meters. AS A FEMALE Semenya was the winner of the gold medal in the 800 meter events at the 2012 Summer Olympics and 2016 Summer Olympics.

In 2019 the IAAF won a court case ordering Semenya not to compete unless she takes drugs to reduce her testosterone advantage.

It is off the subject but I struggle to understand why an Australian swimmer gets banned for taking some drug and a South African runner is banned unless she does take some drug. Drugs are drugs. No one should act as God deciding to refuse some drugs and order others. No drugs should mean, no drugs.

The facts seem pretty straight forward. On the one hand we have a good championship male weightlifter that has used trans-gender rules to compete as a female. And on the other hand we have a good female runner who has a high testosterone count and wants to continue running as a female.

And yet world sport’s administrators allow the guy to keep on competing as a female but ban the female for being female. How does that work? The guy gets to keep on competing as a female and the female gets banned from competing as a female.

Anybody who reads Swimwatch knows I have a dim view of many decisions made by sport’s administrators. From the, in my view, illegal withholding of the Marris Report to the decision to charge swimmers to attend a world championship in Japan while the CEO swans off on an all-expenses paid junket to Korea. The corruption is blatant. And those responsible are unashamed.

But when I consider the brazen stupidity of administrators who rule that it is fine for a male champion weightlifter to take a few drugs and compete as a female and a week later ban a good female runner from participating in her sport, my contempt knows no limits. Sports administrators have decided Hubbard can stay and Semenya has to go.

Truth, honesty, decency and fairness demand that Semenya should stay and Hubbard should go. But what do the likes of these sports administrator know about truth, honesty, decency and fairness? Like SNZ, not a lot it seems.