How Did We Get Here?

August 7th, 2017

In my last Swimwatch post I discussed the poor performance of New Zealand in the 2017 World Swimming Championships. With good reason I recommended that the Swimming New Zealand Board resign and new ideas and a fresh approach be given a chance to guide the direction of the sport.

Essentially what this means is that the current very central control of the organisation by the Swimming New Zealand Board be replaced by a genuine regional, federal structure. Power and responsibility for performance needs to be devolved down to the people who can actually effect change. Currently people like Cotterell, Miskimmin and McKee who know little and can actually do even less have all the power and the money. In a federal structure their influence would be placed in the hands of people like Jeremy Duncan, Labara Gennadiy, Brigitte Mahan, Martin Harris, Andy Adair, Gary Hollywood, Sue Southgate, William Benson, Emma Swanwick, Judith Wright, Thomas Ansorg, Igor Polianski, Monica Cooper and many others.

Swimming New Zealand should have been governed by a federal structure for several years. In 2011 there was a focussed effort by the NZ swimming Regions to federalize the sport. Instead the opposite happened. A constitution was approved that centralized the sport into an authoritarian oligarchy. It is worthwhile looking at how that happened. In 2011 we were so close to really good reform and it was snatched away. We know the result has been an unbroken series of competitive failures. How did this happen? Who let federal reform slip from our grasp? Who out-maneuverer the reformers and imposed the current discredited and failed structure? Here is what happened.

In 2011 the push for federal reform was being led by the Auckland CEO, Brian Palmer and Bay of Plenty administrator Bronwen Radford. Opposing Palmer and Radford was Sport New Zealand CEO, Peter Miskimmin. Palmer and Radford had done a remarkable job of cobbling together an amalgamation of Regions demanding change. There was a popular demand to move away from central control to federal regional based governance. The Regions had asked for a national special meeting to reform the sport: to introduce democratic federalism. Miskimmin’s vision (called Project Vanguard) of a centralized elite program based around one pool in Auckland was a lost cause – and Miskimmin knew it.

And so he made a decision to call Palmer and invite him to a meeting in Wellington. At that point I knew our reform movement was in trouble. Palmer called me the night before the Wellington meeting to discuss what was likely to happen. We talked on and on until 12.30am. Over and over I warned Palmer that he was walking into a trap. He would be wined and dined – not literally, Palmer is a Mormon and does not drink – and conned into accepting a compromise. I told Palmer he was walking into a lion’s den of bureaucrats. Promises would be made, threats would be hinted at and in the end what we wanted would be lost. Palmer said I had nothing to fear. He could handle it. The movement for reform had not come this far to be lost to some smooth talking Wellington civil servants.

Palmer’s apparent contempt for the people he was dealing with gave me even more cause for concern. These were skilled operators; taking them lightly was extremely foolish. I felt Palmer would be seduced by the charm of Wellington power. Difficult reforms such as this one demand personal courage and an irrational lack of concern for personal safety. I hoped all would be well, but after that phone call, I was concerned Palmer would be eaten alive. Our reform would be lost.

And that is what happened. When he got back from Wellington I called Palmer to find out what had happened. Unlike the night before he was now extremely guarded. He said he could not talk much because all those attending the meeting had accepted a condition of secrecy. I asked whether he thought that was appropriate for a sport that was owned by the membership. Didn’t the membership have a right to know the content of the sport’s most important meeting in one hundred years? Palmer was clearly embarrassed. He ducked and dived. I’m sure he knew that I would see the conclusion of the meeting as a betrayal of all we had fought to achieve.

Over the days that followed the truth emerged. Palmer had backed away from the reform plans and had accepted Miskimmin’s proposal for what became the Moller study and report. Palmer told me that he had no option. If he had insisted on federal reform lawyers would have been called in and court cases would have been the result. All that may or may not have been right – who knows? What we do know is that Palmer folded. He accepted Miskimmin’s position and agreed to the Moller study. In six hours in Wellington Palmer’s decision to abandon the cause and appease Miskimmin began events that have resulted in six years of Swimming New Zealand pain.

A year later the Moller Report was produced and accepted. Far from recommending the federal structure the Regions wanted, Moller recommended even greater central control; an even greater autocratic government. By this time the Regions were tired and beaten up from the fight. They would accept anything in the cause of peace. And at a Special General meeting on 28th July 2012, by a vote of 35 in favour and 13 abstaining, the Mollar plan was approved; the inevitable conclusion of the Wellington 2011 abdication was completed.

The 2011 meeting in Wellington sowed the seeds for the defeat of Regional influence on the sport. When leadership was most required it was not provided. It was a serious error that has had long term serious consequences. The vote at the Special Meeting accepting the conclusion was merely rubber stamping the obvious. It is relevant to question some of the votes at the meeting. The New Zealand Swim Coaches Association voted for the Moller plan. Surely they must have been aware that a central structure was going to rob their members of power and influence. The organisation responsible for the health of coaching voted for its evisceration. Bay of Plenty, the home region of one of the leaders of the reform movement Bronwen Radford, voted for the Moller plan. That was strange about face. And finally Southland, a Region that has always justifiably prided itself on its independence voted in favour of Moller. Had those three votes been different Moller would have lost.

Palmer’s 2011 meeting set in motion events that would hurt swimming in New Zealand for a generation. Last week at the World Championships we began to learn just how serious. None of us, including Swimming New Zealand, know just how far further down the bottom will be.          

 

New Zealand at the 2017 World Championships

July 31st, 2017

I will write this post in the order that the results occurred. But before I do that, why have we arrived back at the point where no one can believe a word posted on the Swimming New Zealand website? In their first report of the swimming the website tells us the New Zealand team “got off to a quality start”. But there were no semi-finalists, no finalists, no National Records and no personal bests. By what measure was that a quality start? The website also told us that the men’s 4×100 freestyle relay place 15th in the heats. The team was actually 14th. The next day the SNZ website said this:

“The 21-year-old secured his first world championships final with a 53.76s effort in the semifinal to be eighth fastest of nine swimmers into the final.”

Every ten year old knows there are only eight swimmers in an international final – but not Swimming New Zealand it seems.

And so to the results.   

10 Kilometer Open Water Swim – Charlotte Webby

Webby placed 40th in 2:08.41.4. The time is not bad. Although time comparisons in open water do not mean a lot 2:08 does compare well with Webby’s recent Taupo 10 kilometer times. Her best in Taupo was in 2016 when she swam 2:09.30. The problem for New Zealand open water swimming is that world standards are progressing very quickly. Webby was eight and a half minutes behind the winner. By the time Tokyo comes along I would not be surprised to see the winner of the women’s event finish in well under two hours. New Zealand has a lot of catching up to do. Right now the open water world is leaving us behind.  

5 Kilometer Open Water Swim – Charlotte Webby

Webby placed 38th in 1:02.07.6. The 5 kilometer race told a similar story to the 10 kilometer result. The winner was 3 minutes ahead. When women’s marathon running was first introduced into the Olympic Games the world’s best performance improved by 20 minutes in just ten years. It appears similar progress is being made today by the women involved in open water swimming. New Zealand Swimming needs to take steps to ensure the sport in New Zealand keeps up. The event is no longer a home for average pool swimmers who do a lot of training. Open water swims will increasingly be won by Lauren Boyle types; fast pool swimmers of real class.    

Men’s 50m Freestyle PERRY Sam

Preliminary Place Time Swum Personal Best Comment
49 22.93 22.47 Not a PB and did not progress

 

Men’s 50m Freestyle HUNTER Daniel

Preliminary Place Time Swum Personal Best Comment
38 22.71 22.31 Not a PB and did not progress

 

Men’s 100m Freestyle PERRY Sam

Preliminary Place Time Swum Personal Best Comment
51 50.14 49.48 Not a PB and did not progress

 

Men’s 200m Freestyle STANLEY Matthew

Preliminary Place Time Swum Personal Best Comment
29 1:48.02 1:47.37 Not a PB and did not progress

 

Men’s 50m Backstroke HUNTER Daniel

Preliminary Place Time Swum Personal Best Comment
37 26.02 25.87 Not a PB and did not progress

 

Men’s 100m Backstroke MAIN Corey

Preliminary Place Time Swum Personal Best Comment
9 53.97 53.99 Personal best and qualified for semi-final.

 

Semi-Final Place Time Swum Personal Best Comment
8 53.76 53.97 Personal best and qualified for final.

 

Final Place Time Swum Personal Best Comment
8 53.87 53.76 Not a PB.

 

Men’s 200m Backstroke MAIN Corey

Preliminary Place Time Swum Personal Best Comment
16 1:58.34 1:57.51 Not a PB. Qualified for semi-final

 

Semi-Final Place Time Swum Personal Best Comment
16 2:01.00 1:57.51 Not a PB and did not progress

 

Men’s 200m Butterfly ASHBY Bradlee

Preliminary Place Time Swum Personal Best Comment
29 2:00.53 2:00.19 Not a PB and did not progress

 

Men’s 200m Individual Medley ASHBY Bradlee

Preliminary Place Time Swum Personal Best Comment
15 2:00.20 1:59.54 Not a PB. Qualified for semi-final

 

Semi-Final Place Time Swum Personal Best Comment
13 1:59.24 1:59.54 Personal best, NZ Record, did not progress

 

Men’s 400m Individual Medley ASHBY Bradlee

Preliminary Place Time Swum Personal Best Comment
23 4:20.65 4:18.68 Not a PB and did not progress

 

Women’s 50m Freestyle FA’AMAUSILI Gabi

Preliminary Place Time Swum Personal Best Comment
24 25.38 25.02 Not a PB and did not progress

 

Women’s 100m Freestyle FA’AMAUSILI Gabi

Preliminary Place Time Swum Personal Best Comment
35 56.60 55.89 Not a PB and did not progress

 

Women’s 800m Freestyle ROBINSON Emma

Preliminary Place Time Swum Personal Best Comment
22 8:44.87 8:31.27 Not a PB and did not progress

 

Women’s 1500m Freestyle ROBINSON Emma

Preliminary Place Time Swum Personal Best Comment
11 16:25.78 16:30.16 Personal best but did not progress

 

Women’s 50m Backstroke FA’AMAUSILI Gabi

Preliminary Place Time Swum Personal Best Comment
23 28.47 27.97 Not a PB and did not progress

 

Women’s 100m Backstroke FA’AMAUSILI Gabi

Preliminary Place Time Swum Personal Best Comment
26 1:01.80 1:00.83 Not a PB and did not progress

 

Women’s 200m Backstroke GICHARD Bobbi

Preliminary Place Time Swum Personal Best Comment
24 2:15.97 2:11.93 Not a PB and did not progress

 

Women’s 100m Breaststroke LLOYD Natasha

Preliminary Place Time Swum Personal Best Comment
29 1:10.11 1:09.53 Not a PB and did not progress

 

Women’s 200m Breaststroke LLOYD Natasha

Preliminary Place Time Swum Personal Best Comment
25 2:33.93 2:29.73 Not a PB and did not progress

 

Women’s 50m Butterfly GASSON Helena

Preliminary Place Time Swum Personal Best Comment
35 27.37 26.45 Not a PB and did not progress

 

Women’s 200m Butterfly GASSON Helena

Preliminary Place Time Swum Personal Best Comment
27 2:13.71 2:09.84 Not a PB and did not progress

 

Women’s 200m Individual Medley GASSON Helena

Preliminary Place Time Swum Personal Best Comment
21 2:13.91 2:13.14 Not a PB and did not progress

 

Women’s 400m Individual Medley GASSON Helena

Preliminary Place Time Swum Personal Best Comment
23 4:49.35 4:45.32 Not a PB and did not progress

 

Men’s 4×100 Freestyle Relay

Preliminary Place Time Swum NZ Record Comment
14 3:17.74 3:15.41 Not a PB and did not progress

 

Women’s 4×100 Medley Relay

Preliminary Place Time Swum NZ Record Comment
12 4:07.09 4:06.30 Not a PB and did not progress

 

SNZ BOARD – TIME TO RESIGN

The performance has been disappointing: worse than the previous three World Championships. The following table shows a comparison of this Championship with the previous three.

2017 2015 2013 2011
Number of Swimmers on Team 11 8 14 12
Number of Gold Medals 0 0 0 0
Number of Silver Medals 0 2 0 0
Number of Bronze Medals 0 0 3 0
Number of Finals 1 2 6 4
Number of Semi-Finals 2 1 5 5
Average Place over all team members 26 23 19 19
NZ Position on Medal table Nil 20 27 Nil

No gold, no silver, no bronze, one swim in the finals, two swims in semi-finals, not appearing on the medal table and an average place in their events of 26th – down 3 places from two years ago and 7 places from four years ago. A train wreck by any measure.

Another way of looking at this fiasco is the number and percentage of personal bests. The table below gives the numbers. A PB percentage of 14% is not good enough. A club coach would rightly have serious committee problems with that performance record. An international coach should pack his or her stopwatch and white board marker and head through the Waterview Tunnel bound for Auckland Airport.  

Item Number %
Number of Swims 29 100
Slower than PB swims 25 86
PB swims 4 14

The conclusion is stark. New Zealand swimming is bad and is getting worse. The sport is bankrupt. For twenty years swimming has received and spent over a million dollars a year. Twenty million tax payer dollars and the end product is a sport devoid of hope, lost in a world they do not understand. Ironically the one finalist, Corey Main lives and trains in Florida. He has almost no contact with the policies of Swimming New Zealand. Quite simply the New Zealand performance is not good enough – not by a country mile.

So, who is to blame? Well it is certainly not the swimmers. New Zealand has the talent. The country’s juniors perform well in international competition. It is not money. There has been plenty of money. But when Swimming New Zealand gets involved the whole thing falls to bits. Swimwatch has long argued that the policy followed by the Swimming New Zealand Board is fatally flawed. The problem is one of policy. Therefore the Board of Swimming New Zealand is responsible for this mess. The fault is theirs. The buck stops with them. They are to blame.

They should resign. Here are their names – Bruce Cotterill (Chairman), Geoff Brown, Margaret McKee, Nick Tongue, Anna Tootill and Simon Perry. They have had their chance. They have done their best and it has not worked. By any commercial standard it is time for them to step aside. Common commercial decency demands that they accept their collective responsibility for the organization’s poor performance. The sacrifice of generations of young New Zealand swimmers is their legacy. It is time for the Board to go.

It is time that a new policy and new ideas were allowed to take over. There is another way. There is a better plan. There is an alternative that offers a better path and will produce a better result. That alternative deserves to be given an opportunity to guide the fortunes of New Zealand swimming. A new way cannot do worse and will provide the sport with a much better future where swimmers win international swimming races again.  

What the new policy should be has long been discussed in Swimwatch. It is a policy direction that has also been suggested by writings I have seen by Clive Power and other senior New Zealand coaches. This is not the place to discuss those details but they do exist. It is their time.

The moral of Budapest is – clear the decks; get rid of the old guard and give some fresh ideas room to grow.

But instead of doing the decent and correct thing the American Head Coach will be blamed and a “world-wide search” for yet another Head Coach will begin. The current coach should of course come in for his share of the blame. That altitude trip to Arizona was a real rookie mistake and cost the swimmers involved dearly. But the real responsibility lies with those who gave the coach an impossible brief. And that was done by the Board. Each member has a duty to resign now.       

 

Not Fit For Office

July 8th, 2017

About fifty years ago a prominent track and field official was quoted in Wellington’s Dominion newspaper. In response to a question about why a female athlete had not been selected for the New Zealand Olympic Games team he said, “No woman should be selected if a good man is available.”

Thank God those attitudes are a thing of the past. Or are they? This week the most powerful man in the world, Donald Trump, President of the United States of America, described a prominent MSNBC television presenter as, “Low I.Q. Crazy Mika bleeding badly from a face-lift.” It is not the first time Trump has resorted to assaulting women. He has publically commented on Megyn Kelly’s menstruation, fat-shamed a former Miss Universe, questioned the physical appearance of Hillary Clinton, Arianna Huffington, Rosie O’Donnell, Carly Fiorina and Heidi Cruz and has claimed special gender rights that include grabbing women by the pussy.

There is no place anywhere for that sort of behaviour; not in Joe’s Diner, not in a truck stop on the I95 and certainly not in the White House Oval Office. Trump’s defence, that he was just hitting back after being attacked is pathetic. He is the President of the United States for God’s sake. Hasn’t he ever heard words like class and dignity? It appears not. Have you noticed recently how often Trump mentions God. We need to pray for this and pray for that and thank God for the United States of America. Well Mr Trump let me direct you to the Book of Mathew, Chapter 5 and Verse 39. It says, “But I say unto you, that ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.” Oh and one other verse may help, Romans Chapter 12 and Verse 19. It says, “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.”

I am aware that an appeal to Christian values is meaningless when the object of discussion is Donald Trump. Male or female, he hates people who challenge him. But he especially hates women who question his divine power. In his mind the weakest are challenging the strongest. For Trump there is only one response, attack where the women are most vulnerable – their intelligence, their looks and their biology. Trump simply does not understand that from here to the gutter ain’t up.

Without question Trump’s behaviour is classic misogyny. What that means is Trump can come across as gallant and chivalrous because he sees himself as superior to women. But what he hates is certain behaviours deemed unbecoming to women such as power, independence and ambition. Where the misogynistic behavior comes in is when women do not behave in the way Trump deems appropriate. In Trump’s world women need to be secondary to him, their principle function is to promote his masculine image, they must not compete with him and they are not to be taken seriously. Their purpose is to be a trophy enhancing the master’s image. When women violate Trump’s misogyny rules he becomes verbally and physically abusive. As I say, classic misogyny.   

I am reluctant to spring to the defence of women. I get tired of men who speak on behalf of women; who know what women’s reproductive rights should be and who claim authority to decide on women’s civil liberties and conditions. It is disgraceful that the health care bill being considered in the US Senate includes maternity care, contraception services and the like and was written in secret by 13 men. Women can best speak for themselves. They do not need my help. However, at the risk of becoming another male interfering where I am not needed, there is a swimming aspect to all this that I do want to have aired.  

In my time as a swimming coach I have been fortunate enough to coach some women whose courage, independence and application has left me speechless; they were tough beyond belief. I have sat for a thousand hours on the side of tracks and swimming pools watching female athletes do some incredible feats. The pinnacle of application in my type of aerobic training program is running 100 miles a week or swimming 100 kilometres in a week. They are both extremely difficult. Swimming 100 kilometres in a week involves 4000 lengths of the pool and means being soaked in chlorine water for about 30 hours. The hurt is extreme. Chlorine burns the skin raw. The monotony is stunning. It is hard, very,very hard.

And yet I’ve coached 14 women who have run or swum that far, week after week. Here are their names – Alison, Toni, Nichola, Jane, Ruth, Nichole, Fara, Tiffany, Rhi, Kirstie, Jessica, Lara, Bridget and Abigail. There is nothing weak about this group. Their swimming application takes second place to no one. And they were successful – thirteen of the fourteen competed in National Open Championship finals, twelve won a National Open Championship medal and eight won a National Open Championship title. They were hard workers and high achievers.

And that is the annoying thing about Trump’s behaviour. When I hear him say the things he says I can’t help but take it personally. I see it as an attack on the high achieving women I know. And quite simply he is not allowed to do that; not ever. When he demeans a successful female TV presenter he demeans all successful women. When he personally insults a talented female political competitor he insults all female competitors. When he chooses to obsess about Megyn Kelly’s period he turns all women into biological objects.

The example of these 14 women shows clearly why Donald Trump is not fit to be in the White House. Their example confirms that the task is not to reform Donald Trump but to “repeal and replace”. He needs to be sent back to Trump Tower, to a place where his wife and daughters seem to be happy to excuse and live with a crass 71 year old baby.

 

Team New Zealand

July 5th, 2017

It has been quite a week for New Zealand sport. The All Blacks beat the British Lions in the first rugby test. Michael Venus won the doubles at the French Tennis Open. Scott Dixon won the Kohler Nascar Grand Prix. The women’s rugby sevens team won the 2017 World Championship. And Emirates Team New Zealand (ETNZ) won the America’s Cup.

Clearly the success of ETNZ is especially admirable. The America’s Cup is the world’s oldest international sporting trophy and is the place where some of the most arrogant and well-resourced participants come to seek sporting fame. Scottish businessman Sir Thomas Lipton, New York financiers, New Zealand business magnate Michael Faye, British railway tycoon James Lloyd Ashbury, the Earl of Dunraven, aviation industrialist Sir Thomas Sopwith, Australian businessman Alan Bond, billionaire Bill Koch, billionaire Raul Gardini Il, biotechnology entrepreneur Ernesto Bertarelli and owner of the Oracle Corporation Larry Ellison have all poured millions into the challenging or defending the America’s Cup.  

And yesterday the under-resourced minnow, ETNZ, won the America’s Cup. It is relevant to ask whether their success carried any lessons for New Zealand sport in general? I would argue that there are several important lessons.

First – minnows can win. Grant Dalton was right. If Oracle thought spending seven times more than they did was necessary, the money would have been spent. I’m not sure of the exact quote but Dalton said something like. “We knew we could not out spend them so we had to be smarter.” Lydiard, Jelley, Tonks and others thought the same way. It is a great feeling. Overcoming the odds. Winning against the big guys. David against Goliath. I am not a great one for nationalism but I think it is the way New Zealanders perform best. The lesson for swimming in what Dalton has done is clear. If you are part of a small club in Timaru, Te Awamutu, Taumaranui or Taradale you can win. You don’t need to be part of North Shore or Capital. You certainly don’t need to belong to the Swimming New Zealand Millennium Institute. Have the confidence to stay where you are and train smarter. It works.  

Second – independence works. Did you notice how ETNZ stayed in Auckland longer than the other teams quietly preparing, away from the politics and trash talk of Bermuda. What a good decision. Doing what’s right for you is important. A huge problem in New Zealand swimming is for years Swimming New Zealand has drip, drip, dripped the idea that when it comes to preparing swimmers SNZ knows best. The rest of us are inferior; not quite as good; not quite as smart. Swimming New Zealand’s Millennium Institute, we are told, is at the cutting edge of swimming preparation. They are the Oracle of the sport. But Dalton this week proved independence is more important than Oracle. Dalton’s decisions to not sign the agreement on how the cup should be run, to finish his preparation in Auckland, to design his own software and to employ a talented rookie helmsman and a rower and a cyclist to crew the boat showed us the value of independence. Is there any chance that similar initiatives in swimming would be allowed by Swimming New Zealand? Of course not. They are way too bureaucratic for that.

Third – expertise is important. There is no question that the people controlling affairs at ETNZ are yachting people. The CVs of Dalton, Burling, Ashby and others include Round the World races, Olympic medals and world championships. Those guys have been racing boats forever. And that knowledge of the sport is important. Compare that to swimming where the Board, the CEO and the National Coach have little or no knowledge of elite swimming. Oh, their webpages claim they have done some junior swimming, lifesaving and water polo. But none of that is elite swimming. They are bureaucrats making bureaucratic decisions. Because they do not know the product, they make decisions swimming people would never make. I had the same problem in Saudi Arabia. The federation CEO had no coaching experience but insisted on telling me how I should coach the national team swimmers. I finally snapped and told him that bureaucrats should stay away from the team’s training program. Hilariously, the CEO, a devout Mormon, told me to, “Fuck off.” But I was right. Just ask ETNZ.                

Fourth – centralized training does not work. If anything is the antitheses of the centralised training policy imposed on New Zealand sport by Baumann and Miskimmin the independence of ETNZ must be it. Can you imagine Grant Dalton being run and managed by HPSNZ? What a shambles. Certainly the America’s Cup would be on its way back to California today. The Swimming New Zealand Board would have had the Dalton team sailing at the Cambridge training centre where the boat’s daily practice on Lake Karapiro could be monitored by a HPSNZ biomechnist. And, as though more proof was needed, the America’s Cup has just been won by men HPSNZ discarded and abandoned. Simon van Velthooven was cut from the centralised Cycling New Zealand program for the Rio Olympic Games and according to Cycling New Zealand was, “Given permission to pursue other opportunities.” Little did those boffins know that they were releasing him to go off and win the oldest prize in world sport. Rower Joe Sullivan retired from rowing after centralized Rowing New Zealand left him out of the New Zealand squad for the Rio Games. And then ETNZ came knocking.

Fifth – New Zealand has something special. The success of ETNZ confirms that New Zealanders can look after themselves. Sure Dalton had an Australian skipper, and wealthy Italian and UAE sponsors but the core of the operation was New Zealand. Compare that to Swimming New Zealand where the policy direction is set by a Canadian, the CEO for years was an Australian, the National Coach has been Australian, English and is now an American. In fact two good New Zealander coaches have just been sacked to make way for the American coach. It is not difficult to reach the conclusion that this Swimming New Zealand Board operate on the policy of anyone except a New Zealander.

Clearly few of the qualities that have made ETNZ the toast of world sport today are present in New Zealand swimming. Perhaps that’s why New Zealand has won the America’s Cup three times in the last twenty years and in the same period swimming is yet to have an Olympic win. If the phone rings and it’s the SNZ Millennium Institute take another tip from Dalton – tell them you’ll call back.       

 

Accountable To The Stakeholders

June 28th, 2017

As has always been the case nothing written here reflects poorly on the athletes. Posts like this are written in defence of New Zealand swimmers. The purpose is to identify those at fault for the constant cycle of New Zealand swimming failure.

Shown below is a list of the swimmers entered in individual events at next month’s World Swimming Championships. The current world ranking of each swimmer is also shown. The information needs to be viewed with some caution. The rankings are changing all the time as countries, especially the United States, hold their World Championship trials.     

Bradlee Ashby (200m individual medley), 22nd

Gabrielle Fa’amausili (50m freestyle, medley relay), 20th

Helena Gasson (50m butterfly, 200m individual medley, medley relay), 24th and 34th

Daniel Hunter (50m freestyle, 4x100m freestyle relay), 45th

Corey Main (200m backstroke, 4x100m freestyle relay), 25th

Sam Perry (50m freestyle, 4x100m freestyle relay), 64th

Emma Robinson (800m, 1500m freestyle), 29th and 29th

Matthew Stanley (200m freestyle, 4x100m freestyle relay), 29th

Clearly it is going to take a major improvement for the current rankings to change into medal winning performances. It can be done. Peter Snell was ranked 25th in the world prior to the Rome Olympic Games. Four of these swimmers have a ranking the same as or higher than 25th. We will see whether any of them can win from that position. I hope so.

However if, as seems more likely, no one manages to convert a current world ranking in the twenties, thirties, forties and sixties into one, two or three who is to blame? Well it is certainly not the swimmers. Like generations before them they have diligently gone about the bidding of the national federation. The Millennium program dates back to the days when Helen Norfolk left Christchurch, seduced by the hard sell of Millennium success, through to swimmers who have come and gone like Tash Hind, Penelope Marshall, Hayley Palmer, Amaka Gessler, Hannah McLean, Samantha Lucie-Smith, Mellisa Ingram, Alison Fitch, Daniel Bell, Glen Snyders, Corney Swanepoel, Cameron Gibson, Gareth Kean, Dean Kent, Moss Burmester, Michael Jack and many others.

No one will convince me there was not a World Championship or Olympic Medallist in that group of names – of course there was. But it did not happen. And if it does not happen again in Budapest eight more names will be added to the list. And the New Zealand federation will wander off looking for the next eight promising juniors to lure into the Millennium Institute.  

How long is the litany of destruction going to continue? When are those responsible going to be held to account? After all someone is responsible. Failure on this scale has a parent. But who is it? Well there is a fundamental policy problem. The policy was prepared by the CEO of High performance Sport New Zealand, Alex Baumann, and was then implemented by the Chairman of Swimming New Zealand, Bruce Cotterill, and his Board. The policy is called “Centralized Training”. It has been promoted and financed for twenty years without success.

Today fear and ignorance prevail. The Board of Swimming New Zealand does not have the courage to stop the hurt their policy is causing. They do not know enough to plan and try something different. They depend on Baumann for so much money they will do whatever he says – even if it does mean eight more names go over the cliff. Yes Mr Baumann, no Mr Baumann, three bags full Mr Baumann. At least that’s the way it seems.  

The alternative, constantly promoted here, is to strengthen the country’s decentralised training structure; strengthen the New Zealand club program. There are several benefits of a decentralized approach. Since coaches have liberty to coach their teams according to their own plans, the sport experiences a wide variety of ideas, rather than a central body being presumed to have all the answers. In most cities, parents can shop around for age group programs, meaning a team must generate results to stay in business. It is a better, stronger and more comprehensive approach than the doctrinal nonsense followed by Antares Place just now. And even a weakened version of the decentralized approach gave New Zealand Moss, Kingsman, Jeffs, Simcic, Langrell, Kent, Loader and Bray. Swimming New Zealand wouldn’t mind having the competitive record of that group around just now – five Olympic medals, six world medals and five world records. They will never match that record with their ridiculous Millennium program.

It is relevant to ask what the New Zealand Coaches Association is doing about this problem. A few months ago there was a swimming pool full of froth and bubble as the Coaches Association said it was going to insist on a more proactive role in the affairs of the sport. The Association called for submissions and beat its chest in frustration. Things, they said, were going to change. But nothing has happened. It has long been my view that the Association does not have the fortitude or leadership to effect reform. Sadly they appear to have chickened-out again.        

And so, let’s see what happens in a month’s time. But if, as appears likely, the team returns with no medals, then there should be a call for the Board of Swimming New Zealand to stand down. The vision they have been charged with includes “exceptional results”. Their mission is to produce “world class performances”. Their goal is to “achieve podium results” through “targeted campaigns aimed at winning medals”. In their vision, their mission and their goals this Board has failed to deliver. They have pursued a policy of failure for too long. Good practice and the names of the victims of their policy demand that this Board shows accountability to its stakeholders by accepting responsibility for the failure and standing down. We will see.