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A Christmas Story

Saturday, December 26th, 2009

By David

It’s Christmas morning and for some reason NBC is showing a program about the formation of the Home Depot chain of stores. It’s actually quite interesting. Three guys had the idea, moved to Atlanta and opened one store with money they’d borrowed from friends. Money was so short they also borrowed empty boxes and paint tins from suppliers and stocked the shelves with the fake stock. The impression of service, of being busy worked and after some early losses the retailer was on its way to becoming the 2,200 store giant it is today.

I love the fake paint tins story. I’ve formed two swim clubs in my coaching career: one in New Zealand in 1990 and the other in Florida in 2009. The New Zealand club was the most difficult. Alison came up with the name “The Local Swim Team”. At first Swimming New Zealand didn’t like the name as it did not suggest a geographical location. We pointed out that the Aquahawks Club name said nothing about Napier, Comet Club said nothing about Gisborne and while our old club Gale Force, was an accurate indication of Wellington’s weather, it certainly did not mention the town. Swimming New Zealand relented and The Local was formed – well, almost formed.

In those days to be a club in New Zealand meant having a minimum of 25 members. We had two, Toni Jeffs and Jane Copland. There was nothing wrong with the quality of the team, Toni was already representing the country and Jane would one day do the same. However we were a huge 23 members short of Swimming New Zealand’s minimum. Alison and I joined. Alison’s sister, brother, brother in law and mother became members – only eighteen to go. One of Toni’s friends who couldn’t swim but worked with her in the Body Shop became a founding member. Gradually we reduced the deficit. We even found another swimmer, Nichola Chellingworth who also went on to represent New Zealand with distinction in World Championships and Pan Pacific Games. The Local Swim Team must be the only Club ever formed whose entire founding swimming membership went on to swim for their country.

Finally, we had 24 members; just one to go. I think it was Alison’s idea; what about Sammy, our cat? The forms were completed and sent to Swimming New Zealand and there, as a proud founding member, was number 25 Sammy Wright, aged three, status: beginner. Our application was accepted and for one year Sammy was just as important to our cause as his more heralded team mates. In year two Sammy retired, his work well done. By that time we had real swimmers ready to take his place. For several years Alison’s mother and brother stayed on as members, proud of the role they had played in founding The Local.

One of Sammy’s many ploys to avoid swim practice

Forming the new team in Florida was not as difficult. There were a few idiots who went out of their way to perform a late term abortion; but failed. There was no need here for feline memberships, which is good since we no longer have a cat. We operate out of two pools and work hard to attract swimmers from families whose parents cannot afford the training fees. We rely on donations to cover the training fees of our swimmers. So far it’s worked. We have had fantastic support and today about half our members receive some form of financial assistance from the swim team Board. I like it. Talent is not restricted to the rich.

Each evening outside our pool young children receive instruction in football, basketball, cheerleading, tennis and now swimming. A couple of nights ago I noticed a huge man get out of a new Cadillac Escalade and wander over to join in a pick-up game of basketball. Soon he was absorbed in the game of feints and dunks, lay ups and three pointers. His size and skill prompted me to ask the Pool Manager, did she know who he was? Turns out he’s a defensive guard for the Cincinnati Bengals football team. It also turns out that twenty years ago he began his career out on the field behind our pool. Now, he’s not too big to come back at Christmas and share a game with his old mates. As I said, talent is not restricted to the rich. I’ve always thought the purpose of what we do is not to be an afternoon babysitting service. The purpose of what we do is to provide an opportunity to excel. I’ve known many call that elitism and demand more numbers and less quality. Elitism is not a sin. Elitism gives those who want the chance to excel; the opportunity to one day come back in an Escalade to play pick-up ball with their mates.

I’ve always been a bit suspicious of politicians. Washington DC changes a person’s ideals. Or does it? This week a member of Congress heard about our new team and its work. On Thursday, a check for $1000 arrived with a simple hand written note. It said, “Hope this helps.” It does – it helps because we need the funds but mostly it helps because a national representative understands our cause, understands the importance of offering the highest quality tuition to the least of us. Thank you Congressman.

From Sammy to Washington DC that’s quite a leap. Although I guess they share the distinction of getting something good up and running.

Donations to the East Coast Swim Team adopt a swimmer program can be made by using the DONATION button at the bottom of this page.


Thursday, December 5th, 2013

By David

Back in the days of Coulter and Byrne the Swimming New Zealand Board meetings leaked a torrent of information. Nothing was secret. Actually, the sieve-like nature of that Board wasn’t all that important. Within a few days the old Swimming New Zealand Board posted their minutes on the organization’s website. Unofficial chit-chat plus the official record gave a pretty clear picture of the Board’s deliberations.

I thought those days had gone. Certainly the new Board stopped publishing their minutes. It is sad when any sport’s organization feels it must hide information from its membership. I wonder what they have to hide. I have little time for directors of public organizations who feel their decisions are above the scrutiny of the membership. The danger is that the arrogance of secrecy can quickly get out of hand, can quickly lead to an abuse of power. Good governance requires that public sporting Boards have their decisions examined.

I also thought that the people Swimming New Zealand now have on their Board would be leak-proof. The new “Institute of Director” sorts have accumulated power by doing deals, almost always behind closed doors. They are people who understand the power of information, who appreciate the value of secrecy, who live by mushroom-managing the membership – feed them shit and keep them in the dark. Or as a friend of mine said today, “goldfish never question the bowl”.

But I was wrong. The Swimming New Zealand Board Room does leak – probably more than the old Board. I confess this only to tell you that my source tells me I featured on the Agenda of their most recent meeting. I’m told the item was listed under the heading, “David Wright – Legal”. For a Board determined to conduct their affairs in secret this Board is not very good. They talk way too much.

I was told the David Wright item was on the Board Agenda for two reasons. First because, after the young girl from Raumati lost her teeth diving into the Wellington Pool, I filed papers with the Disputes Tribunal asking for my 2011 Protest Fee to be returned. It is a pity when, it seems that, the only way to get this new Board to address the safety of its members is to threaten them with the loss of $50.00. Charles Dickens wrote a Christmas story about that sort of behaviour. Certainly if I was ever in any doubt about the value of filing the Tribunal papers, the fact that the tragedy of this young swimmer’s misfortune made it onto the Agenda of Swimming New Zealand’s precious Board Meeting dispelled my concern. It is a pity, but not unexpected, that their Agenda referred to the incident by my name rather than the person who could be considered a victim in all this. I hope we have not reached a point where a young girl’s teeth are of little consequence when there is $50.00 at stake.

And, I was told, the second motive for putting me on their Agenda was to consider whether they could put a stop to the publication of Swimwatch. Achieving that would actually be very simple. Just reverse the current obsession with central power and national uniformity, privatize the Auckland and Wellington high performance programs, start promoting swimming around the regions, restore and increase Regional decentralized power and change swimming from a state run socialist empire to a private and free enterprise dynamic sporting market – do that and Swimwatch will either disappear or will be stacked full of feel good niceness.

Like all extreme socialist movements this New Zealand swimming version will eventually fail. However that will take time. Until then Swimwatch is here to stay. Oh, SNZ can try and close us down, they can knock themselves out with legal fees and Board Room debate but we ‘aint going nowhere.

Of course Swimming New Zealand may feel there is a case for libel. And they may be right. If Chris Moller did not use a Special General Meeting to call for the resignation of Brian Palmer, if Alex Baumann’s children did not train with Millennium High Performance swimmers, if Philip Rush did not get stopped in Mirimar with twice an illegal amount of alcohol on his breath, if Valerie Adams did not meet with the Minister of Sport to “arm wrestle” herself out of the system, if a young swimmer did not lose her teeth diving into a pool I warned Swimming New Zealand about a year earlier, if Swimming New Zealand didn’t call two candidates for two vacancies an election, if Swimming New Zealand did not initially schedule their 2013 AGM at the same time and on the same day as heats were being swum at the National Swimming Championships, if Swimming New Zealand didn’t provide the national press with false information about the performance of New Zealand swimmers at the World Championships and if someone at a National Camp did not ask one of my swimmers to swim 100×25 meter sprints in the middle of distance conditioning, then a case for libel could well succeed. But if all of those things did happen, the merits of a case for libel seem slim.

However the following data may help Swimming New Zealand’s legal team decide in which jurisdiction to file libel proceedings. I write most of the articles published in Swimwatch and I live in Auckland New Zealand. The blog however is published in London. The server hosting the website is in Brea, California. And the blog’s lawyer lives in Tampa, Florida. If SNZ need the physical address or email details of any of the above just leave a message in the comments section. We will get them to you straight away.

Sadly I suspect the lesson that will be debated at the next Swimming New Zealand Board Meeting is where are the leaks coming from? Who is talking to the wrong people? How can the Board tighten security? Who is the Swimming New Zealand mole? Does Swimming New Zealand have a “Deep Throat” in its midst?

That will be a shame. The moral of this story should highlight the benefits of an open, honest and inclusive relationship between the Board and the membership. It should not be seen as an excuse to increase secrecy and concealment. But in the new Swimming New Zealand I’m guessing that’s exactly what’s going to happen.

2018 – What Will We Remember?

Thursday, December 27th, 2018

Let’s begin this Christmas post by discussing the performance of Swimwatch during 2018. The blog published 60 articles (this is number 61) and was read by 62,273 unique visitors. That compares with 28,000 in 2017 and 16,000 in 2016. To be fair those two years were affected by my coaching contract in Saudi Arabia. This year’s total is well short of the 2011 record year when the blog was read by 124,000 visitors. That was the year Peter Miskimmin conned Brian Palmer and Bronwen Radford and orchestrated a fatal coup of Swimming New Zealand (SNZ). Interest in the devious political intrigue at the time was high.

Not that the popularity of Swimwatch did much good. Miskimmin won, the constitution was changed, democracy in swimming died and the sport began a steady and inevitable slide into oblivion. Eight years later and every measure of performance has collapsed. Membership numbers are down. Income is down. International results are down. The only measure to go up is staff turnover. SNZ demanded that New Zealand’s best swimmers transfer to the national training programme and provided them with eight national coaches in eight years. The negligence involved in forcing swimmers like Lauren Boyle, Mathew Stanley and Mellissa Ingram to accept a coach a year was stunning. But did SNZ care? Did they even apologise? Did they acknowledge their role in destroying a generation of New Zealand talent? No, of course they didn’t.

Instead SNZ roll on convinced of their divine right to rule; certain that the sport is there to make a generous living for them. The 2018 New Zealand team sent to the World SC Championships is a classic example of the depths to which Cotterill, Johns and Francis will descend. While the swimmers were each invoiced $5,300, Francis and his fellow bureaucrats made the journey on the sport’s dime. The blind greed, the savage exploitation of that decision should never be forgotten; must never be forgiven.

No wonder the world’s best swimmers stood up to FINA in 2018 and demanded reform. When SNZ and FINA treat swimmers like slaves they forfeit the right to rule. The new ISL rebel organisation does not operate in a vacuum. In 2018 ISL found a receptive audience because of the naked greed of administrators like Cotterill, Johns and Francis.

But don’t expect those three to change their ways. These leopards are not about to change their spots. They are batting on a good wicket and that’s where they intend to stay. A couple of Swimwatch posts ago I included a quote from the Cuban freedom fighter, Che Guevara. He said, “The revolution is not an apple that falls when it is ripe. You have to make it fall.” That is exactly what is needed in FINA and SNZ. The apples have to be made to fall. 2018 has shown us that FINA and SNZ are not about to accept reform. Making life better for swimmers and swimming is not on their agenda. Eventually the swimming communities worldwide and in New Zealand are going to realise that truth and are going to turf bureaucrats like Coterill, Johns and Francis into the garbage can of swimming history. World class swimmers are moving in that direction using the American courts. New Zealand will follow. It is a legal case we intend to pursue in New Zealand in 2019. The rebellion that began in 2018 cannot have its conclusion come soon enough. I suspect the New Zealand High Court will be adept at picking apples.

In almost everything SNZ do, you can find deceit; some of it mild, some of it deadly serious. Take this week’s announcement of the entry numbers for the New Zealand open-water championships. Here is how the SNZ website trumpeted that news.

The largest number of athletes ever to enter the NZ Open Water Championships will gather in Taupo across EPIC WEEKEND to compete for national honours.

That is true. However it is also a lie. You see the extra numbers are the result of adding three new events. In previous years there were two open-water championship events. This year there are five championship events. The news report is simply not comparing like with like. Swimmers have been stolen from the EPIC program to earn more money for SNZ – hardly the way to treat a loyal sponsor.

The reality is that in the main 10k event 36 swimmers have entered the 2019 race. That is exactly the same number as entered the same race in 2016. The SNZ headline is a classic con. Double check everything. Don’t believe a word they say.

I object to the SNZ decision to steal swimmers from the EPIC races in order to earn more money for themselves. In my view it is a disgusting way to treat a loyal sponsor. But worse than that is what is going to happen to the additional income. Experience has taught us that it will all go to improving the lives of Cotterill, Johns and Francis. Daniel Hunter, Simon Perry and Emma Godwin are not going to benefit by one cent from the money SNZ is taking from the EPIC organisation. SNZ steal from everyone to benefit themselves. Anyone who believes for a minute that Cotterill, Johns and Francis have a shred of love for swimming and its members, in my view is sadly blind to the reality of the sport. And that is the lesson of 2018.

A Duty To Protect?

Monday, September 24th, 2018

 The Stuff website reported today that Rotorua policeman Brendon Keenan was able to compete, and win his age-group title, in Saturday’s Tauranga International Marathon. You might think there is nothing too unusual about that. But there is. You see Brendon Keenan is serving a four year suspension from “all sport”.

Keenan was banned in July by the Sports Tribunal of New Zealand, after admitting to importing the drug Erythropoietin, (EPO), which is used by cheats to illegally increase red blood cell production. The suspension was backdated to 7 September 2017 – the date Keenan made the online purchase of the drug.

However, Keenan was allowed to run in Saturday’s race, because it was not considered an Athletics New Zealand ‘authorized’ event, and was operated by an outside promoter – Total Sport.

Stuff reporters asked Drug Free Sport New Zealand (DFSNZ), Total Sport and Athletics New Zealand for their view on a convicted drug cheat competing in the Tauranga Marathon. The three organizations ducked for cover.

DFSNZ chief executive Nick Paterson said, “It’s all organized sport carried out under the guise of the national sporting organization. What it doesn’t include is social events. I want to see increased leadership on the part of promoters.”

Total Sport event organizer, Jules Harvey, said, “I need to get a bit more information about that.”

Athletics New Zealand chief executive, Hamish Grey, confirmed that the event wasn’t sanctioned by his organization, which he said left him in an unfortunate spot.

“If they’re not under the auspices of the bodies that he was banned from, then there’s nothing we can do, as much as we might like to. In the end, it’s over to each of the promoters, but we would welcome that dialogue.” he said.

Their responses are pathetic. All three organizations have a duty to protect sport from drug cheats – no matter what the circumstances or risks. All three failed in that duty. The only person feeling delighted with himself today is the cheat, Keenan.

Authorities have a habit of being tough when it’s easy and running for cover when the going gets tough. It really annoys me when I compare the way DFSNZ has treated clean athletes compared to their gutless reaction to Keenan.

For example consider their response to the Trent Bray positive test. Trent proved that his sample had baked in the summer sun in an Australian laboratory over the Christmas holiday. Any chemical reaction was possible under those conditions. But did DFSNZ take that into account. Of course they didn’t. Instead of throwing the samples away and starting over again DFSNZ used their wealth to drag Trent through a legal nightmare. Eventually, but only after spending a fortune on legal fees, Trent was cleared of all wrong doing.

Take for example the treatment of New Zealand’s best sprinter, Toni Jeffs. Toni was a big strong girl. She loved working out in the gym and it showed. Because she was female, because she was a sprinter and because she had muscles, DFSNZ wouldn’t leave her alone. She was tested eight times in one year. I don’t feel there is any need for that frequency. When does proper surveillance become harassment? Actually the number of tests would have been nine. I got Toni to refuse to attend one of the tests. She had been contacted and ordered to attend a motel in central Wellington. The motel was next to the Salvation Army night shelter. It was not a nice part of town. The motel was best known for renting rooms by the hour. For DFSNZ to use it for a partial medical testing procedure on young New Zealand women was disgusting. Toni’s next test was programmed in the offices of a well-known Wellington doctor; a much better choice.

And finally consider the example of Jane Copland who was drug tested after winning her first medal at the NZ Open Championships. I asked to be sent copies of the paperwork transferring her samples from Dunedin to Australia. I noticed that the sample number sent from Dunedin was different from the sample number received by the laboratory in Sydney. Of course I asked DFSNZ, why? I was told the original paper work was lost between Dunedin and Auckland. Fresh forms were prepared in Auckland for the trip to Sydney. I was told not to worry. The samples were the same. Everything was going to be fine. The right thing to do was to throw the samples away and start again. But, like the Trent Bray case, DFSNZ pushed on; blind to honesty, deaf to justice. Jane’s samples tested negative to any drugs; crisis avoided.

You can probably appreciate why, with that history of the poor treatment of honest athletes, I feel aggrieved at the gutless behavior of Total Sport, DFSNS and Athletics New Zealand in the Keenan case. The rules and fairness didn’t seem to worry them when Trent’s samples baked in the sun, or when they were selecting a location to test Toni or when Jane’s paper work went missing. No problems of justice on those occasions.

But when it’s a dishonest policeman, when kicking a rogue drug cheat out of a race is difficult, suddenly it becomes tough. The rule book is brought out not to protect sport or to prosecute Keenan but to provide something for DFSNZ, Athletics New Zealand and Total Sport to hide behind. You can often tell the calibre of those you deal with, not by what they do on good days but by how they react to adversity. Their response to Keenan’s entry into the marathon was gutless and inexcusable. Allowing him to run put back the cause of drug free sport. Those involved, including Keenan, should be ashamed. Keenan is a policeman. He should know that by running in the marathon he was dodging justice. He was using the rules as callously as some mob boss. In my opinion his behavior reflects badly on him and on the organization that employs him.

The three bodies responsible for protecting the rest of us should not copy Keenan’s disregard for justice.

Cocaine, Codeine, Testosterone and Italian Peppermint

Tuesday, September 12th, 2017

I was interested to read the editorial written by Craig Lord and published on the Swim Vortex website on September 6 2017. In it Lord discusses the bizarre FINA organiser’s approved decision to appoint Park Tae-hwan an ambassador to the 2019 World Championships. Lord’s position is summarised early in the post.

“Forgiveness is essential. To forget and wipe the slate clean and expect that to send the right message on clean sport is folly.”

I agree with that. But before discussing why, I have a confession to make. A few years ago Craig Lord argued strenuously for “shiny” swimsuits to be banned. I, on the other hand, argued that the LZR suits were just fine. They were, I said, simply progress in the same way that the rubber track at Crystal Palace was progress over White City’s cinders. Fibre glass pole-vault poles, titanium golf clubs, composite tennis racquets, carbon fiber skis and tennis hawk-eye machines would all be banned if the Craig Lord logic had its way. But Lord won the day. In July 2009 the suits were banned.  

And Craig Lord was right and I was absolutely wrong. Swimming is a better human competition today than it had become in the yearlong LZR experiment. Lord’s campaign kept the sport alive as a primal contest between human beings.

I suspect his war on the use of drugs is doing the same thing. And on this occasion he will get no argument from me. I think his view that “forgiveness is essential” is important. But so is his stand that once caught the slate should never be wiped clean.

Some would however question the idea that there should be forgiveness. With increasing frequency I hear calls from athletes and commentators that one guilty verdict should mean a lifetime ban. I do not agree. There have been many cases where an athlete has been caught by ignorance or error or misfortune. In these cases capital punishment for a first offense would be excessive.

Take for example Jessica Hardy. At the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team Trials, Hardy qualified for the USA Olympic Team. A few weeks later Hardy’s attorney confirmed that both her “A” and “B” samples from a test administered on July 4 were positive for clenbuterol. Media coverage of the issue noted that tainted supplements had played a part in some previous instances of bans. An example offered was the American swimmer Kicker Vencill, who won a lawsuit against a company that provided him with tainted supplements that resulted in a positive dope test and two-year ban from the sport.

And of course in New Zealand the Trent Bray case is a classic example of how a clean athlete can fall foul of the testing process. Bray went to the District Court to appeal against a positive test and won. The judge ruled that containers used in the testing were incorrect and that it took too long for the sample to be tested in Sydney. It turned out that Bray’s urine had been lying, quietly stewing, on a shelf in the sun while the laboratory staff went off on a two week Christmas holiday.  

And in my coaching career I had a fifteen year old swimmer tested during the New Zealand National Championships. Because of the Bray experience I asked the NZ Drug Agency for the travel details of the swimmer’s samples. I was supplied with the sample numbers and airway loading numbers for the trip from New Zealand to the testing laboratory in Australia. I was however deeply concerned to see that the sample numbers that left New Zealand and the airway bill record were different from the sample numbers and airway bill number received at the laboratory. Naturally I asked for an explanation. The Agency said they were very sorry but the paperwork had gone missing in Auckland and a new set of papers had been prepared. But, I was assured, the sample was still from my swimmer. For something as serious as a drug test it was appallingly bad management; someone should have lost their job. Fortunately the test was negative.

An even younger swimmer of mine, she was 12 at the time, also had a close call with the drug testers. She had swum well in the morning heats of the New South Wales Championships and qualified fastest for the evening final. When we got into the car to go to the finals I asked if she had enjoyed her afternoon rest. She said she had felt a bit of nasal congestion and so, with a friend, had walked to a local pharmacy and been given some Coldrex. She said it had worked perfectly. I, of course, went crazy. She swam. She won the final and was not tested. But that event taught me that it is never too early to teach swimmers the caution required to stay clean. The swimmer became the most careful and cleanest athlete through the balance of her pretty stellar career.         

And so mistakes do happen. As someone who wrote a lot better than me once said, “Consider this – that in the course of justice none of us should see salvation.” Mitigating circumstances do need to be taken into account; forgiveness is essential.

But forgiveness should not mean reward either. I have no problem with Park being back in the pool. But to reward him as an ambassador to the 2019 World Championships is ridiculous. He is not a role model. He’s a cheat who got caught and has been granted forgiveness. FINA do the sport no favors at all when they act in ways that reward bad behavior. I suspect the decision to make Park an ambassador reflects far worse on those bestowing the reward than it does on Park. But the way FINA behaves I’m not sure our disapproval is going to matter much. A few all expenses paid first class flights to some Asian resort will soon ease the pain of Swimwatch criticism. It will not however justify the reward they have approved for Park.

But I do have one last drug testing story. When Toni Jeffs was swimming well she was forever being called in for a drug test; in competition, out of competition, it was endless. Every two months she had to front up to the testing Agency. I think the fact she enjoyed lifting heavy weights and looked strong made them think she must be cheating. She wasn’t of course. In fact she was very careful, almost picky, about her health food diet. I thought it was tough that one hundred kilometers a week in the pool and five days of weights seemed to make her a target for their attention.

One afternoon I noticed the Drug Agency representative sitting in the stands at the pool obviously waiting for Toni to finish training. I went into the pool shop and bought a packet of Tic-Tac candy. I gave one to Toni who sprinted off down the pool. Gradually she got slower and slower until I provided a second Tic Tac. Off she went again at full speed. This slowing down, Tic Tac, speed-up process was repeated four or five times. The Drug Agency representative recorded every detail. Her pen was working at a hundred miles an hour. Finally she got up and left and we heard no more. Fortunately Toni was not tested in New Zealand for about twelve months after that. Italian peppermint could have had her banned for life.