More people have been paid to examine New Zealand sport than tourists have visited the Mona Lisa. Swimming had five investigations until Steve Johns and Gary Francis made the important change, without an investigation. Football, canoeing and hockey have all had at least one investigation each and cycling is about to embark on investigation number three. That’s eleven investigations, costing millions of dollars – and for what? Nothing. Why?

Because every investigation, including this one into cycling, is flawed before it begins. The investigations are flawed in two unrepairable ways. Somehow, someone is going to have to devise a way to alter Peter Miskimmim’s policies that avoids these fatal errors.

First, every investigation involves the biblical quote, “Physician heal thyself.” Those that run sport in New Zealand will use words like “independent” to try to convince us all that the investigations are arm’s length and honest. But they never are. The authors are inevitably part of the establishment. There are no Che Guevaras in this lot. They have all lived comfortably in the establishment environment. They have no incentive to tear it down. Who on earth would attack the owner of the purse that is paying him or her $100,000 for a report? No one has so far.

Actually, let me correct that. There was one report into swimming written by Tony Ineson. In spite of Ineson’s impeccable establishment credentials his report was hard-hitting and honest, with just a touch of Che Guevara.

“Oh, my God, we can’t have that,” said Miskimmim. The CEOs of Auckland and Bay of Plenty Swimming were summoned to Wellington. Ineson’s Report was quietly shelved in the dusty Turnbull Library and a real establishment figure, Chris Moller, was set to work on something more acceptable.     

For ten years swimming lived with what Moller told us was right until Steve Johns and Gary Francis led the revolution called “decentralisation”. In my opinion if Sport New Zealand had listened to the reforms proposed by Ineson, if Moller had never been involved, swimming would be a better sport and possibly one very good athlete would still be alive.

Yes, point one is that eleven investigations, eleven reports and millions of dollars have taught us that the sporting establishment is incapable of reforming itself. It will not work, and I would have thought Grant Robertson would know that.

And so, to the second insurmountable problem of sport-driven investigations.

I was appalled to see Raelene Castle parading around at the funeral of Olivia Podmore. Castle clearly has no thought that her organisation’s policies might have been involved in Podmore’s tragic death. For twenty-five years I’ve watched the Sport New Zealand policies at work, sowing their havoc, spreading their carnage. I’ve often wondered on Swimwatch when it would come to a tragic head.

Now is maybe that time. But Castle’s presence in Christchurch clearly shows she has no concept that her organisation may have responsibility in these matters. She sees herself as the fixer in chief. In fact, she has been the protector of policies that have caused untold hurt. Swimming lost two generations of fine athletes because of Sport New Zealand policies. And now, in cycling, that has all gone one worse.

But do you think Castle understands that? Her presence in Christchurch shows there is no chance. She does not understand that the decision to close centralised training at the Millennium Pool and hand the facility over to the North Shore, or United, or Phoenix, or the Coast Clubs has been the saving of New Zealand swimming. The harsh, vindictive, and selfish centralised sport has gone. The club scene is a warm and caring, good place to be.

But, in your wildest dreams can you imagine Castle handing over the Cambridge velodrome to the Cambridge, or Hamilton or Matamata cycling clubs? Can you foresee a time when Castle would transfer the Karapiro facility to the Karapiro, Whakatane, and Hamilton rowing clubs?

No of course not. Sport New Zealand has always had an arrogant belief in its own preeminence. Castle’s presence in Christchurch shows the depth to which eminence is ingrained in their DNA.

But the lesson of swimming, the moral from cycling, the decision of the world’s best canoeist to reject the Sport New Zealand centralised facility in favour of her personal coach and a lake behind North Shore Hospital, is that for as long Sport New Zealand clings to their centralised policy, Sport New Zealand centralised sports will be dark and dangerous places to play. I doubt that the latest independent report into cycling will be any more successful than the previous ten reports. I doubt that Sport New Zealand will recognise their responsibility. And so, my best advice is to avoid any sport that has anything to do with Raelene Castle and her Sport New Zealand organization. For twenty-five years we have seen them try to manage centralised sport. We have seen the failure that has brought us to this sorry place.

New Zealand’s Olympic medal count may have improved. But the price has been way, way, way too high. Stay well away. Your child’s life may depend on it.

Try swimming. It has become a pretty good place.     

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