RIP Project Vanguard

By David

In Wellington today Swimming New Zealand is holding a Special General Meeting. Ironically it is being held in the Bunker Room of the Miramar Golf Club; an appropriate location given the siege conditions surrounding the affairs of swimming in New Zealand just now.

The purpose of the meeting is to withdraw the Manawatu Remit approved at the last Annual General Meeting and replace it with a watered down version. The new remit, written by Swimming New Zealand paid lawyers, avoids confirming the pre-eminent position of the regions in Swimming New Zealand’s Constitution. As we understood the Manawatu Remit, confirming the principle of “state (regional) rights” was one of its central goals. Instead the new Remit makes a few vague promises to behave better and communicate more; yeah right.

We suspect the Swimming New Zealand regions will approve the new Remit and will allow the Manawatu version to pass into swimming history. Good regional administrators will give leave for peace to prevail. Swimwatch would not have been so kind. In our view, by refusing to register a properly passed remit, Swimming New Zealand has acted improperly. They have treated the regions with contempt and probably unconstitutionally. Their behavior is not compatible with the intent behind the organization’s constitution. The framers of that document enacted a federal system of management for the organization; a system of checks and balances where the “states” (regions) had primacy over their local affairs and collectively directed the federal business of Swimming New Zealand. It is a good model, it works and it is under threat.

The effort of Swimming New Zealand to dodge registering the Manawatu Remit and replace it with a version that spurns any mention of “state” rights is a clear signal of their intent. Their behavior should not pass unnoticed. The next step in Swimming New Zealand’s march to abandon the present federal constitution of protected regional rights and replace it with direct control by Wellington is Project Vanguard. We hope Swimming New Zealand do not regard the generosity extended by the regions at the Special General Meeting as a sign of weakness on the question of regional rights. That would be a serious mistake.

On Monday 5th November Swimming New Zealand will meet with the Auckland region and its clubs. We are not sure whether their purpose is to listen to what the region feels about Project Vanguard, or to sell the Project, or explain what’s so bad about the way things are done now that we need Wellington’s wisdom in doing it better. Whatever it is, their mission will not be easy.

Swimming in New Zealand was not organized along federal lines by chance. By dividing power between clubs, regions and Wellington each level serves as a check on the other. Each individual member is provided with “treble security”. The tugging and pulling of clubs, regions and Wellington prevent any single sector from dominating the others. The behavior of Swimming New Zealand in the case of the Manawatu Remit is a clear example of why Project Vanguard should fail and federal management should stay. In politics they call it the “tyranny of concentrated power”. That’s a bit over the top in the case of New Zealand swimming. However federalism in swimming does check the growth of central power and restricts the formation of single interest majorities. We suspect Jan Cameron would like nothing more than to see the end of the federal governance of swimming in New Zealand; to see Project Vanguard implemented. It’s comparatively easy to assume total control of a unitary government. Federalism promotes unity without uniformity. It keeps the governance of swimming close to its members, giving them a greater say in the affairs of their club, their region and their country.

We hope the Auckland meeting insists on hearing what Wellington’s traveling saleswoman feels Auckland does so badly that it needs her mates from the capital to do it better. We have been fortunate enough to have had firsthand experience of sport’s administrations in the United States, the United Kingdom and in the Caribbean. The federal structure practiced in New Zealand and in Auckland is as good as any of them and better than most. With the best will in the world we simply cannot imagine what is so disastrously wrong with the way things are done here that we need a crew to fly in from Wellington to put Auckland on the straight and narrow. We suspect the same could be said for Southland, Otago, Canterbury, Bay of Plenty and most of the other regions.

Only after we have found out what Wellington think we are doing so badly should we consider their version of how they would conduct our business better. What dramatic advantage is there to Auckland of having Mike, Mark, Karen, Marge, Kent, Lisa, Tania, Rebekah, Cara, Jan, Mark, Scott, Sheila, Rebecca, Emma, Phillip, Belinda, Chris, Gillian, Erin, Jill, Antony and Cathy (wow there’s a lot of them) do it for us. Does anyone recall the days when Moss and Kingsman won medals in Seoul and Simcic held the world record for 200 meters backstroke and all SNZ’s business was conducted part time by a wonderful lady called Donella Tait from a small two room office in the Dominion Building in Wellington. Every trip to the toilet in that place had to be planned well in advance; along the corridor, down the stairs and along another dark corridor. There was no point in using the elevator. It just never arrived. We’re not saying swimming should go back to that but it does make you think.

On balance the evidence says RIP Project Vanguard. We would all be better served if Wellington concentrated on doing its own jobs, whatever they are, better and left us alone to do ours.