Archive for the ‘ Australia ’ Category

Is Australia As Bad As Us?

Tuesday, October 21st, 2014

By David

It is with some caution that I cross the Tasman Sea to discuss swimming in Australia. However recent news seems to carry a message for New Zealand.

About a year ago Swimming Australia announced a plan for the preparation and training of elite swimmers. The national federation, they said, would select and approve successful clubs as High Performance Centres. I think about nine clubs were awarded the new classification.

My immediate reaction was very positive. Australia had replaced a state run swim school in Canberra with several good quality clubs. It had traded state socialism for private enterprise. Why couldn’t New Zealand see the sense in what the Australians were doing? Surely everyone could appreciate that a team of ten or eleven elite coaches was always going to have more success than a government swim school on its own. As every Swimwatch reader knows, in New Zealand, that argument has fallen on deaf ears. Miskimmin’s obsession with the centralized delivery of elite sport means 99% of swimming in New Zealand is barred from participation in the elite sport plan.

At least that’s what I thought Australia had done until this week when I read a SwimVortex story about the trials of James Magnussen. You may know that Magnussen is the current 100 metre freestyle world champion, and holds the 4th fastest swim in history in the 100 metre freestyle with a time of 47.10, which also stands as the fastest swim in textile swimwear material. Here is a summary of what the James Magnussen, SwimVortex story has to say.

James Magnussen is at loggerheads with Swimming Australia over a plan to make a childhood friend his new coach, according to a news report in Australia. The Courier Mail notes that Magnussen’s search for a new coach after his split from Brant Best is now in its fifth week. The delay in finding a solution for the world 100m freestyle champion involves the refusal of Swimming Australia to approve Magnussen’s plan to train at Ravenswood swim club in Sydney’s north under Mitch Falvey.

Magnussen confirmed to SwimVortex that he is in talks with (Swimming Australia) about his next move. One option would be for the sprinter to base himself at a performance centre that forms part of the athlete funding model in Australia. Magnussen has been told that Mitch Falvey is not on the ‘funding’ list. The sprinter could opt out of being funded and do what he likes without that affecting his eligibility for national teams.

So here we have the spectre of a swimming federation cutting off the financial support for a world champion who wants a coach of his choosing. Australian swimming is the same socialist prison as New Zealand. It’s just a bigger one, that’s all.

Who on earth do these Australian’s think they are? Swimming New Zealand has an Australian CEO, Christian Renford. Before Renford came to New Zealand he was the Chief Executive of Rowing New South Wales following three years in a similar role with Rowing Queensland. The CEO of Swimming Australia is a guy called Mark Anderson. Prior to working for Swimming Australia, Anderson was the CEO of Hockey Australia and a former Chief Commercial Officer at the Essendon Football Club.

Wow, that’s impressive – an Australian from Rowing is happy to tell a New Zealand World Short Course and Commonwealth Games champion who she should train with. And, in Australia, some guy from hockey will not fund James Magnussen unless the Australian World Champion is coached by someone approved by the ex-hockey stick. What is it about the sport of hockey? In New Zealand, Peter Miskimmin, was a hockey player and happily wanders around New Zealand telling us how swimming should be structured. No matter how good or successful we are as coaches and swimmers there is no participation unless coach and swimmer are part of the hockey player’s centralized empire. And in Australia another hockey import finds it perfectly okay to instruct a world swimming champion about who is an acceptable personal swimming coach. It’s mind blowingly incredible. It seems that both these products of the sport of hockey will only play when the odds are well and truly stacked in their favor.

But I have a theory – Miskimmin and Anderson think that the only joke told about hockey is actually part of the instruction manual for managing international sport. You may know the one I mean.

A famous hockey coach goes to heaven, where he puts together a team of history’s greatest players. God decides he’d like to play a friendly game against the team from hell. He phones the devil and asks, “Are you interested in a game of hockey?”

“Why not?” replies the devil. “I’m warning you, though. You’ll never win.”

“Well, we have the best players of all time!” says God.

“I know,” says the devil. “But we have all the umpires!”

And so the admiration I had for Swimming Australia has gone. The move towards numerous (nine) High Performance Centers, that I interpreted as the start of the decentralized delivery of high performance sport in Australia, was nothing of the sort. It was just another hockey import extending the size of his centralized empire. All the tell-tale symbols of socialist control remained firmly in place. No appointments are made without politburo approval. No one gets any money without politburo approval. The recipients of politburo support represent a minute portion of the population. It’s still all about the state, in the form of Swimming Australia, controlling the means of production, distribution and exchange. And swimming in New Zealand will sadly follow the Aussie example. Miskimmin, the hockey player, wants it that way and Renford – well he’s an Okker struggling to understand anything more sophisticated.

It fair beats the hell out of me why we continue to copy and employ bloody Australians. Consider this fact. In 2008, the joke voted by Australia as the funniest Australian joke of the year was this gem

Q – What’s brown and sticky?

A – A stick.

Only Australians and hockey players would think “a stick” was remotely funny. Unfortunately, though, the joke is on us. In swimming we have hockey players and Australians. The guys who voted for a stick as the funniest joke of the year now either run swimming in New Zealand or, in Australia, provide us with an example of state control that we slavishly follow.

Of Course I’d Trust Swimming New Zealand… Yeah Right

Thursday, February 17th, 2011

By David

West Auckland Aquatics spent last weekend in Sydney at the New South Wales Swimming Championships. The meet was all that I remember: well run, good swimming and in one of the world’s truly most impressive swimming pools. Getting there this time was better than in the old days. It was my first experience on an Emirate’s A380. That’s the double deck flying mammoth built by Airbus. It’s a super airplane. Even the economy seats are spacious and comfortable. The food is good and the entertainment system is the best I’ve come across. Being an amateur pilot the camera showing the pilot’s view of our take-off, cruise and landing was irresistible.

It was good to get away from the petty politics of small town Swimming New Zealand. Watching Huegill and Rice ply their trade was a breath of fresh air. It’s the way I used to feel about swimming in the United States. Good people doing good things. One day, I hope, competitive swimming in New Zealand will be conducted with the same open honesty. It’s a vital ingredient in the preparation of champion athletes. But swimming in New Zealand is not like that, not by a long chalk; it’s secretive, scheming and political. It reflects the character and personality of those responsible for its management and direction.

I think I may have mentioned before that I have never met Jan Cameron. Well that’s no longer true. On Saturday morning in Sydney I became aware of a stunningly thick Australian accent behind me saying, “Hello David.” I wondered who on earth it was. A quick look around and those incredible red glasses Cameron wears revealed the mystery caller’s identity. Jan Cameron had stopped to say hello. Whether it was me or the Club’s newest member, Athens Olympic Gold Medallist, Rhi Jeffrey that she wanted to talk to is still being debated by members of the West Auckland Aquatics team.

However, if it was me and if the purpose of saying hello was to proffer an olive branch, let there be no misunderstanding, the damage wrecked by Cameron on the sport of swimming in New Zealand will not be excused by a poolside chat. For a decade Cameron’s regime has won nothing at three Olympic Games. She has taught a generation of New Zealand’s best swimmers how to lose. Winning and losing are both learned behaviours. Cameron has taught the sport of swimming in New Zealand especially well. We have become masters in losing Olympic swimming races. Responsibility for New Zealand’s barren performance lies exclusively at Cameron’s door. She demanded the right to be in sole charge. She walked over and discarded good people in her quest for power. And now it hasn’t worked; now she’s sitting on top of a pile that’s beginning to pong; now she can accept sole responsibility. No amount of poolside small talk can excuse the destruction Jan Cameron has wrought.

While she was wandering around the Sydney Olympic Aquatic Centre I did wonder what her mates in New Zealand were planning. After all, the SPARC review is imminent. Perhaps Coulter and Byrne were scheming a way of avoiding asking the Regions for permission to move to the next stage of Project Vanguard. Perhaps they were planning a sting. We are nearly in March and we have still not heard how they plan to obtain Regional approval to progress their pet Project. Something is not right. They are up to no good; of that I am certain. It’s the way they do things. I bet every Region in New Zealand Swimming that Coulter and Byrne are working out a way of dodging the need to have prior approval and force through the abolition of the Regions. The only problem is I have no idea what their plan could be. Few, if any of us, think the way they do.

However, if I did think the way they do, how would I try and sneak Project Vanguard’s abolition of the Regions through with minimal accountability. Perhaps I might wait until the Annual General Meeting and in one hit seek the approval of the meeting to move to Stage Four and approval of Stage Four. That way the risk of rejection would only be faced once. That way the intent of Project Vanguard to abolish Regional powers might get lost in all the other Annual Meeting affairs. It stands to reason the attention paid to Project Vanguard at an AGM will be less than at a meeting called to address only Project Vanguard. The more I thought about it, the more certain I became. Something along those lines is what they will try. It’s the way devious buggers work. Every action they take confirms the importance of holding on to a Regional structure. The passion with which individuals like Coulter, Byrne and Cameron pursue the abolition of Regional power confirms starkly the importance of its preservation.

The Cautionary Case of Nick D’Arcy

Sunday, March 29th, 2009

… or why we were not surprised.

By Jane

Last week, Australian swimmer Nick D’Arcy received a fourteen-month suspended sentence for his March 2008 assault on former Australian breaststroke star Simon Cowley. If you’re into swimming, you know about this. The assault took place hours–not days–after D’Arcy won the 200m butterfly at the Australian Olympic Trials, supposedly securing his place on the country’s Olympic team. The injuries inflicted when the mean end of D’Arcy’s elbow connected with Cowley disfigured Cowley enough to require metal plates be implanted in his face. D’Arcy was accordingly thrown off the Australian swim team. Almost exactly a year after the assault, he has qualified to swim in the Rome World Championships and has been handed his official punishment.

It was a horrifying incident and it sullied the name of swimming, a sport generally regarded as being relatively violence-free. In all the discussion about the fight, however, something very troubling was barely touched upon, and it’s something only a member of the swimming community could really vocalise. It was the fact that many of us were not at all surprised.

Of course we were surprised. No one imagines that a newly-crowned national champion and Olympian would allow himself to do something the likes of what D’Arcy did. Living in the United States at the time (a country not nearly as obsessed with swimming as Australia), I didn’t find out about the fight until I went to Sydney at the beginning of April. Sitting in a Sydney bar and listening to the story, about a kilometre from the scene of the fight, I couldn’t believe swimming had descended to the level of rugby league and British football. We’re nice kids. We don’t do things like destroy each other’s faces.

But hindsight is really interesting, and now, a year on, I am not surprised. In fact, it’s amazing that it took until 2008 for someone to do something like this.

When I began swimming well, I was about fifteen and it was 1999. I am two and a half years older than Nick D’Arcy and I never knew him, but I knew the two generations of male swimmers who came before him. They were not saints, but their culture was different.

You had your smart-arses and your idiots, and we all liked a drink, but I remember there being a lack of serious machismo in those people. When I say serious, I mean that they did not take themselves as seriously as they might have. Fantastic athletes like James Hickman of Great Britain and Bill Kirby from Australia were polite and personable, and certainly never displayed any tendancy towards violence. A few years later, I’d find some of their successors, across many countries, to be very different. Suddenly, a selection of the Aussie guys no longer smiled at you: they leered at you with curled lips and suggestive expressions. They weren’t the types of people you’d want to be around when they’d been drinking, and you’d never let yourself be alone with them, alcohol or not. You had your notable exceptions from the previous generation, such as the disgraced Scott Miller, but the culture was not one in which anyone felt uncomfortable.

Sometime in between the year 2000 and March 31, 2008, a culture grew in swimming where some of these guys really believed that they were all that. I speak from experience and opinion alone, but some of them believed their own hype to the extent that they thought they should have anything and anyone they wanted. The eventual result of a culture like this is usually an incident like that between D’Arcy and Cowley. However, it’s only a ‘wake-up call’ if the community realises what really happened.

Again, I’m not saying that the 1999 generation were angels, but they were different. Some will blame this on money: get good enough nowadays, and swimming can now make you very rich. I don’t necessarily believe that this is the crux of the problem; however, I do believe that those people in charge of swimming federations worldwide should be very mindful of the culture building in their midst. There is a marked difference between having 21 year olds misbehave, spend all night after a competition at bars, puke in a gutter and even mouth off at a teammate, and letting a culture manifest where menacing arrogance is acceptable. When I think about what I saw become acceptable swimming culture, I’m not surprised that Nick D’Arcy did what he did.

It isn’t that far fetched that swimming could be let to turn into rugby league or European football, where every second week wouldn’t be complete without a competitor being hauled before a judge for smacking someone around. I know a lot of swimmers who do embody the characteristics of those people who were great in the 90s. My father coaches some of them in Florida. In other parts of the world, however, there’s a dangerous culture brewing. Let D’Arcy’s case be a warning, and stifle a culture that could turn swimming into something none of us want it to be.