Death of a Swimming Club

Justice? Perhaps Yes.

In 2015 the West Auckland Aquatics swimming club died. After a series of internal disputes Swimming New Zealand (SNZ) decided to suspend the club’s membership. I have criticised SNZ for plenty of their decisions but never this one. I agreed with SNZ. By the time the end of 2015 came about SNZ had no option but to terminate the club’s membership.

The President of the club through this troubled time was Susan Turner. I disagreed with just about every decision she took. Rightly or wrongly I was convinced she was hell bent on having David Lyles replace me as Head Coach of the club. Certainly within 24 hours of me leaving the club that is what Susan Turner did. It was a shameful shambles that did none of us any credit.

Obviously I think I was right. I have no doubt Susan Turner believes she had the swimming angels on her side. In my opinion a decision of the Supreme Court of Queensland that was largely based on accusations of Susan Turner’s mismanagement support my view. I have written before about the decision. The case was called Mary-Rose Robinson v State of Queensland. In the case Robinson argued that she was “subjected to repeated managerial mistreatment by” Susan Turner. Robinson claimed “this caused psychiatric injury with consequent loss of her career”. The court agreed and awarded Robinson $AU1.4million in damages.

It is interesting to read the Queensland judgement. In my opinion it contains insights into the difficulties I experienced at West Auckland Aquatics. Here is what the judge in the case said.

In the course of the above analysis I have found there were repeated instances of managerial mistreatment of Mrs Robinson by Ms Turner, namely:

(a) Ms Turner’s unjustified blaming and ill-tempered, humiliatingly loud and public dressing down of Mrs Robinson at the June teambuilding workshop.

(b) Ms Turner’s loud and aggressive belittling of Mrs Robinson’s concerns as sinister and all in her head at their meeting of 29 September 2010.

(c) Ms Turner’s isolation of Mrs Robinson by flippantly dismissing and never meeting her request for information about Ms Holford’s concerns, in the wake of excluding Mrs Robinson from the meeting with Ms Holford of 5 October 2010.

(d) Ms Turner’s isolation and undermining of Mrs Robinson at the meeting of 15 November 2010 by her public reversal of Mrs Robinson’s allocation of offices designed to avoid contact between Mrs Robinson and Ms Holmes.

(e) Ms Turner’s humiliation and undermining of Mrs Robinson at the meeting of 15 November 2010 by not according Mrs Robinson the same opportunity for private discussion with her outside, which she accorded Ms Holmes.

(f) Ms Turner’s isolation of Mrs Robinson by not consulting her and circumventing her in communicating on 16 November 2010 with staff Mrs Robinson line managed in respect of the operational assignment of Ms Holmes.

(g) Ms Turner’s false accusation at the meeting of 6 December 2010 that Mrs Robinson had said Ms Turner would have to apply for her own job and the humiliation and undermining inherent in making that accusation publicly and declining Mrs Robinson’s request to speak privately rather than at the meeting about the topic.

(h) Ms Turner’s undermining and isolation of Mrs Robinson by deciding to remove risk management from Mrs Robinson’s area of responsibility and informing staff of that decision on 9 December 2010 without first consulting or advising Mrs Robinson.

(i) Ms Turner’s isolating of Mrs Robinson by the decision of 7 January 2011 to restore Ms Holmes to her substantive position while Ms Holmes’ complaints in her WIFs against Mrs Robinson remained unresolved.

(j) Ms Turner’s humiliation and isolation of Mrs Robinson and showing contemptuous disregard of Mrs Robinson and the responsibilities of her position, in making and announcing the decision of 7 January 2011 to restore Ms Holmes to her substantive position, without first consulting or advising Mrs Robinson about it.

[300] Ms Turner’s unjustified blaming, humiliation, belittling, isolation, undermining and contemptuous disregard of Mrs Robinson constitutes an obvious course of behaviour which I describe in summary in these reasons as a course of managerial mistreatment.

[301] Ms Turner’s failure to take timely and determinative action on Ms Holmes’ complaints persisted throughout that course of managerial mistreatment and could be regarded as coming within the description of managerial mistreatment.  However, for ease of analysis I have in these reasons dealt with it as a separate breach.

I see SNZ has spent $12,000 on legal expenses in the past 12 months. That’s a 600% increase from the $2,000 spent the year before. In addition SNZ has set aside $100,000 for legal expenses in 2020. And do you know what? SNZ have told me that legal expense, your money, is being spent on DEFENDING THE CONFIDENTIALITY OF SUSAN TURNER and Nikki Johns. I do hope the membership is pleased with the decisions the SNZ Board are making; almost 3% of the organisation’s total income and 400% of its 2019 profit being spent on defending the confidentiality of Susan Turner.

Cotterill charges New Zealand’s best swimmers $80,000 to travel to a World Championship and spends $112,000 defending Susan Turner. Good priorities – you guys.

Sadly I doubt the delegates at the Annual General Meeting, about to be held, will ask any questions about why. The delegates should. In fact they should be furious. I am. But will they? We will see.

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