One or two commentators are tearing into Swimming New Zealand President Dave Gerrard’s Annual Report. One commentator went as far as to accuse Gerrard of being either deluded, ignorant or lying. Their disagreement involved the member’s protection policy. Gerrard’s view was that the Swimming New Zealand Board placed an “unequivocal priority” on member’s protection “and that any form of physical or mental abuse is totally unacceptable. Open channels of communication are available through our member protection officer, with reassurance that every voice will be heard.”

The commentator on the other hand believes, quote “that most of the voices that are “heard” are ignored, and safety is not a priority. There is little substantive emphasis on member, and the channels are certainly not “open”. Physical and mental abuse – as well as verbal abuse is accepted, and he is deluded if he believes otherwise.”

Now this is a subject I happen to know quite a bit about. Members will know from the Swimming New Zealand Annual Report’s Financial Statements that a provision of $56,000 has been set aside to conclude a dispute I have with Swimming New Zealand on the issue of member’s protection. Some members may also remember I was critical of Gerrard in Swimwatch when he became President and my member’s protection dispute was at its height.

But that is all three years ago. Since then, the dispute has wound its way through the Privacy Commissioner and a Human Rights Review Tribunal hearing. Swimming New Zealand and I are now waiting for the Tribunal’s decision. By any standards you learn a lot about each other through a process like that. The good the bad and the ugly.

And so, what has been my impression, my opinion of Swimming New Zealand through the last three years when we have been embroiled in this legal to and fro and Gerrard has been President.

First: Swimming New Zealand has changed. Gerrard is absolutely right about that. The move away from a centralised training dictatorship has made a difference. The decentralised structure has contributed greatly to swimming becoming a better, safer and more inclusive place to play. A comparison with what Swimming New Zealand once was, is night and day.

Second: management changes have made a difference. The disappearance of Bruce Cotterill and people like Tongue, Johns and Francis being free to express their opinions instead of reflecting only what Cotterill wanted, has made a huge difference. In my experience these are good people who along with me went through a dark and bad period in swimming. The sport is in a brighter and better place, managed in a bright and better way.

Third: for three years now I have argued and debated, with Swimming New Zealand’s legal team of Michael Smyth and Katherine Dalziel. Occasionally, through ignorance of the finer points of “court room” behaviour I have overstepped proper procedures. However, through it all, I was treated with respect and professionalism. I, of course have no idea what advice these two lawyers were giving Swimming New Zealand. But whatever it was, I have no doubt it would have been good, honest and fair. In my view Swimming New Zealand were well represented and I think that too has made a difference to the organisation’s view of member protection.

Fourth: I believe there is a better understanding now that member protection is wider than simply protecting teenagers from out-of-control administrators or coaches. Coaches too are members and quite frequently need help. The easiest thing in the world is for some disgruntled parent to falsely accuse a coach and ruin his or her life. This, other side, of member protection is better recognised now.

Fifth: in spite of what I said on Swimwatch three years ago, Gerrard has been President of Swimming New Zealand while all these good things have happened. Whatever the outcome of the Tribunal hearing the changes to Swimming New Zealand have been huge. I suspect many members have no idea of their significance. As I said before – night and day. And so, believe it or not, my vote goes with Gerrard. He was there for three valuable years of change and improvement. And for that he deserves the thanks of us all.

PS: Perhaps the last thing Gerrard wants is my approval. However, as the American’s say, “There you go.” Oh, and by the way, he was a bloody good swimmer. Although I have no idea why anyone would choose the 200 meters butterfly. As Alison says, it’s a bit like choosing the steeplechase when there is a perfectly good and flat track to run on.       

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