Archive for the ‘ New Zealand ’ Category

When Privacy Means Tell The World

Tuesday, October 17th, 2017

I was interested to read the Swimming New Zealand “Long List” of swimmers eligible for Commonwealth Games selection. I was also interested to read various swimming commentator’s opinions. Thirty-six names are included in the list – fifteen female and twenty-one male swimmers.

What was a surprise was the amount of information provided by Swimming New Zealand. In fact I use the word surprise in the broadest possible sense. Words like amazed, stunned appalled and shocked better describe my reaction. For there, on the Swimming New Zealand website, published for the world to read are thirty-six names, thirty-six birthdates, thirty-six classifications of sex and – wait for it – thirty-six email addresses.

Now I have no idea whether publication of swimmer’s email addresses like this is legal or not. I suspect it is not. I don’t know whether Swimming New Zealand asked the swimmers for permission to share their contact details with the world. I suspect they did not. However the technicalities don’t really matter. What is of concern is whether disclosing that amount of personal information is wise, or safe, or caring or professional. And I do not think there is any doubt about the answer to that question.

There is no way swimmer’s names, sex, dates of birth and email contacts should be spread all over the internet. It makes it difficult for members to have faith in the organization when the Head Office pays no regard for the sport’s Code of Conduct. I would be delighted if anyone could explain to me how the publication of this private information complies with these Code requirements.

For example Swimming New Zealand is required to:

  1. Provide a safe environment for the conduct of the activity in accordance with relevant Swimming New Zealand policy.
  2. Members should recognise that at all times they have a responsibility to a duty of care to all Swimming New Zealand members.
  3. Do not disclose any confidential information relating to their athletes without written prior consent.
  4. Place the safety and welfare of the participants above all else.

Is Swimming New Zealand aware that fifteen of the names are young women? Are they aware that three of them appear to be under the age of eighteen, another two are under twenty and the other eight are under twenty-four? You may ask how I know all that. I know because Swimming New Zealand thought it important to give me their dates of birth. And if anyone wants to check Swimming New Zealand provided the girl’s private email addresses. You could write to them and ask.

It is bloody incredible. We have just witnessed the behaviour of Harvey Weinstein. There is no need to go on creepy chat sites in New Zealand. Just dial up the website of the organization responsible for competitive swimming and you’ll get a list of fifteen girls, their ages and their email addresses. Is anyone in Swimming New Zealand aware of how creepy that looks?

I know that when I had a family member swimming for New Zealand and when I was helping three other female swimmers represent the country if the National Federation had published their age and personal contact details I’d have gone crazy. I just hope the families of fifteen women are beating down Swimming New Zealand’s door this morning. Pimping out their family member’s contact details is beyond unacceptable.

But there are commentators who are not much better. I’ve read pages of stuff debating the merits of having this “Long List” of names. Lengthy discussion examines the value of the long list. The stunning revelation that only two swimmers on the list have actually qualified is questioned in detail. The work still to be done by the other thirty-four swimmers is analyzed. A thousand words debate the implications of the “Long List” for swimming as a sport.

As valid as that discussion might be, the real issue of the list; the real problem its publication brings into focus is not mentioned at all. At best the publication of the swimmer’s personal information is a mere footnote to the issue of whether New Zealand is going to perform well in the Commonwealth Games. Without the timely intervention, on Facebook, of someone called Emily I doubt the scandal of the publication of the email addresses would have been mentioned at all. Well done Emily.

Many years ago I accepted money from a Wellington strip club to pay airfares for my swimmers to compete in Europe. I got summoned to a Swimming New Zealand meeting to answer the charge that accepting the money had brought the sport into disrepute. The Swimming New Zealand case collapsed when I pointed out that the same strip club had advertised on the back page of the Swimming New Zealand quarterly magazine. SNZ had accepted the strip club’s money before I did. SNZ gave me the idea. However accepting money from a strip club comes nowhere near the irresponsibility and danger of publishing swimmer’s names, sex, dates of birth and email addresses. When it comes to bringing the sport into disrepute this publication is in a class of its own.  

Members have a right to expect better than this. The CEO and staff directly responsible for the publication of the “Long List” should be disciplined. Thirty-six swimmers and especially fifteen female swimmers have a right to be protected from potential abuse. If staff members are not seriously sanctioned, I guess we will all know the extent of Swimming New Zealand’s sincerity when it comes to member’s safety.          

     

So Just What Is The Gap?

Monday, October 2nd, 2017

Swimming New Zealand is currently experiencing two closely related events.

First the organization is planning to move away from the centralised preparation of elite swimmers. For twenty years that policy has mindlessly absorbed Swimming New Zealand’s time and money. And the policy has failed miserably. The new plan proposes replacing the old structure with a Zone based program. Subject to knowing more about how the Zones will work the new structure should be more responsive to swimmer’s needs and should be more successful. Mind you that’s not saying much. The success bar in Swimming New Zealand is pretty low right now.

Second the New Zealand National Short Course Championships are being held this week.

The two events provide an ideal opportunity to take stock and evaluate just where the sport is at. We know the old centralised structure failed but what is the size of the problem being left behind? How far below world standards has New Zealand swimming fallen? What is the gap between the world’s best and New Zealand’s best swimmers? How long is it going to take to bridge the gap? And is the new Zone structure equipped to supply swimmers capable of lifting the sport to world class status?

Swimming New Zealand Board members frequently provide glowing answers to these questions. But we know from hard experience not to trust a word the Board says. The members know little about international swimming and it shows. For example we have been told that, “The vision of our High Performance Strategy is: inspirational swimmers, exciting the nation through exceptional results”. Unbelievably just before the Rio Olympic Games the CEO said, “resulted in bold decisions being taken and led to the development of a targeted campaign strategy aimed at improving our international performances in Rio.” And we know how that turned out. A few years earlier the same CEO provided us with this glowing testimonial, “The 2012/2013 swimming season resulted in some remarkable performances from our elite athletes. The largest ever Olympic swim team attended the 2012 London Olympic Games. New Zealand had its most successful World Short Course Championship to date.”

If you listen and believe the Board of Swimming New Zealand we should be tearing the Americans apart by now. International meets around the world should be tired of playing “God Defend New Zealand”. But how close to reality is the organization’s gloss? How fake is their fake news?   

Well the two tables below attempt to provide data-based answers to the questions. The tables show the size of the gap between New Zealand’s current swimmers and the current world record. The times shown for New Zealand’s swimmers are the fastest entry times for swimmers entered in each event at this week’s National Championships. The world records are the current FINA short course best times.

This is what the data tells us about the size of Swimming New Zealand’s performance problem.

  1. In all 34 events New Zealand’s fastest swimmers are an average of 7.2% slower that the current world records.
  2. Male swimmers are an average of 7.4% behind the current world records. Female swimmers are an average of 7.0% behind the current world records.
  3. The largest gap of 10.9% is in the men’s 50m backstroke. The closest gap is 4.5% in the men’s 1500m.
  4. The American Swim Coaches Association tells us that the ideal best rate of improvement for a good international swimmer is 3% per year.
  5. What this means is that the current gap of 7.2% between New Zealand’s best swimmers and the world record will take a minimum of 2.4 years to close – and that ridiculously assumes two things. It assumes the world record will not improve and it assumes New Zealand swimmers will improve at the American’s best rate. Neither of those things is guaranteed. In fact neither is even likely.
  6. To give you a more realistic idea of what that means – if New Zealand’s swimmers improve at twice the rate that the world record’s progress, on average, it will take five years for New Zealand swimmers to reach the world times.

And so we know the task before the new Zone structure is to create an environment in which local swimmers improve at twice the rate of the world’s best. Even at this rate it will take five years to bridge the current gap between New Zealand’s best and the world’s best swimmers. It is a big ask. The scale of the problem suggests New Zealand swimmers might struggle to be ready for Tokyo. Three years may not be long enough. Certainly New Zealand swimming will need to be at its very best over a long period to have a program that is anywhere near world class. However there is hope. It’s true the statistics make bleak reading. But as the British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli said: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” The figures need not be the full story. It will be interesting to see what progress is made this week.        

 

Men

Event World Time NZ Time % Behind
50 m freestyle 20.26 21.52 5.9
100 m freestyle 44.94 47.30 5.0
200 m freestyle 1:39.37 1:45.70 6.0
400 m freestyle 3:32.25 3:47.35 6.6
1500 m freestyle 14:08.06 14:47.85 4.5
50 m backstroke 22.22 24.94 10.9
100 m backstroke 48.92 53.57 8.7
200 m backstroke 1:45.63 1:56.57 9.4
50 m breaststroke 25.25 27.82 9.2
100 m breaststroke 55.61 1:00.76 8.5
200 m breaststroke 2:00.44 2:10.07 7.4
50 m butterfly 21.80 23.38 6.8
100 m butterfly 48.08 52.68 8.7
200 m butterfly 1:48.56 1:56.46 6.8
100 m individual medley 50.30 54.92 8.4
200 m individual medley 1:49.63 1:56.14 5.6
400 m individual medley 3:55.50 4:11.88 6.5
Average Gap 7.4

Women

Event World Time NZ Time % Behind
50 m freestyle 22.93 25.21 9.0
100 m freestyle 50.58 54.19 6.7
200 m freestyle 1:50.43 1:57.58 6.1
400 m freestyle 3:54.52 4:07.80 5.4
800 m freestyle 7:59.34 8:28.27 5.7
50 m backstroke 25.67 27.75 7.5
100 m backstroke 55.03 59.51 7.5
200 m backstroke 1:59.23 2:09.40 7.9
50 m breaststroke 28.64 31.32 8.3
100 m breaststroke 1:02.36 1:07.79 8.0
200 m breaststroke 2:14.57 2:28.11 9.1
50 m butterfly 24.38 25.75 5.3
100 m butterfly 54.61 57.11 4.4
200 m butterfly 1:59.61 2:07.04 5.9
100 m individual medley 56.51 1:00.61 6.8
200 m individual medley 2:01.86 2:09.74 6.1
400 m individual medley 4:18.94 4:46.41 9.6
Average Gap 7.0

Thomas Ansorg

Friday, September 29th, 2017

Today was Thomas Ansorg’s last day as the Head Coach of the North Shore Swimming Club. He is retiring to his home on Great Barrier Island. As he was leaving the pool this morning he stopped to say good-bye. It is important swimming in New Zealand recognize his departure and thank him for the quality of his contribution.

Although I don’t know the details of his coaching career the bit I do know makes for impressive reading. He spent 10 years coaching at the Wanderers Club in South Africa before coming to New Zealand in 2002 as Head Coach of North Shore Swimming. Four years later in 2006 he was appointed Swimming New Zealand’s high performance coach. He spent another four years in that position before accepting the Head Coach’s job at North Shore Swimming. He has been Head Coach at the club for seven years until today.  

That career summary does not reflect the quality and uniqueness of his work. Good God, for eight years between 2002 and 2010 he survived with Jan Cameron as his boss. To the best of my knowledge no one else has ever matched that feat. In fact if Thomas hadn’t done it I would have sworn on a stack on bibles that keeping Jan happy for eight years was impossible. However not only did he keep Jan happy he did it in the Swimming New Zealand Millennium environment. That’s about as easy as lighting a fire in a bucket of water. A dozen others have tried and lasted a few months. Thomas did the job well for eight years – bloody unbelievable.

“How did he pull that off?” you may be asking. In my view he did it because of a German quality in his personality. He is tough and he is deadly straight. Most New Zealand coaches try and keep the peace. We don’t lie but we try and find a nice way to say difficult things. Thomas tells it as it is. There is no room for doubt. I think Jan liked that. I certainly have found it a refreshing quality in a New Zealand swimming world full of political clap-trap.

I recall a real problem swimmer in my club. One of my other swimmers described her manner of communication as “text-speak through a five dollar bottle of wine”. Much to my relief she decided she wanted to join the North Shore Club. Thomas knew of her reputation for trouble. He agreed to an interview, asked her the relevant questions and then said that he did not think she was what the club was looking for. I know of very few coaches in New Zealand who would firmly reject an open national swimmer. Most of us would try and make it work and cause unnecessary damage in the process.

If only Thomas had accepted the swimmer. She ended up staying at my club and was nothing but trouble.

In the 15 years Thomas has been involved in New Zealand swimming he has been an Olympic coach at three Games – Athens in 2004, Beijing in 2008 and Rio in 2016. He has coached at three World Championships – Montreal in 2005, Melbourne in 2007 and Rome in 2009. And he was Commonwealth Games coach in Melbourne in 2006. He has been the personal coach of 15 New Zealand Olympic Game’s swimmers.

In the years Thomas has been Head Coach at the North Shore Club, the club has dominated New Zealand swimming. At junior, age group and open championships the club has consistently won the national points championships. By any standard his contribution to New Zealand swimming both nationally and internationally has been huge. But for me two things stand out.

Thomas has not always been treated well by Swimming New Zealand. I can recall occasions when he has been accidentally left off team announcements. Before the Rio Olympic Games he was the only domestic club coach of a team member. And yet he was not even invited to the press conference called, in Thomas’ home pool, to announce the team. He told me he didn’t care, but it must have hurt. Even his retirement seems to have been ignored. So far the Swimming New Zealand website has no recognition of his service and no thanks for his efforts.

Forthright straight talk has also been a characteristic of the Thomas international career. It is very easy for good swimmers to get ideas way above their station. I’ve seen and heard Thomas keep his swimmers well grounded. No one became a prima donna when Thomas Ansorg was around.  

Let me finish with a story about how good Thomas was as a coach with a story about the one and only time swimmers coached by me beat his team. It was the 4x50m freestyle at the Auckland Relay Championships. We had a good team – Olympic Gold medallist Rhi Jeffrey, NZ Open Medallist Jessica Marston, NZ Open Gold Medallist Jane Ip and NZ Open Relay Gold Medallist Lara van Egten. Our team swam above themselves and we managed to sneak the win ahead of the Thomas coached North Shore club.

You know when someone is very, very good when the one time you manage to beat them stands out as a highlight in your own career. And that race was a highlight for the four swimmers and their coach.

Thank you Thomas for your coaching career, for your advice and for your friendship even when your Swimming New Zealand bosses must have been warning you about the dangers of talking to that coach from west Auckland. Enjoy Great Barrier Island – you’ve earned it.          

 

The Future of Swimming New Zealand

Monday, September 25th, 2017

This week Swimming New Zealand produced an email titled “Zonal Structure – The Future”. Attached to the email is a report called “Swimming in New Zealand – The Current State of Play”. The email and report discuss structural changes aimed at improving the performance of the organization. About 28 recipients, not including me, were invited to review the document and consider the following questions.

“1) do you generally agree with the facts, figures and issues presented?

2) do you support a move towards reframing the Zonal boundaries as recommended? (Noting there are various possible permutations you may wish to raise)

3) do you have any other feedback or suggestions to make?”

Although my opinion was not asked for I will give it anyway. I feel no embarrassment about doing that. Long before reform became popular Swimwatch was warning Swimming New Zealand of the intrinsic dangers in their so called High Performance Program. Ten years too late the penny has dropped. There is a problem. Reform is required. I should and am deeply grateful that swimming in New Zealand is having a “road to Damascus experience”. I can only hope the conversion from enemy to advocate is as dramatic as it was for Paul the Apostle.  

And so the balance of this post will consider each of the questions. First – “do you generally agree with the facts, figures and issues presented?”

The answer is yes. It is refreshing indeed to read that Swimming New Zealand accepts that their experiment with the centralized delivery of training has not worked. The report does not sugar coat the disaster of the sport’s high performance program. Even the report’s cover photograph of a drowning swimmer’s hand reaching above the water, pleading for help, speaks volumes about the issues being presented. Providing facts and figures that support the presence of a problem is welcome. The report is a far cry from the blind futility with which successive Swimming New Zealand Boards have clung onto a policy that has hurt two generations of New Zealand swimmers.

Back in 2010 the Annual Report said “These changes will ensure our development towards closing the gap on the world’s best. The exciting news that the government is investing significant funding into the expansion of the high performance environment at the Millennium Institute will further strengthen our programme in future years.”

In 2014 the Swimming New Zealand CEO reported that, “The High Performance programme is broadly delivering on its objectives and has the right leadership, programme elements, initiatives and systems in place to be successful.”

The 2015 Annual Report continued to tell us that international success was imminent. The CEO reported that, “We are very fortunate to have such wonderful ambassadors for our sport and New Zealand. I have no doubt that their current and future success will inspire the next generation of swimmers for many years to come.”

And as recently as early 2017 a senior Swimming New Zealand staff member was quoted in the press as saying, ““It has been an outstanding week of results for our young swimmers coming up. The development of the sport is looking very good in New Zealand.”

And it was all a lie; all smoking mirrors; all fake news. With this new report those days appear to have gone. The drunk has acknowledged there is a problem. He is an alcoholic. The half empty bottle of vodka in his desk drawer is not right. Recognition of the problem is an important first step to recovery and maybe redemption.

Question two – “do you support a move towards reframing the Zonal boundaries as recommended? (Noting there are various possible permutations you may wish to raise)”

I imagine my attitude to this question could best be described as ambivalent. I guess it is best to have the Zones as evenly matched as possible. From this point of view the proposed changes to the Zone boundaries are good. My problem is that while I support the Zone structure for managing the delivering of high performance coaching, I struggle with the use of Zones to deliver competition. For management of the sport Zones add value. For competition, I’m not so sure. That’s no to say I see anything wrong with four Zone teams competing against each other. I’m just not sure that, in an individual sport, artificially created Zones will add much. However I would also be delighted to be proven wrong.  

Certainly the boundary changes necessary to produce four relatively even Zones should not occupy too much attention or time. There are far more serious issues to be addressed. My recommendation would be to make the recommended changes quickly and move on to more important matters.         

Question three – “do you have any other feedback or suggestions to make?”

The proposals in this report are mainly structural. It is recommended that the management of high performance swimming change from one central location to four Zone based locations. Each Zone would have a Head Coach responsible for developing the Zone’s coaching structure and performance. The Zone Head Coach would work with club coaches to promote swimming excellence in the Zone.

As far as the recommendations go the proposed Zone structure will have more success than the Millennium centralized model. Four smaller units focusing on local needs clearly have more potential for success than one national monolith. So why then is it necessary to qualify my support with the thought “as far as the recommendations go”?

My concern is that the recommendations do not go far enough. Structural change alone is not enough. How the structure is going to work must be included in the reform. Without that addition there is the very real prospect that the four Zones will be no more effective than the single Millennium model. The last thing swimming needs is four mini-Millenniums; not as big but just as ineffective. Avoiding that possibility depends on rules put in place now; during the reform’s birth.    

The report makes much of what it calls the Waikato “pilot program”. The Zone concept has been of benefit to swimming in the region. It has provided an indication of the better care provided by a local compact Zone management structure. The Waikato experiment is however only a qualified success. The report points to the fact that “six of the current World Championship team were supported in their development from the Aquaknights development hub” as evidence that the Zone concept works. That result is good but is also only partial success. These six swimmers have 2017 world rankings as shown in the table below.

Name Event 2017 World Ranking
Charlotte Webby Open Water 40
Mathew Stanley 200 Free 53
Samuel Perry 50 Free 91
Bradley Ashby 200 IM 25
Helena Gasson 200 IM 46
Bobbi Gichard 100 Back 91

An average ranking of 58th in the world is hardly proof that the Zone structure on its own guarantees competitive success. Swimming in New Zealand can do better than that. It seems that the structure is good but to work well it needs something more.

Perhaps an extreme example illustrates the point I am trying to make. A few years ago Saudi Arabia was desperate for swimming success. The Saudi royal family decided two things were needed – better facilities and a better management structure. The Germans were called in to build three aquatic centers. Lord Sebastian Coe’s management consulting company was employed to restructure the sport. Money was not a problem. The Kingdom ended up with the best swimming pools and management structure that money could buy. And it hasn’t worked. Saudi swimming still comes last in their area championships. That does not mean there is anything wrong with the pools the Germans built or the structure Lord Coe put in place. It does mean the Saudis have no idea how to make what they have bought work.

It’s a bit like putting me behind the wheel of a Formula One Ferrari. The car has potential way beyond the driver’s ability. I could not drive a Ferrari much faster than an old Ford Cortina.

It would be disastrous if the initiative that produced this effort at reforming swimming in New Zealand was wasted because insufficient attention was paid to the rules required to make the new Zone structure work. We do not want to make the Saudi mistake. The report recommends a good path forward but, on its own, it is not enough. The real work is to make sure the Zone Head Coaches and club coaches are working to agreed plans and established procedures. The recommended structure is a good start but, in all seriousness, the plan to put something that works in place is only half done.          

 

 

Je Suis Désolé

Thursday, September 21st, 2017

In our last post we told you about events that occurred at the West Wave Pool. Eyad and I were asked to leave the pool because, we were told, the Pool Manager, “felt uncomfortable” with our presence. I wrote a blog expressing my concern and lodged a complaint with the Auckland Council Manager responsible for the city’s pools.

My complaint was well received. I was treated with respect and concern. I was told the circumstances would be investigated. I could expect a reply in twenty-four hours. Today I was called back.

Auckland Council has accepted that the West Wave Pool Manager’s “uncomfortable feelings” were no sufficient reason to ask Eyad and me to leave the pool. That was an error. Eyad and I were welcome at the West Wave Pool. I was asked if the Council could repay the cost of our entry into the pool. Coaching at the pool was restricted to nominated clubs but my presence in general support of Eyad was not a problem. I declined the refund but accepted a free swim next time we visit the pool.

I am more than happy with the resolution. I am most pleased that Eyad has been witness to events seldom seen during his life in the war-torn part of the world he calls home. He has seen an example of a senior bureaucrat not afraid to say, “My people did wrong. I’m here to put it right.” That example is far more important than the Pool Manager’s behaviour. And for that I am deeply grateful.

I am thankful that Eyad has seen that bad things in New Zealand can be addressed. He has seen our country at its worst and at its best. I was asked whether it was possible to take down the original story. I have no editorial control over that sort of thing. I also feel that the lessons that have been learned and the good things that have happened are better understood by keeping the whole story public.

I have agreed to keep the Council advised of Eyad’s progress. He swims first in Whangarei this Sunday.

And so, Auckland Council, on behalf of Eyad and me, thank you.