A JURY OF FIVE MILLION

November 21st, 2021

Swimwatch readers may recall that our previous post suggested that Sport New Zealand and Cycling New Zealand (CNZ) were accessories to the suicide of Olivia Podmore. Here is what the post said.

“But make no mistake, in my opinion, whoever orchestrated the cover-up using Sport New Zealand’s money were accessories to her death and should be treated accordingly. Like some Mafia Don Sport New Zealand may not have been present when Podmore died but their greed and their money were responsible. At least they were in my opinion.”

So, what would happen if my opinion was tested in Court? I have no legal training and no experience of Court procedures. However, the balance of this post will discuss a possible case for the prosecution and a case for the defence.

CASE FOR THE PROSECUTION

The circumstances of Olivia Podmore’s suicide are covered in the Crimes Act 1961. Section 179 of the Act says.

Aiding and abetting suicide

Everyone is liable to imprisonment who incites, any person to commit suicide, if that person commits or attempts to commit suicide in consequence thereof.

The prosecution’s case is that Sport New Zealand’s money enabled CNZ to unreasonably subject Olivia to pressures that incited her to cause her own death. Both organisations grossly neglected their duty of care by inciting behaviour that they should have known could cause suicide in consequence thereof.

In particular,r senior CNZ staff members coerced Olivia to participate with CNZ in a fabricated cover-up of staff bad behaviour during pre-Rio-Olympic competition. Olivia was forced to lie for the organisation. The clear message of the CNZ conspiracy was that failure to comply would put at risk Sport New Zealand’s payment of Olivia’s training costs, overseas travel, accommodation, food, internal travel and her selection on national teams. Sport New Zealand and CNZ left a sensitive young woman with a choice between lying to the inquiry and preserving her only income and her sport or tell the truth and loose everything. Olivia chose the cover-up.

Two powerful organisations bullied Olivia into doing what she knew was wrong. They used their power to take advantage of a young athlete in their care. Two organisations that controlled everything she held dear used their power and their money for their own ends without a care for the consequences. Olivia was their victim.

But Sport New Zealand and CNZ were not done yet. Olivia gave them everything, including her reputation for honesty. In return CNZ failed to select her for the Tokyo Olympic Games. She had compromised her good name, her reputation and her self-esteem for them, and her reward was rejection. Olivia could not stand the pain inflicted directly on her by the actions of CNZ using Sport New Zealand’s money, and committed suicide.

The action of two all-powerful bullies was an incitement to suicide. CNZ and Sport New Zealand manipulated Olivia’s life and neglected their duty of care to an extent that the pain was an incitement for Olivia to take her own life.

Section 179 of the Crimes Act 1961 is in the Act for just this circumstance. Dangerous actions by CNZ, using Sport New Zealand’s money, directly encouraged Olivia to inflict self-harm. The jury’s decision should be guilty.    

CASE FOR THE DEFENCE

The defence case is simple and very strong. In order to be convicted of aiding and abetting Olivia’s suicide the prosecution needs to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the intention of Sport New Zealand and CNZ was to cause her suicide. Sport New Zealand and CNZ have to be shown to have acted with that intention and must have premeditated the possibility of her suicide.

Sport New Zealand and CNZ could not reasonably predict that Olivia would take her life as a result of their actions. Some might argue that Sport New Zealand and CNZ should have seen her suicide as a consequence of their actions. However, they did not – and that is an acceptable defence.

The defence would also present the “Consent Defence” by arguing that no crime was committed because their actions were done with Olivia’s consent. In fact, the defence would argue that Olivia gave more than consent. She welcomed the money, the fame, the teams, the lifestyle and the training. She was a committed loyal member of the CNZ team. She had been published in cycling magazines and local papers supporting Sport New Zealand and CNZ.

How could either organisation possibly know she was on the verge of suicide when everything she said publicly supported them and her lifestyle? Since the day Olivia arrived in Cambridge the relationship with Sport New Zealand and CNZ had been warm and mutually beneficial. Every contact Sport New Zealand and CNZ had with Olivia had been for the purpose of making her life better and more successful. The money, the travel, the training and the facilities were provided for her support.

No one could have foreseen the tragedy that was about to unfold. The fact that it did does not make Sport New Zealand or CNZ guilty of aiding and abetting her suicide.

The jury’s decision should be not guilty

Conclusion

Readers who have got this far are the jury. It is for you to decide.

WE MIGHT REMEMBER HER?

November 19th, 2021

Words fail to describe the rampant corruption – no, that is not too strong a word – that exists in New Zealand’s sport bureaucracy. As Sport New Zealand subverted democracy and bought its way into power in swimming the sport became increasingly dishonest. Many Swimwatch posts have relayed the deceit that characterised the years that followed. With the realisation that Sport New Zealand could not buy sporting success in swimming, they cut their annual grant by 60%. Today, Swimming New Zealand (SNZ) maybe poorer but character has always been more important than money. As each year goes by and the involvement of Sport New Zealand gets less and less, SNZ has become a cleaner and better place.

But Sport New Zealand never gave a moments thought to the question of whether their policy of financial control and centralised training might be flawed. Oh no, their reaction was to look for other prey. And before long Sport New Zealand was in bed with cycling.

And in the years that followed the same behaviour we saw in swimming has been evident in cycling. Investigation after investigation, report after report, a revolving door of coaches and CEOs, lie after lie and bad decisions like the recruitment of a hurdles athlete to cycle in the Commonwealth Games. Many times, I called swimming, Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

I could say the same thing about cycling, except this time it is far more serious than Monty Python. So serious that it ended the life of an Olympic athlete and, from all I’ve been told, a fine, hardworking, honest to a fault, gentle person, Olivia Podmore.

That is where Sport New Zealand’s money has taken the sport of cycling.

Before the Rio Olympic Games Olivia Podmore observed some bad behaviour involving a CNZ staff member and an athlete. No one will say but I assume a female athlete. After the Games the incident was investigated by CNZ. Podmore was asked to tell the investigation what she knew. But before giving her evidence she was pressured by someone to lie, to take part in a cover-up. Podmore was expected to protect cycling from the truth, to save the lifestyle of CNZ’s fat-cat bureaucrats.

What a terrible, terrible position for Podmore to be in. Her sport depended on these people. Her income depended on these people. Without their money she had no apartment, no food or drink and no sport. And so understandably she went along with the cover-up. Sport New Zealand’s money bought her silence.

Eventually the strain was too much, and Olivia Podmore took her life. But make no mistake, in my opinion, whoever orchestrated the cover-up using Sport New Zealand’s money were accessories to her death and should be treated accordingly. Like some Mafia Don Sport New Zealand may not have been present when Podmore died but their greed and their money were responsible. At least they were in my opinion.

Why do I feel that way? Because for 25 years Swimwatch fought similar abuse in swimming. Never with cycling’s tragic result. But career ending never-the-less. I wonder if anyone in CNZ thinks Sport New Zealand’s $5.3million last year was worth the price? I don’t think so. It never is.

And that brings us to an article published on the Stuff website earlier this week. The author, Zoe George, makes several important points about the progress of the Podmore investigation. The balance of this post will consider each of these.   

The inquiry into cycling is set to miss the first major deadline. A draft report was due before Christmas, but now it is expected to be delivered in February.

There is no excuse for this delay. Of course, COVID 19 restrictions in Cambridge are being blamed. However, the effect of the lockdown on Cambridge has been minimal. In addition, this first report is a preliminary draft. A progress document could have easily been produced using Skype or Zoom. The delay of two months is disrespectful to the primary purpose of the investigation. It certainly does not sit well when the panel bandy around Maori words like “hui” in their press release and disrespect the dead in their actions. Culturally sensitive? No, I don’t think so. The panel’s performance so far “F-“.    

The inquiry will address the impact of HPSNZ funding in cycling and whether having a centralised training hub in Cambridge is beneficial.

Are they really going to address this issue? They had better. Because in those 22 words lie the heart and soul of the problem. Cycling, rowing, canoeing and swimming can have every psychologist in the country working for them – but Sport New Zealand’s money corrupts and $5.3million a year corrupts absolutely. The CNZ investigation has a 25-year swimming case study at their fingertips. Eventually SNZ realised centralised training and a bank vault of money did not work and discarded the whole thing. Apart from Podmore’s death making it worse, why should the cause be any different. Years ago, the Ineson Report on swimming, prepared by Sport New Zealand, said what I am saying now. Sport New Zealand didn’t like that, so they discarded his findings. Another investigator was found to write what they wanted to read. The waste, the corruption and now the death continued.    

CNZ and HPSNZ “will ensure that no person who takes part in the Inquiry will be subjected to retaliation or retaliatory action and will “take all necessary measures to ensure the protection of anyone who cooperates, in good faith, with the panel.”

Does anyone really believe that’s true? Remember these are the guys who forced Podmore to lie in the first place. These are the guys who orchestrated the cover-up. When Sport New Zealand money is the prize, they would run over their grandmother if needed. If it were my son or daughter, I wouldn’t let him or her participate with these thugs. I’d deal directly with the lawyers but only if CNZ and HPSNZ were subject to the harshest controls. Do not trust them a second time.

Even their assurance to the athletes is qualified. “In good faith” – who decides what that means? This post has been written “in good faith” but CNZ and HPSNZ won’t think so. For 25 years, SNZ never thought any Swimwatch post was written “in good faith”. This new CNZ lot won’t be any different. Remember, $5.3million corrupts absolutely.

ALL THE VIEWS

November 17th, 2021

While this COVID business is being sorted out swimming in New Zealand is a bit dire. Occasional swims in the sea are not ideal preparation for national pool swimming. All we can do is wait and see.

The lunatic fringe of swimming in New Zealand has another report on the “NZ Swim” Facebook page. I’ve read it but have no idea what it says. Something about when Level 69 becomes a purple traffic light we can put on Speedos and dance down Queen Street singing “Hare Krishna”. Swimmers in Wellington are asked to burn their traffic light pink fins at the top of Mt. Victoria. I think “NZ Swim” said water from Freyberg Pool, blessed by Lewis Clareburt, would be pumped up the hill to extinguish the blaze.  

Do not trust the rubbish published on that page. It is as reliable as a car I used to own called the “Blue Beast”. Fully loaded sheep trucks used to pass us going uphill on the Napier/Taupo road. As I have said before, when the Swimming New Zealand or Millennium websites says, “The pool opens at 6.00am on Monday the something or other,” I will be there.

There is no mileage in writing about swimming. So, what else is there to talk about? The “News Talk ZB” radio station is always fertile ground for sarcasm. Certainly, their relationship with the truth is about as distant as the “Blue Beast” was to reliable motoring. Today I heard them advertise themselves with a jingle that said something like, “All the views”. The inference was that their programmes would provide the listener with views from the political right, the middle and the left. Now that is simply not true.

The key six hours every day are dominated by two right-wing nutters, Hosking and du Plessis-Allan. They set the tone for much of the talk-back that follows. The Prime Minister did not abandon their radio station for no reason. She left because her plea for an end to child labour in Westport coal mines was being depicted as robbing pre-teens of their lunch money. If Mother Terresa voted Labour, “News Talk ZB” would find a way of linking her to the Pablo Escobar drug empire.

Last night du Plessis-Allan said that she would have to ask her boss about some outlandish right-wing opinion she was masquerading as news. Doesn’t she know we are well aware she is married to and sleeps with her boss. He’s a right-wing bigot as well. At least he is in my opinion. The suggestion that asking him is consulting some independent source is pathetic.

Finally in this week of little swimming news, I hear on tonight’s TV One sport’s news that a 400m hurdles athlete called French has been recruited by Cycling New Zealand’s (CNZ) centralised training organisation to join their sprint team. One of New Zealand’s best sports reporters, Abby Wilson, asked the CYC Head Coach why was a runner selected? Wasn’t their talent available within cycling?

“Not really,” said the coach. “We could not find the talent here, so we went out to athletics, rowing and bobsleigh.” I expected him to widen the search by adding chess, darts and ten pin bowling. But what a put-down of cycling. Last year Sport New Zealand spent $5,394,298 on cycling. Sponsorships coughed up another $1,143,797. That is money that indirectly came from you and me.

$6.5million and CNZ’s centralised program can’t find a cyclist for the national team without looting any other sport they can find. It is swimming’s centralised problems all over again. My guess is no one will see it as a problem before it is too late. And when the new recruit plucked from a Las Vegas poker table fails to fire in the Birmingham Commonwealth Games’ men’s sprint, Sport New Zealand will blame the athletes. Or perhaps they were delt a bad hand. When Sport New Zealand’s money was the root cause all along. Just as it was in the tragic decision made by Olivia Podmore. But what are the odds of that ever being said by the current investigation into her death?

Just as swimming was a mess before it ditched the whole Sport New Zealand circus, cycling is being lured into the same dark, deep hole. Deaths and bizarre recruitments are just the beginning. It will not end well.

And, on an uplifting note, I am off with Eyad and Alex for a swim at Takapuna Beach tomorrow morning. The weather forecast is good. A takeaway coffee and donut from the Takapuna Café should start the day off well. Especially now that Jacinda has said that by mid-December we might be starting to climb out of this COVID mess. Fingers crossed.               

YOU WOULD NEVER SAY THAT IN AMERICA

November 17th, 2021

The previous Swimwatch post mentioned an American swimmer I used to help both in the USA and New Zealand. Before I knew Rhi Jeffrey she had won an Olympic Gold Medal for the 4×200 relay in Athens. Rhi is currently living and coaching Atlantis Aquatics in New Hampshire, USA. Those looking for a good coach could do a lot worse than contact Rhi.

When Rhi came to New Zealand I was concerned about how she would fit in. Rhi has a huge personality and being bright herself finds it difficult to tolerate idiots. She is also an Olympic Gold Medalist for a reason. Oh, of course she has talent. Of course, she has a feel for the water. Of course, she is naturally tall and very strong. But beyond her natural gifts she is prepared to work incredibly hard. No one becomes the best in the United States without working hard. Rhi had been raised in and had survived the world’s toughest swimming school. I remember her tearing strips off swimmers in our American team who failed to meet her exacting standards. I never took issue with her, mainly because she was always right.

When she came to New Zealand, I was concerned that some of the New Zealand squad might find her forthright views on their work ethic a bit overpowering. I need not have worried. She seemed to appreciate the cultural difference between swimming in Auckland and swimming for the United States in Florida. In fact, she went out of her way to gradually help lift the squad’s work ethic to what both of us had known as normal in the USA.

Her contribution was especially valuable in the gym. At the time women lifting heavy weights was frowned upon by many. Rhi soon sorted that out for me. In no time at all she had a real American swim team gym operating at the West Wave pool. The looks of horror from the Lycra clad gym staff were worth a million dollars.

There is a difference between some stretching exercises and beating your way through the dark and rain at the top of the Waitakere Ranges. Rhi was first class at the swimming Waitakere Ranges stuff.

Occasionally cultural differences did catch her out. On her first day in New Zealand as we drove away from Auckland Airport, I heard her say, “You could never put that on a car in the USA.”

I looked around and couldn’t see anything unusual. I said, “What do you mean?”

Pointing at a car full of Pacific Island New Zealanders she said, “Look what’s written on the side of their car.”

I looked across to see a large sign saying, “ALL BLACKS”.

It took a couple on minutes to explain that the sign referred to the national rugby team and not the ethnic origin of the car’s owner.

About six months into her New Zealand stay she decided to wear one of those fun swim caps with the big eyes and a small rubber fish-fin. The meet was a junior carnival at West Wave. The young swimmers and the coach thought it was huge fun – an Olympic champion racing in a fish-head cap.

But the New Zealand officials not so much. I was told if Rhi raced in the cap she would be disqualified.

“What for?” I asked in amazement.

“The rubber fin on top is a performance aid.” I was told.

That sort of BS gives officials here a bad name and is, in part, a reason SNZ membership has declined by 26% over ten years. Sucking the fun out of everything is no way to attract the next generation. Running a swim meet like some well drilled Waiouru army parade might fill a 60-year-old official with pride, but a fun swim cap has more appeal to youngsters in the sport. Off the subject but the effort to retain the fun of swimming was what I admired most about the way Geoff and Jeannie Sibun did things in the Counties Manukau Region. I hope wherever the Counties’ clubs end up preserve that same sense of tradition and fun. I hope but I do not expect. Sadly the “performance aid rubber fin” brigade is winning.

But, back to Rhi. She was not easy to coach. Her standards were above and beyond normal. But the hard work was hugely satisfying. I would not have wanted it any other way. I hope the team she is coaching now appreciates their good fortune. Swim well, Rhi.

HOLY WATER

November 15th, 2021

Not much is happening in the world of New Zealand swimming. COVID lockdowns have pretty well brought an end to the best laid plans. Swimming New Zealand (SNZ) did publish their long list of swimmers under consideration for the Commonwealth Games. I’ve never understood the long list. Why have it at all?

For example, there is no way all, or even most of the 35 swimmers on the list are going to get anywhere near catching the flight to Birmingham. SNZ knows that. The Olympic Committee knows that. Even the author of the Facebook page “NZ Swim” knows that. And if he knows it, there is an owner of camels just outside of Jeddah in Saudi Arabia who is in on the secret as well.

And second, no one will ever convince me that if some unknown female swimmer from Ōpunake came to Auckland for the long course NZ Nationals and won the 100m freestyle in say 51.70 she would not be selected because Gary Francis didn’t know about her when he came up with the long list. Can you imagine the Game’s organiser’s attitude to missing out on a class swimmer because of a missed piece of New Zealand bureaucracy? If that then is the case, it begs the question, why have the list at all?

I imagine some readers are saying the likelihood of a swimmer currently training in the Ōpunake  River swimming 51.70 is slim. However, Faamausili, Gichard, Ashby and Moynihan doing something special in the USA would not be at all unusual. What is SNZ going to do then – not select them because they were not on the long list? It is a joke. Remember how pathetic Athletics NZ looked many years ago when an American based 400m hurdler was not selected because he was not on the list and had “only come third” in the US National Championships. Third in the US was probably third in the world – but bureaucracy won. Does SNZ really want to go there?

And finally remember when Peter Snell was ranked outside the world’s top 20 over 800m and was on no one’s long list. He was selected on potential. Someone in Athletics New Zealand took a punt. And guess what, Snell was born in Ōpunake and did come home from Rome with an Olympic Gold medal.

The problem with SNZ and NZOC long lists and pre-entry rules is they restrict the ability of swimming people like Gary Francis to run the business. They can’t take a punt. It is typical of what swimming under Layton and Cotterill has become. People, like Francis, who see talent in more places than the numbers on a stopwatch are being hogtied by Sport New Zealand sycophants with their long list bureaucracy. To hell with the long list. Let Francis pick what he thinks, feels, guesses is New Zealand’s best team. Let him manage the swimming side of the business. You put him there to do a job. Trust him to do it.

One other bit of semi-sporting news this week came from an American swimmer I used to help both in the USA and New Zealand. Before I knew Rhi Jeffrey she had won an Olympic Gold Medal for the 4×200 relay in Athens. Rhi is currently living and coaching outside of Boston. Those looking for a good coach could do a lot worse than contact Rhi.

With some justification Rhi is pissed-off at the awful interference in American politics by the “religious” right. She posted four quotes on her Facebook page from four founders of United States. These four men were well ahead of their time.

Thomas Jefferson – Christianity neither is, nor ever was a part of the common law. In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. 

John Adams – The Government of the United States is not in any sense founded on Christian Religion.

Thomas Paine – All national institutions of churches whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish appear to me no other than human inventions set up to terrify and enslave mankind and monopolize power and profit.

James Madison – Religion and Government will both exist in greater purity the less they are mixed together.

Clearly those old American buggers knew a thing or two. Their 2021 followers should read, learn and inwardly digest. Of course, their words have more relevance to the United States than New Zealand. However, the growing influence of nutters like Brian Tamaki and others shows the wisdom of the American founding fathers is not without relevance here as well.

It might pay anyone basing their reluctance to have a COVID vaccine on Tamaki’s behavior, to pause and consider the words of four much smarter men than the New Zealand charlatan.