Intentional Misrepresentation

December 6th, 2017

I was recently attracted to a headline in the Australian press. It read “Allegations of cheating, threats and cover-ups aimed at Australian Paralympic swimming”.  My interest was piqued because I knew that after Jan Cameron had finished building a failed centralized swimming empire in New Zealand she returned to Australia and began working with para swimming.

Controversy appears to have followed Cameron across the Tasman Sea. From what I read, the para program in Australia is knee-deep in a cheating scandal. One report sent to me says that a Cameron coached swimmer, called Lakeisha Patterson, may be a suspect offender.

But I confess I know very little about para sport. I can only comment on the reports I have read. According to “The Ticket” reporter Tracy Holmes there is a serious problem. Here is a summarised extract from her December 3 report.

“The Australian Paralympic movement is being implicated in global concerns about cheating, intimidation and cover-ups. Swimming Australia is the focus of allegations that athletes are being encouraged to fake the extent of their disabilities to win medals.

Those who have complained say they have been warned to back off or face reprisals.

Australian Olympic and Paralympic swim coach Simon Watkins said, “I would say just about every group that you could identify as a stakeholder in the sport is aware of certain issues like those that you’ve highlighted.”

Most of the allegations focus on what is known as “intentional misrepresentation” during an athlete’s classification procedure. Athletes are allegedly being coached to cheat the system to boost their medal-winning chances in an easier category.

One swimmer, who asked for her name to be withheld, said she knows athletes are being coached to cheat the system. She detailed the lengths her coach told her to go to exaggerate her disability.

Melinda Downie is the mother of a Paralympic swimmer who is a dual gold medallist, a Commonwealth Games silver medallist and has been awarded an Order of Australia Medal for services to the sport.

Yet when Ms Downie raised her own concerns with the governing bodies — Swimming Australia and the Australian Paralympic Committee — she said she was threatened. She was told if she continued to discuss classification issues, her daughter’s team selection would be jeopardised.

She said lucrative gold medals, government funding and increased public profile are likely reasons tempting some to cheat. Swimming Australia receives the most funding of 16 Para sports from the Australian Sports Commission and its Winning Edge Program.

But Mr Anderson the CEO of Swimming Australia rejects allegations that the pressure to win gold is leading to cheating.”

It would be way above my paygrade to comment on the merit of all these accusations. They may or may not be true. I simply do not know. But what is relevant is their implication for para sport and para swimming in particular in both New Zealand and Australia. Para sport clearly needs reform; both to root out current cheats and avoid cheating in the future.

Whenever money is involved the temptation to cheat escalates; the need for vigilance grows. And para sport will not be exempt from that temptation. Already we have seen Swimming New Zealand attempt to compensate for the poor performance of open event swimmers by trumpeting the international success of para swimmers. Funding decisions will be affected. Sponsorships are on the line. Jobs depend on results. The financial rewards for “podium” finishes are high.

All the factors that led athletes to use drugs apply to “intentional misrepresentation” in para sport. By cheating and getting away with it, the athlete gets rewarded, the coach keeps his or her job and an administrator’s salary becomes easier to pay. Over three years High Performance Sport New Zealand has increased the funding of para sport from $2,155,000 to $2,400,000 to $2,500,000. The numbers involved in success are high and getting higher.

As the money goes up so does the temptation to cheat; to run the risk of having a swimmer allocated into a more severe category of disability; to gain a competitive advantage; to benefit from the “drug” of “intentional misrepresentation”.

So what is the answer?

Well clearly the answer is not to trust swimming federations or para committees to police themselves. There is way too much money involved for that to work. Asking the direct beneficiaries of the funding to rule impartially is unreasonable and certain to fail. In the case of drugs, sport established independent agencies to investigate and test for cheating. In New Zealand the agency is called “Drug Free Sport New Zealand”.

Without question the Australian reports confirm there is a need for similar independent agencies to monitor the para certification process. A commission of some sort should determine exactly how it would work and be funded. I see no reason why “Drug Free Sport New Zealand” could not be renamed something like “Fair Play Sport New Zealand” and be allocated the two functions, one of drug enforcement and the other of para classification.

Clearly para classification involves the primary function of controlling and monitoring the national classification process and ensuring it is compatible with worldwide best practice. But also the agency needs to be charged with detecting cases of fraud and imposing penalties where deliberate cheating is detected.

The turmoil in para swimming in Australia is a warning shot to para sport in New Zealand. It is clearly far better to implement policies now that avoid New Zealand having a serious problem in the future. Although New Zealand para sport has a very high reputation for honesty just now, as sure as God made little green apples, saying, “Oh it will never happen here in the future,” is not going to work.

The Worst Advertisement For Swimming Is Its Rulers

December 4th, 2017

The NZ Swim Facebook page tells me that the Commonwealth Games trials in Auckland are hostile to the presence of news media. Here is a summary of the NZ Swim report.

“Interesting to be told that media will not be welcomed at Commonwealth Games trials in Auckland, nor can they cover it remotely. There is no provision for media accreditation – meaning that no media are able to cover the event, and there is no official photographer. I was even told that press photographers will not be permitted to take photos poolside on “health and safety grounds”. It’s like swimming administrators are doing their best to ensure people do not know that swimmers are attempting to qualify for the Commonwealth Games.”

I have no idea what Swimming New Zealand or Auckland Swimming’s contact with the media has been. Perhaps NZ Swim is right. Perhaps officials at Antares Place and the Trust Stadium have actively discouraged journalists from recording the event. That could well turn out to be a smart decision. If things are as bad as seems likely to be the case, hiding the sport’s shame could well be the right decision. In the circumstances swimming could well be looking to limit its public disgrace.

Alternatively it would not surprise me if the main stream media had little or no interest in rushing out to the Henderson West Wave Pool. Newspapers, radio and especially television like reporting the news. They like exciting success. They have a nose for events the public will find interesting. With the best will in the world I could not imagine what swimming administrators would need to do to breathe life into these trials. No self-respecting journalist is going to be interested in the insufferable boredom of this event; not when they could be reporting on a social game of chess in Cornwall Park.

The really sad fact is it never used to be that way. Several years ago I used to bring Toni Jeffs to the Auckland Championships. This was not a Commonwealth Games trial – just the normal annual Auckland Championships. For three or four years I would get a call from Television New Zealand asking if Toni was going to swim. When I confirmed she was entered a camera crew would be sent to the Henderson Pool to record the event. The races were recorded, swimmers were interviewed and the whole lot was broadcast on the six o’clock sport’s news.

If the NZ Swim report is accurate swimming has fallen a long way since those days. And it is not difficult to understand why. The reasons are no mystery. In those days there was no socialized High Performance monolith. New Zealand’s best swimmers were all the product of club programs. Toni had a bronze medal in the 50 meters freestyle from what was then the World Short Course Championships, Anna Simcic held a world record and a Commonwealth Gold Medal in the 200 meters backstroke, Phillipa Langrell was fourth in the Olympic Games 400 meters freestyle and Danyon Loader was in the process of becoming the best in the world at middle distance freestyle. The media had something interesting to report.

Now that Lauren Boyle has retired, the truth is that swimming has nothing to report. And the blame for that lies directly at the door of the Swimming New Zealand Board. They have made decisions that have stripped the sport bare. There will be little to report from Henderson. Certainly nothing that justifies the cost of putting gas in a journalist’s car.

A very well-known poem called Ozymandias by Shelley should be written on the Board Room at Swimming New Zealand. It describes exactly why the press has no interest in this week’s Commonwealth Games trials.

“Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

But besides poor performance there is another factor at work. New Zealand’s best swimmers used to lead interesting lives. They were the sort of interesting and controversial people that journalists enjoy talking to. Toni was sponsored by a strip club and was never backward in expressing her views. For example she would only have a glass of wine very occasionally but always crossed out the “no alcohol” clause in the Swimming New Zealand contract. She was in her mid-twenties and her social habits were none of Swimming New Zealand’s business. Swimming New Zealand did not like it but it was good for swimming. It certainly got the sport on the news. Paul Kent was equally “out there”. I saw him throw a chair at a swim meet once. Might not be exactly politically correct but at least the sport was not the personality void it is today. Swimmers like John Steel, Johnny Munroe, Ross Anderson and Nick Sanders were personalities that the public enjoyed reading about. Good heavns, I remember when Toni and I were leaving for the Barcelona Olympic Games, the farewell dinner was broadcast live by Television New Zealand, TV Three and Channel Seven from Australia. You’d struggle to get that attention today.

And once again responsibility for the sport’s personality void lies at the door of the Board of Swimming New Zealand. Mind you it’s hard to imagine the grey members of that Board parenting exciting and interesting anything.

Core Values

December 3rd, 2017

I am frequently puzzled by the labels attached to coaches. For example some coaches are “old-school” while others earn the title “modern-scientific”. I do not agree, but you could argue that “modern-scientific” is the way of the future. Certainly the trend among swimming federations is in that direction. They love the high-flown fancy stuff. The problem is that Swimming New Zealand bureaucrats do not really understand the product. To compensate for their inadequacy they hide their ignorance in a forest of pseudo-scientific jargon. Members of this in-group are easy to identify. The language they use is amazing. I remember asking one national coach how far he thought an international swimmer should swim each week in training. Twenty minutes later he stopped talking and I had no idea of the answer. Here is an example of what I mean.

“It allows an athlete to practice the neuromuscular patterns associated with high rates of quality performance without disruption for it is known that as lactate accumulates beyond >4 mM, neuromuscular functioning is increasingly disturbed.”

I know for a fact that an “old-school” coach, like Arthur Lydiard, followed this principle. Lydiard would not have coached the bucket of Olympic gold medals if he had violated something that important. But the way Lydiard described the same thing was:

“Train don’t strain”

His classic description of interval training is probably the best example of an “old-school” coach at work.

“How far? To the next tree.

How fast? Your best effort.

How many? Until you get tired!”

The best coaches in New Zealand sport have invariably been “old-school”. I have already mentioned Lydiard. But others stand out. In athletics Arch Jelley would also be in that category. Rowing has had Rusty Robertson and Dick Tonks. Cycling had Justin Grace. In rugby Fred Allan, Jamie Joseph and probably Steve Hansen employ the proven values of the “old-school”. And in swimming Duncan Laing, Clive Power and the Waterhole Club team of Judith Wright and Gwen Ryan come from the same school.

A story, typical of Duncan Laing, illustrates the point. In addition to his swim coaching Duncan also coached rugby. One evening a junior boys’ team coach was away from Dunedin. He asked Duncan to take practice. He was going to instruct the boys on lineout calls. Duncan agreed. He asked the boys to show him what they knew. The boys lined up, the ball was thrown in and no one could catch it. Duncan abandoned lineout drills and took catching practice for an hour. And that’s the point with the “old-school”. Drill the basics. Do the simple things perfectly. Winning comes best that way.

The Waterhole Club team of Judith Wright and Gwen Ryan represents all that is best in the term “core values”. I heard last night that Judith and Gwen plan to take a less active semi-retired role in the Waterhole business. But what they have built and are handing on is very special. In a period when women in business found life a lot more difficult than today, Judith and Gwen built their own aquatic facility in Parrs Park in West Auckland. Since 1980 they have successfully coached and managed their swimming business. They say the first test of business is to survive. For thirty seven years Judith and Gwen have done a whole lot better than that.

But their swimming story is more than the Waterhole pool; more than recent life memberships of Auckland Swimming and the New Zealand Swim Coaches Association.  In the late 1960s and early 1970s Judith was one of New Zealand’s best swimmers. She was the first New Zealand woman to break 5.00 minutes for 400 meters and 10.00 minutes for 800 meters. She swam in six events in the 1970 Edinburgh Commonwealth Games. She was 7th in three events, 5th in one event and 4th in two events. On her office wall at Waterhole Judith has about twenty framed certificates of her New Zealand open records. Her career as a swimmer was one of true class.

And as coaches Judith and Gwen have been equally successful. Gwen’s daughter and two sons were all very good swimmers. The two boys, Daniel and Phillip, represented New Zealand in open water events. I was not living in New Zealand during Daniel’s career but I did see quite a bit of Philip’s training and racing. I would describe his career as uncompromising. In training Judith asked for a lot and Philip delivered – all in the honest old-fashioned way.

One of my best swimmers was the sprinter, Toni Jeffs. For several years Toni’s main competition was a Judith and Gwen coached swimmer called Megan Luff. I am sure the quality of that competition helped both girls progress the standard of New Zealand women’s swimming.

Of course there have been many more good athletes that have come out of the Waterhole program. But more important than swimming fast, the swimmers coached by Judith and Gwen have received something far more than instruction in the way to swim fast; far more than even the fitness and health benefits from their years of swimming the Waterhole’s sound aerobic program. Waterhole graduates have received a thorough education in a set of sound, valuable and life-long core values.

Judith and Gwen have been more than good coaches; more than good business women. In the most genuine meaning of the term they have been brilliant educators; educators of the qualities important in sport and qualities that make New Zealand the proud little nation that it is. And for that their students and all the rest of us involved in swimming should be extremely thankful.














A Treaty of Trust

November 29th, 2017

I get annoyed at commentators who hold strong opinions on issues that really have little effect on their lives. The best example is men, especially in the USA, who hold strong opinions on contraception and abortion. They legislate and demand restrictions on matters that belong to women. These men will never know the distress felt by a woman forced to carry the possibly deformed product of a gang rape. And yet these men seem perfectly happy telling all women how they should think and act in that circumstance.

In a similar manner my experience of things Maori is limited. I am a white, European male. I do not know what it’s like to be racially profiled. I have no experience of being sneered at because of the colour of my skin. And for that reason I possibly should not be writing an article about the Treaty of Waitangi.

However I am going to run the risk. Why? Three reasons. First, I have some practical experience of things Maori. Second, because I have a modest academic education on the content and meaning of the Treaty of Waitangi. Third, because when the Treaty comes under attack it affects the fabric of our home. And when that happens all New Zealanders should be concerned and take steps to reject the invasion.

Let me explain. My practical experience came as a result of being raised in the small East Coast village of Te Reinga. For seven years, at primary school, I was the only pakeha in an all Maori school. I attended every tangi. I complied with the tapu rules affecting our river, land and burial ground. I knew well the story of Hinekorako, the only female Maori deity, and her home beneath the Te Reinga falls. When I started high school I remember clearly wondering whether I should speak to my new pakeha friends the same way as I spoke to my Maori mates. I know that sounds ridiculous but I had never had a pakeha friend.

Several years later I included a unit of New Zealand history in my study at Victoria University. My special topic was the Treaty of Waitangi. This was in 1968. The implications of the Treaty were being revealed. Of course it can be argued, and many have, that the Treaty is merely a document of convenience used by pakeha and Maori to gain money, land and power. Don Brash almost won a general election by undermining the importance of the Treaty. Convicted rapist, Allan Titford, and some of his friends travelled around the country spreading anti Treaty propaganda. I reject their views. I accept that the Treaty is New Zealand’s founding document. Its presence has had a pivotal impact on how our national identity has been formed. The New Zealand we have today, in large part, reflects the Treaty’s spirit of participation, protection, and partnership.

With this background you probably understand why I feel strongly about the remarks reported to have been made by Sir William Gallagher, the chief executive of his father’s Hamilton electric fencing company, to an audience at the Waikato Stadium. Gallagher made several claims that in my view are bigoted and racist; dangerously bigoted and racist.

But before looking at what he said, I read that he has defended his views by claiming to have done extensive research into New Zealand history. Key to that research, I am told, is discussions he has had with Don Brash. Wow, that’s a balanced source of information; about as balanced as asking Goebbels to prepare a report on political freedom in Europe in the 1930s.

For example Gallagher said the Treaty papers on display at Te Papa were fraudulent documents. He added that the concept of the Treaty was a rort. He condemned the idea that the Treaty involved a partnership between Māori and the Crown, and lamented the monetary reparations for breaches of the Treaty that some iwi have received over the last quarter of a century. He warned that Māori “separatism” was creating “apartheid” in New Zealand, and claimed that non-Māori risked losing all their rights, including even their rights to visit the country’s beaches. His speech was an old man’s bigoted and racist rant spewing bias and division. New Zealand is a poorer place for being subject to his opinions.

So what are we going to do about it? Four steps stand out.

  1. Since 2012 Gallagher has been a principle partner of Swimming Waikato. That relationship should be terminated immediately. Gallagher’s opinions are a test for Swimming Waikato. Is principle more important than money? Does integrity mean more than dollars? Is the honesty of Waikato administrators for sale to the highest bidder? I guess we are about to find out.
  2. Swimming New Zealand should instruct Swimming Waikato to sever its links with the Gallagher organization. The Swimming New Zealand Code of Conduct specifically prohibits the sort of discrimination advocated by Gallagher. Any link with his views is bad and should be terminated from the top.
  3. Swimming New Zealand should end its association with Sport Waikato. Gallagher provides Sport Waikato with significant financial support. Swimming New Zealand needs to be seen to have no association with organisations that depend on money from that source. In the past Swimming New Zealand has rightly moved to reject funding from tobacco and alcohol companies. Gallagher’s opinions are no less toxic.
  4. Swimming New Zealand should lobby, where it can, to have Gallagher’s removed as a sponsor of the Chief’s rugby team. For a team so dependent on the skill and application of Maori players for their success it is unacceptable to take money from a source that has said those same players are part of deliberate and organized cultural theft.

Trust is a two way street. There have been many examples of sponsors walking away from clients because of unethical behaviour. Bill O’Reilly was sacked when sponsors stopped supporting his television show. Tiger Woods lost big sponsors worth $22 million when his sexual indiscretions were uncovered. Lance Armstrong lost $150 million in one day when he admitted being a drug cheat. Michael Phelps was dropped by Kelloggs when he was photographed smoking marijuana. Ryan Lochte is said to have lost $5 million when he made up a story about being robbed at a gas station in Rio. And for biting Evander Holyfield’s ear Mike Tyson lost $11 million of sponsorship.

Gallagher refuses to back down or apologize. He has forfeited the right to our support. We will see if those responsible for swimming have the integrity to do the right thing; to stand up for decency and justice in New Zealand. They have never done it before. I doubt this time will be any different.

Gutter Press

November 24th, 2017

I am reluctant to continue the discussion of matters associated with New Zealand sport’s journalist, Tony Veitch. His conviction for kicking his partner in the back has been widely debated. As justified as continuing the debate might be, the publicity it creates gives a felon like Veitch far too much attention. Veitch built his career by being in the news. For Veitch, it seems, any publicity is good publicity. Besides, just about everybody has had their say. The disgust expressed by most commentators reflects well on New Zealand. The exceptions are Veitch himself, some red-neck residents, Sky Sport and the New Zealand Herald.

This post will consider the position of some red-neck residents and the New Zealand Herald.

My problem is not that the New Zealand Herald has tried to cover up the behaviour of Tony Veitch. The paper certainly has not done that. It accurately reported the Veitch assault on Kristin Dunne-Powell. In fact in May 2009 it went further and published a harrowing description, written by Kristin Dunne-Powell, of the attack. And in May 2016 the Herald published a statement from Kristian’s father that highlighted the multiple attacks included in the police investigation. The paper has not tried to hide Veitch’s amazing personal relationship failures; from the Kristian assault to the sixteen month marriage and divorce of Zoe Halford in 2009, to the eleven month marriage and divorce to Lisa Bryan in 2016. Maintaining a relationship does not appear to be a Veitch strong point. Mind you – whenever I’ve listened to him on the radio, I find it easy to understand why.

Veitch seems to have had more than his fair share of other bizarre events. In 2010 he was sent home from Radio Sport for getting involved in a “heated argument with a female staff member”. In 2013 he was in the Auckland Showgirls strip club when his female companion collapsed and was taken by ambulance to Auckland City Hospital. His life appears to confirm the description given to it by Kristin’s father, “This was no one-off, as you still attempt to mislead the New Zealand public to believe. The other charges were never presented to the court but they remain evidence of your systematic abusive pattern. In those files lies a very inconvenient truth for you.”

The Herald has also reported on Veitch’s professional blunders. For example in 2005 the paper covered a radio outburst in which he compared Serena Williams to an ape. They also published the apology Veitch was ordered to make. Famously, the Veitch idea of remorse begins with this qualification, “During Friday’s show in a banter and exchange with Dean Lonergan.” Wow, New Zealand has its own Donald Trump. It was all just good old locker room talk. Of course it was. Sexual assault and comparing a black American woman to an ape – it’s all good locker room banter. What are you bleeding heart liberals grumpy about?

No, I am not complaining about a Herald cover up. What is disturbing is the willingness the paper has shown to give Veitch a voice. When the accusations of domestic violence were first made public, a Herald editorial demanded that we all settle down and give the broadcaster his day in court. This is what the newspaper said.

“Removing the broadcaster from the airwaves before any of this is concluded would be literally firing first and asking questions later. If charges are laid and a case proceeds, then standard employment procedures would probably see him suspended then until resolution. In the meantime, he could continue in his limited public role of talking sport. It is not as if he is lecturing in morality, integrity, decency and respect for others.”

Well, Veitch has now had his day in court. He was tried, convicted and sentenced for lashing out and kicking his partner in the back, breaking several bones. And at the Herald nothing changed. Veitch is still employed writing opinion pieces. The Herald said we should all wait until justice was served and then “standard employment procedures” would apply. What a joke. The Herald’s “old boys club” gathered around and Veitch continued to write and be published.

And as for the disgusting Herald editorial sentence that says, “It is not as if he is lecturing in morality, integrity, decency and respect for others.” What a joke. Veitch uses his column inches in the Herald to do nothing else.

For example on the Aaron Smith, Christchurch toilet, episode Veitch published this.

“What to do with Aaron Smith? It’s fair to say this one has no easy answer. If you’d asked me two days ago, I would have said there was absolutely no way Aaron Smith should play. His penalty for the toilet indiscretion will likely be one match and a fine.”

In fact Veitch has used his Herald column to tell us that morality, integrity, decency and respect for others is exactly how he sees as his role. Here is what he recently wrote.

“Stick to sport I was told, I have no right to have to say on politics. My response – to continue the debate with even more vigour. This is far and away the biggest sporting story in the world right now. It goes beyond winning and losing, it’s about life, values and beliefs.”

And talking about Team NZ Veitch said this.

“The humility that may have been lacking in previous campaigns has returned. The team have intentionally kept their heads down and headlines out of the newspapers.”   

And so, in case the NZ Herald has not got the point, the last person whose opinions on life, values, beliefs and humility I want to hear from is Tony Veitch. And as for listening to his advice on what Smith’s punishment should be for a sexual indiscretion – has Veitch got no shame? It won’t matter a damn but for what it is worth, drop the Veitch column and I’ll start buying the newspaper again.

One final thought on Veitch: I have noticed some people jumping to defend what, I would have thought, would have been indefensible.  For example on Facebook I saw a comment that said, “But she was wrong as well.” That may well be right. I cannot imagine what it must be like to live with one or two of the parents I’ve had to deal with in swimming clubs around the world. But no matter how wrong she was, no matter how difficult she was to live with, even if she had taken a look at his mobile phone and even if she had caught him out in a bald-faced lie – there is nothing that can justify or diminish or excuse savagely kicking your partner in the back. In fact saying “she was wrong as well” makes you no better that Veitch. Give him a call. You may enjoy an exciting life together.