Gee, you read some rubbish on the internet. For example, this has just appeared.   “Cycling NZ is a grubby organisation. Swimming NZ is no different – it’s just another member of the same family. Cycling NZ has lost its CEO, Swimming NZ will lose its in the next two years.”

Swimming New Zealand (SNZ) is not a “grubby organisation”. It may have been a few years ago with previous leaders. But through design or lack of money it has changed for the better. The atmosphere is night and day different. The dark, grubby hole SNZ entered on the 28 July 2012 is behind the sport. Today clubs and domestic coaches have been restored to their rightful importance. SNZ is controlling the environment in which we operate – not doing the operating for us. Gone are the succession of foreign administrators and SNZ coaches that told us how bad we were. Swimmers, coaches and administrators are happier controlling their own destiny. As night follows day good results are on their way. Just watch the Mare Nostrum and World Championship results. They may not be perfect but they will be another step forward. No, SNZ is far, far away from being a “grubby organisation”.

And then this, “Swimming NZ will lose its (CEO) in the next two years.” How does anyone know that? I have been a member of SNZ since 1952. That’s 70 years. There have been a couple of breaks in that time, when I was coaching in the UK and the USA. And sure, the CEO has changed several times in those 70 years. So, I guess Steve Johns will eventually move on as well. Nothing wrong with that. In fact, when he considers he’s done what he can, the right thing to do is to move on. It’s a decision for Johns – and Johns alone to make. And when he does, it will not reflect badly on him or the organisation. In fact, if he forced himself to stay – that would be bad. When the time is right, resignations and replacements are vital to a healthy organisation.

And now back to the Cycling New Zealand (CNZ) report.

All these reports focus on the sport involved. Whether it is canoeing, cycling, rowing, gymnastics or swimming the reports target the performance of individuals. He or she didn’t do this. He or she let us down. The issue that is always avoided is that “he or she” were operating in a centralised structure, pre-destined to fail.

Over and over again it happened in Swimming New Zealand (SNZ). The solution was always the same. Get a better coach. Get a better CEO – and all would be well. Inevitably the next foreigner would be imported until he or she would also fail, not because they were not good enough but because the Miskimmin/Castle structure made success impossible.

In 8 years, between 2012 and 2020, Swimming repeated this coaching revolving door cycle 10 times. That’s an average of 9.5 months per national coach. And people wondered why swimming couldn’t win anything.

Even Olivia Podmore’s parents have fallen for the same sleight of hand. In a recent interview Olivia’s mother told Stuff reporter Dana Johannsen:

“The team environment is much stronger with the arrival of a new coaching staff. “The new coach is really great and Livi would have responded so well to him. She would have thrived. It makes me sad to hear that because that is all she wanted – to be given a chance to thrive.”

The problem with that argument is that while Olivia may have thrived in the new coaching environment some other athlete could well and justifiably hate the way things have changed. The centralised structure is to blame. It is impossible for one coach to be all things to cycling’s 5000 members. Just as swimming found it impossible for one coach to please 5000 swimming members. Diversification is the only option. Then athletes have their own wide choice of clubs and coaches.

USA Swimming has operated a diversified structure since it began in 1888. After 134 years it’s hard to argue that hasn’t worked.

Incidentally in 2015 Sport New Zealand’s website said this about Cycling New Zealand (CNZ).

“CNZ is now also reaping the benefits of its new home in Cambridge. The synergies offered by this new facility are helping move the whole business forward. Sport NZ and High Performance Sport New Zealand continue to support and invest in the capability development of CNZ at governance and operational levels, as well as Cycling’s development and high performance work.”   

Six years later Olivia Podmore was dead. So much for Sport New Zealand’s “support” at “governance and operational levels as well as Cycling’s high performance work”. Surely that admission of participation in the management of CNZ must count as Sport New Zealand accepting its responsibility for Olivia Podmore’s death.

And finally, I got the following email today from a South Island reader who knows a fair bit about swimming, canoeing and cycling. Here is an edited version of what she said.

“I liked your column today. About 5 years ago I came to the same conclusion. We have a dictatorship by Sport NZ which is impossible to change because most clubs are apathetic or key people think they will get higher honours (so keep their heads down and act like good Germans during WWII) so getting a two thirds majority for constitutional change is impossible or even rolling the board is impossible because Sport NZ control 3 of the 7 directorships.

Canoeing restructured in the period just before Swimming NZ. Sport NZ took full control in 2010 but what it did in 2004-8 showed how they operate. Sport NZ in 2003-4 agreed to pay for a parttime administrator leading up to the Athens Games which they did. Then Sport NZ told Canoeing to keep the administrator on. The Canoeing Board asked Sport NZ who is going to pay her as Canoeing did not have the money. Miskimming categorically told Canoeing that Sport NZ would – 6 months later Canoeing had received nothing, 9 months later Canoeing was broke and let the administrator go.

In 2007 Sport NZ began to panic as Olympic medals were on the line. Sport NZ said they had just the person for the job as long as Canoeing restructured. Canoeing agreed, as the gun was pointed at its head. Sport NZ brought on Richard DeGroen, ex cricket and an accountant. He was great and soon realised Canoeing was broke and Sport NZ were arseholes. Richard was a sportsman at heart and an honest good bugger. Richard eventually told Sport NZ they knew nothing about sport in NZ and resigned.

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice you have chosen the side of the oppressor” Desmond Tutu.

This quote sums up our sports administrators and politicians who just want to get the money and appear in the limelight.”

So there you have it. The same pattern as Swimming New Zealand. The largess, the threats and then the forced restructure. That is how Miskimmin grew his empire into the beast that killed Olivia Podmore – and is eating New Zealand sport into a world of malfeasance.

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