In a post such as this I want to focus on the positives. Because there is much to be positive about. By way of comparison, I will occasionally refer to Swimming New Zealand’s (SNZ) two decades of darkness. But the important period of SNZ’s history is what has happened in the last two years.

The Change

Two years ago, SNZ announced it had employed Gary Francis and was closing the sport’s centralised training programme. They were two stunningly important decisions. We could argue all night about whether SNZ made the decision to change because it saw decentralisation as a better way or because SNZ ran out of Sport New Zealand money to finance its failed experiment into centralised power.

Personally, I believe SNZ ran out of Sport New Zealand money. Sport New Zealand had slashed its SNZ annual grant from $2million to $800,000. SNZ could no longer afford the largesse of three National Coaches and their assistants, two pools, two sets of cars and on and on.

However, and this is critical, the reason the decision was made is irrelevant. It does not matter. The decision was made, and it was a good one. Whether SNZ was a visionary and saw a better way or simply reacted to the prospect of insolvency is immaterial. Good people decided to try a different and better path. A path that effectively abandoned 20 years of oppressive rule by Sport New Zealand.

What did the Change Mean?

SNZ voted against its coach in Auckland being the “best” and all other coaches secondary feeder coaches into the central programme. Remember SNZ’s website ads that used to say, “Come train in Auckland with the best.”  

SNZ voted for a team of coaches from Bluff to Kaitaia and beyond being responsible for the quality of NZ swimming.

SNZ voted against the privileged treatment of a few swimmers coached by a SNZ employed coach. Remember when SNZ built a stage on the pool deck at the Nationals for their swimmers to sit above all others.

SNZ voted for swimmers, no matter where they lived or who their coach was, to be treated equally.

SNZ voted against the culture that had Jan Cameron calling Commonwealth Game’s team meetings that excluded swimmers not in her centralised programme.

SNZ voted to include all selected swimmers from anywhere in the world, and even some like Eyad who swam for the Refugee Team.

SNZ voted against the policy that SNZ knew what was best for every swimmer.

SNZ voted for a policy where every swimmer, every club and every region had to get involved in the management of the sport and its members.

SNZ voted against the nanny state.

SNZ voted for diversified shared responsibility.

Has the Change Worked?

It depends on what you mean by “worked”. Has the change made two years ago come to full fruition? Has it produced its end result? No is the answer. Not by a long way. But remember this, it took 20 years for Cameron, Layton and Cotterill to bring swimming to its knees. It is going to take longer than two years to repair that damage.

But if “worked” means, made progress, then the answer is a very positive yes. Swimming has had a breath of fresh air. It is a better sport, run by better people. It is a happier and safer sport. It is a sport that relies less on the destructive influence of the Castle gang. Its results have a way to go, but they are on their way back. And it is a sport where its members, especially its coaches, can feel valued again.

How long will it take for the reforms to work? My guess is at least five maybe six years. We have had two. So be patient we have three or four years to go. If the damage done took 20 years, SNZ will have done really well to repair that in five or six years. But the sport is on its way – big time.

Are there outstanding Reforms?

Yes, three big ones.

·        Get rid of the three Sport NZ appointed seats on the SNZ Board. All board members should be elected. McKee should stay but should be elected, not appointed by an edict from the Castle.

·        Invite the Council of Trade Unions to form a member’s Swimming Trade Union and push to have it expanded to other sports.

·        Publish a SNZ policy in line with the FINA transgender policy document.

And as for the Critics

Pay them no attention. Most of them were not around five minutes ago. Most will be gone in five minutes time. And, in case you haven’t noticed, most of them know bugger-all about swimming. No one is saying the sport is perfect. Certainly not. But has it changed? Is it making progress? Is it a safe and happy place to be? You bet your life to all those questions. And if any critic says otherwise, feed him or her to a hungry Jan Cameron.  


And so, congratulations to Nick Tongue, Steve Johns, Gary Francis, Amanda White and the other guys in the Millennium office. SNZ has turned a corner and is heading in a good direction. In my view you can be genuinely proud of the progress made in the last two years. Oh and a special mention to Chloe Francis. The more the critics line up to have a crack, the more positive your contribution. Well done to you and those who work with you.

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