WHAT THE INVESTIGATION MISSED

May 15th, 2022

Sport New Zealand’s investigation into the structure of sport has been a stunning waste of time and money. Oh, it has suited the Castle gang perfectly. Attention has been focused on incompetents at Cycling New Zealand (CNZ). Sport New Zealand’s corruption has escaped scrutiny, yet again.

I know there will be readers saying, “There goes Wright again, using words like corruption to describe the wonderful people at Sport New Zealand. Look at all the money they hand out. They do not deserve a word like corrupt.”

Please, just give me a chance to tell you why. Because the structure of sport is founded on autocratic rule. Sport in New Zealand is not democratic – nothing like democratic. And in our society that is corrupt.

The previous CEO of Sport New Zealand, Peter Miskimmin, changed the Swimming New Zealand (SNZ) constitution. That happened at a Special General Meeting (SGM) held on 28 July 2012. To say it was a brutal blood bath would be an understatement.

The meeting began with an announcement that no media attendance would be allowed. These affairs were not for public scrutiny. If dark deeds were to be done, they would be done in secret.

A Miskimmin disciple called, Chris Moller then addressed the Meeting. He congratulated those able to see the future of the sport. That future turned out to be a decade of unparalleled misery and failure to perform.

Moller then called for the Auckland Board and its Chief Executive, who had opposed changing the constitution, to stand down. Members got the message. Do what you are told or get out. Dissent would be treated harshly in the new SNZ. The message of Tiananmen Square was not lost on Sport New Zealand.

And behind it all lay the unspoken spectre of accept a new constitution or say goodbye to future funding. Taxpayer’s money was used to extend Sport New Zealand’s power. The SGM chose the money and changed the constitution.

What’s so wrong with that, you might ask? Well, the new constitution changed swimming from a democracy, where the members elected their leaders, to an autocracy where effectively the CEO of Sport New Zealand appointed those who would rule the sport. The way Miskimmin did that was to alter the constitution. Three members of the governing Board would be elected and three would be appointed by Miskimmin. In the event of a tied Board vote the Chairman would have a second deciding vote – and the Chairman would also be decided by Miskimmin. SNZ became part of a Sport New Zealand autocracy.

Flushed with his success in swimming, Miskimmin went around New Zealand imposing the same constitutional dictatorship on Rowing, Canoeing, Cycling, Gymnastics and a dozen other sports. New Zealand sport became a huge, centralised Sport New Zealand dictatorship. Miskimmin had, and now Raelene Castle has, absolute, constitutional power to rule.

When the same thing happened in Putin’s Russia, or the Marco’s Philippines, or in Hong Kong we rushed to call Putin, Marcos and Xi, corrupt. They constitutionally changed their countries from democracies to dictatorships. Why then should Miskimmin and Castle escape the same label, when they have done the same thing to New Zealand sport.

Being a centralised dictatorship has allowed Miskimmin and Castle to impose their immorality and standards on the sports they rule. My argument has always been, the culture they allowed to fester, effectively killed Olivia Podmore – not the CNZ coach, or the CNZ CEO, but the culture, norms and money sanctioned by the supreme leaders, Miskimmin and Castle.

In swimming we still have a Board of six members, three appointed and three elected. The three appointed members are Andrew Kelleher, Margaret McKee and Donna Bridgeman. And it is time for them to go. If they want to sit on the SNZ Board let them stand for election like any other self-respecting New Zealander. If democracy is good enough to run the country, it’s good enough to run swimming. We do not need or want Sport New Zealand lackies telling us what to do – especially when they are associated with a culture that killed one of our best sportswomen.

It is off the subject, but Margaret McKee would be on the SNZ Board even if it was democratic. Talented and able, I’m surprised she agreed to participate in Miskimmin’s autocratic sham. She knows better than that.

The rot in New Zealand sport will not be fixed by the current worthless report. Why? Because the investigation chickened out of addressing the root cause of the problem. Democracy has been abandoned in the name of Sport New Zealand power. Like most similar regimes “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. After the Folau mess, I certainly would not trust Castle with my daughter’s swimming career. Aimee Fisher, Jessie Smith, Lauren Boyle and Glenn Snyders obviously came to the same conclusion. They left Sport New Zealand’s dangerously corrupt world and went off to do their own thing. Olivia Podmore realised the same thing but left it too late to get out. But is it likely Heron and Leberman would address that issue? Of course not. Not when the “Dear Leader” was paying their wages.

The next Swimwatch post will address a second fundamental issue ignored by this pathetically weak Heron/Leberman effort. Heron has tried to reform cycling twice without success. I thought university degrees specialised in developing analytical skills. In my opinion missing sports lack of democratic institutions is not the best advertisement for their Victoria and Massey University education.

PS – I see Dana Johannsen reports today that sports administrator, Kereyn Smith has been appointed, “transformational director” at CNZ, with High Performance Sport NZ to pick up the tab for Smith’s salary.

I have huge respect for Kereyn Smith. She is straight and honest. Her ego does not get in the way of making good decisions. But her new job is a lost cause. It is not CNZ that needs “transforming”. It was not SNZ that needed “transforming”. Sport New Zealand is the problem, and it is paying Smith’s wages.

When Kereyn Smith transforms New Zealand sport into a democracy again, where Boards are elected by the members and Castle is stripped of direct power then her appointment will have merit. She is the person to do it – but will she? Until then, Kereyn Smith has only been appointed by Castle to protect Castle. Another “look what I’ve done” sleight of hand.   

OLIVIA PODMORE REPORT

May 13th, 2022

The investigation into the death of Olivia Podmore will publish its Report on Monday next week, the 16 May 2022.

The Report’s authors, Sarah Leberman and Michael Heron distributed the following email today.

Kia ora koutou,

Thank you for your participation in the Cycling New Zealand High Performance New Zealand Independent Inquiry.  It has been a privilege to be part of this kaupapa and we are grateful for your contribution.  In the end, more than 200 people engaged directly with us.   

We write to provide an update to those we have an email for (please forward to anyone you think may need to know).  We have delivered a final report to CNZ and HPSNZ.  That report will be made available to the public on the afternoon of Monday 16 May.  CNZ and HPSNZ will handle the distribution and general communications about the report, and any questions about what happens next can be directed to them. 

Thank you again for your engagement, and we wish you all the best.

Noho ora mai rā,  

Mike and Sarah  

On Monday then we will know the conclusions that have been reached. But before then we can speculate.

Has the death of Olivia Podmore acted as a catalyst for change? Are those responsible for her death identified and will they be held to account? Have the structural shortcomings of High Performance Sport New Zealand’s (HPSNZ) empire been exposed? Will changes be made to the people, the structure and the honesty of high-performance sport in New Zealand? Will Raelene Castle accept responsibility for Podmore’s death and be asked to resign? Will centralised training be abandoned?

In my opinion, the answer to all those questions is NO. This Report, like a hundred reports that have gone before will change nothing. This Report will be a whitewash designed to dig Castle and HPSNZ out of a hole. Over 200 people contributed to the investigation. Many of them are hoping for a New Zealand sporting earthquake on Monday. They are going to get a gentle breeze barely enough to move the curtains in Castle’s Harbour City Centre office.

Alan Thompson’s dismissal will have been for nothing. The near destruction of Swimming New Zealand will have been for nothing. My health will have suffered irreparable damage for nothing. Olivia Podmore will have died for nothing. Cover ups are a HPSNZ speciality. This Report will be no different.

I see the Report has already been delivered to Cycling New Zealand (CNZ) and HPSNZ. You can bet your life carefully crafted answers are being prepared for Monday’s release. Nothing that Abby Wilson, Zoe George, David Long or Dana Johannsen can ask will not have been given a good public relation going over.

If ever there was a time for some “in depth” Fleet Street journalism, it is now. Olivia Podmore deserves no less. Last week Zoe George interviewed CNZ interim chief executive Monica Robbers. We got a taste there of how Ms Robbers intends to fob off any criticism. Here are examples of her corporate speak. My guess is we will hear a lot more of this from Ms. Robbers and Ms. Castle on Monday.       

The letter was delivered after “significant consultation”

“This practice of emailing a letter is no longer the practice”.

CNZ is not aware of the practice, and “it is one that would never be condoned”.

She said high performance staff “were only ever fully supportive and there is correspondence on file that represents this viewpoint”.

Robbers says (athletes were) given “significant support” by CNZ and also paid for private support.

“Mary (name changed) deserves a lot of credit for being open and willing to talk about things openly. She has been very courageous.”

Robbers says “there is no substance” to the claims of staff breaching confidentiality.

Just a pile of corporate speak garbage. “Significant consultation, no longer the practice, would never be condoned, fully supportive, correspondence on file, significant support, paid for private support and no substance to breaching confidentiality”. It’s all there ready to be rolled out again on Monday. Ms. Robbers has clearly learned nothing from the death of one of her athletes. No humility, no shame, no regret and no apology. If all her assurances had a grain of truth, now come Olivia Podmore is dead.

CNZ and HPSNZ should not get away with this travesty – but they will. At least that’s my prediction.

HEATHER DU PLESSIS-ALLAN

May 11th, 2022

I am a supporter of immigration. The New Zealand I grew up in was a very WASP (white, Anglo-Saxon, protestant) place. And we were an intolerant lot. Even those who were here before us had to mold themselves obediently into our language, culture and norms. Britain was where we were from and British, we would stay. God who made thee mighty, make thee mightier yet, and all that stuff. But that has changed. And changed for the better.

The immigration of Asians, Arabs, Africans, Pacific Islanders and the like have brought with them diversity and tolerance. They say travel broadens the mind. Well immigration travel has done the same thing to our country. And it is good.

There are however one or two exceptions. People who, in my opinion, have fled their country of birth because they could no longer tolerate the social changes occurring there. They have come to New Zealand in the hope of imposing their right-wing reactionary lives. The best examples are some imports from white South Africa. And the best example of that, in my opinion, is radio partisan zealot, Heather du Plessis-Allan.

Already two complaints about Heather du Plessis-Allan’s use of the term ‘leeches’ to describe the Pacific Islands have been upheld by the Broadcasting Standards Authority, under both the good taste and decency and discrimination and denigration standards. The Authority recognised that her language was inflammatory, devalued the reputation of Pasifika people and had the potential to cause widespread offence and distress.

Day after day she continues to spread a message across New Zealand that I find vile. I do not want any part of apartheid South Africa imported here. It was and is a depraved and miserable message that has no place in the civilised, multi-cultural and tolerant place New Zealand is trying to become.

For example, last night she was banging on about the Act Party’s plan to abolish minority government ministries – especially those that were race specific. According to du Plessis-Allan what a great idea. After all wasn’t giving Maori or Pacific Islanders a hand up racist? Wasn’t it against the very foundation of democracy? Didn’t it fly in the face of “one man, one vote”? She has obviously forgotten that not so long ago “one man, one vote” literally meant just that. Without those who came before the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, Du Plessis-Allan would not have a vote.

For twenty minutes her radio station preached a toxic message right out of the Hendrik Verwoerd bible. She came within a whisker of promoting the abolition of minority ministries as a policy of “good-neighbourliness” – as an improvement in our social and democratic lives. As different races and cultures have different beliefs and values, they could only reach their full potential if they lived and developed without government assistance. Pursuing a policy of independent development — apartheid by any other name — and restricting New Zealand’s efforts to address past wrongs was best for us all. She didn’t say it, but best for us whites was what she implied. We can do without that malignancy.

And she is breeding. Is there another right-wing bigot or perhaps this child will see the errors of its parents? Perhaps this boy will see their sickness? Perhaps inclusion will take precedent over exclusion? We can only hope.

I see Willie Jackson, in a conversation on this Act Party policy, called David Seymour “he’s just a useless Māori, that’s all”. Isn’t that the truth. Jackson could well have added, “And isn’t Du Plessis-Allan just a useless pakeha, that’s all”. Perhaps a term I heard growing up in Te Reinga, “white maggot”, might be appropriate – after all if the cap fits.  

DUCK SHOOTING

May 9th, 2022

I see on the television news that the duck shooting season in New Zealand is in full swing. Pictures flash across the screen of grown men and their children, dressed in camouflage gear that they should be donating to those who need it in Ukraine. There they are hiding from unsuspecting ducks in mini-forts, called mai-mais. These days mai-mai construction is not to be taken lightly. Auckland Waikato Fish & Game has put together two resources on “Mai-mai Construction Guidelines” and detailed “Mai-mai Construction Plans”. Eyad’s Honours degree in engineering will be vital should he ever want to shoot some kiwi ducks.

I’ve never understood the appeal of this annual shoot-a-thon. Mind you, I have only been duck shooting once. Not that I minded the shooting. My preference was for wild goats, pigs, opossums and deer. I paid for two swimming trips to Australia by selling the carcasses and skins of that sort of shooting to a Wairoa butcher. I guess that made me a semi-professional hunter.  

So why am I so anti duck shooting? Well, the one occasion I did go duck shooting was pathetic. Let me tell you about it.

A very prominent Wellington civil servant and his family were friends of ours. One school holiday they came to our place to experience some rural adventures. Duck shooting had begun, so that of course had to be included.

The day dawned absolutely freezing. But three horses were saddled-up and we set off with my stepfather and the civil servant proudly holstering our family’s two shotguns. It took about an hour to reach our Pohataroa Station lake mai-mai. I crept inside and began warming-up thanks to my mother’s Thermos of hot chocolate.

That was about 7.00am. Well, we sat there for five hours until midday. Any ducks were at 30,000 feet, far beyond even my father’s sophisticated guns. Five hours and not a sole duck was in the slightest danger. The Pohataroa Lake was as peaceful and deserted as when we arrived.

I however was freezing. I felt like a block of ice. When would this torture end? Finally, the adults made a decision. It looked like this Saturday was not our lucky day. What! You reckon? At last, we were on the horses again, heading home. But then just after we had added to our discomfort, riding across a not-so-shallow section of the Ruakaturi River, my stepfather noticed about ten ducks on a flat field below the Pohataroa Station farmhouse. The civil servant and my father went into full hunting mode. Off the horses and crawling toward the quietly grazing ducks. Barely ten metres away two blasts rang out and one duck fell. The others began to waddle up the hill to the farmhouse. Yes, you have it right.

My stepfather and the government’s most high-profile bureaucrat had murdered one of the farmer’s domestic ducks. Panic? You have never seen the like. Two grown men sprinted back to the horses with their dead duck, and we set off at full gallop for home. All three of us could have won the Melbourne Cup.

That afternoon I was given the task of plucking the murdered bird. I have never seen so many pellets in one bird. Clearly both shotguns had found their mark.

The following day, Sunday, our families sat down for lunch that featured the produce from our day duck shooting. My mother had to supplement the duck with a second bird bought from William & Kettles grocery store in Wairoa. I made sure my meat came from the William and Kettles’ bird. The risk that I’d missed some pellets in the other duck was way too high.

Duck shooting was not the end of our illegal activity that week. We took the civil servant trout fishing. My stepfather had a favourite spot on the Hangaroa River that usually yielded a good size fish. Sure enough our friend had only been casting for a few minutes before a huge brown trout swam slowly by. Try as he might, casting his fly inches away from the trout, the fish was not interested. For half an hour, cast after cast, was being ignored.

Finally, this pillar of Wellington society grabbed my father’s rifle and fired it in the direction of the unsuspecting fish. The bullet never hit the fish, but the shock waves were enough to stun it and cause it to float upside-down to the surface. Faster than Michael Phelps, our friend was in the water and had the stunned fish in hand. Tomorrow’s lunch was clearly going to be, and was, a small slice of Hangaroa brown trout.

Of all the years I spent hunting over the Te Reinga hills, I never had a week like the one when Wellington came to the country. It put me off duck shooting and fishing for life.

TAKING THE WATERS IN BUDAPEST

May 6th, 2022

Swimwatch readers will know that Eyad has decided to compete in the Mare Nostrum swim series. Any travel for a Syrian refugee is difficult. Even though Eyad is now a New Zealand permanent resident and has a New Zealand Travel Document, a visa is required for everything. And these are not just any old visas.

Eyad is the most peace-loving guy. He’s as Kiwi as all can be. For example, he wandered into the pool café yesterday, fully dressed for work at his Queen St. engineering company, except he had bare feet. My mother and his mother would have had something to say about that.

But even Eyad is required to produce a mountain of paperwork. I constantly hear New Zealanders complain about needing a Covid test before an international flight. They should try living in a Syrian’s shoes for a day. I had no idea how lucky we are – have a Covid test, fill out a departure form and away we go to just about anywhere in the world. When I began helping Eyad with his Mare Nostrum journey, I couldn’t believe the difficulties he thinks of as normal.

But then Eyad got some good news – some really good news. He got an email from FINA. This is what it said.

Subject: Refugee Team in FINA World Championships Budapest 2022

 Dear Mohamed,

 We are very happy to be able to welcome you at the 19th FINA World Championships in Budapest upcoming June!

 I would like to set up an online meeting to discuss your participation.

 Should you need any additional information, please do not hesitate to contact me.

 Kind regards,

And so, just like that Eyad’s trip now includes competing at the World Championships in Budapest. Four cities: Monaco, Barcelona, Canet and Budapest. Now, that must be the swim trip of a lifetime. If Eyad can add Paris to that list in a couple of years, what more is there to do? The difficulty of getting there maybe extreme, but the reward is turning out to be amazing.

There may be some who question whether refugees should benefit by having a “special” entry to World Championship and Olympic competition. Believe me, there is nothing special about a refugee’s sporting life. Just call yourself Syrian and go live in the Middle East for a few months. You will see how special your life is then. I’ve been with Eyad when he was refused entry into a public swimming pool because of his nationality. I’ve been in a car with him when he was refused a park close to a pool for the same reason. I’ve seen coaches refuse to coach him because he is Syrian.  Try ringing the American Embassy, tell them you are Syrian and would like to visit Mississippi. See how special that phone call ends up.

The IOC, NZOC and now FINA’s efforts to address the discrimination and hurt caused to some deserves nothing but praise. I have always thought Immigration New Zealand’s approach to refugees was compassionate and thoughtful. Certainly, in Eyad’s case, he has been treated with care and respect. Well, you can add the Spanish Embassy in Wellington to the helpful list. And Swimming New Zealand, don’t forget them. They say you can judge someone by their actions. The effort SNZ has made to help Eyad has been above and beyond. If you are a parent reading this post, be content – your son or daughter is in a new organisation that cares. The sport of swimming in New Zealand is in a good place.

Mare Nostrum meets are always competitive. I have a feeling this year will be especially tough. I am sure many very good swimmers will be using Mare Nostrum for the same reason as Eyad – as warm-up meets for the World Championships. The three meets are perfectly placed to provide fast swimming before arriving in Budapest.

International competition has always improved a swimmer’s performance. I remember Brett Naylor telling Jane Copland at a Sydney World Cup that she was a “disgrace to New Zealand” because she was too slow. She was only 15 and was swimming for the experience. Naylor never apologised for that insult not even when Jane won open national championships, broke New Zealand open records, represented New Zealand and made the NCAA championship finals. Her career was, in part, built on her early exposure to international swimming.  

I am sure Eyad will find the same thing. This trip will be another four steps up the ladder. Four steps that have been well earned. I wish him well.