Swimming New Zealand – An Independent Review

By David

Here at Swimwatch we are delighted with the SPARC report in today’s New Zealand Herald. It’s been some time coming but at last the deception that is Swimming New Zealand’s High Performance Program is coming under scrutiny. In case you missed the Herald report this is what it had to say.

SPARC has made its investment in troubled sports swimming and canoeing subject to conditions while “issues” are resolved. It will invest just $825,000 in swimming for the first six months of next year, with funding beyond that contingent on recommendations of an independent review. The review, to be completed by May, will cover coaching, leadership and the focus of Swimming New Zealand’s (SNZ) high performance programme. Toomey said the initial funding means swimmers can keep training and competing while issues within the sport are addressed. A maximum total of $1.625 million has been earmarked for the sport – the same as it received this year.

Of course we are pleased. For seven years we have regularly reported on “issues” that surrounded Swimming New Zealand’s High Performance program; issues that would prevent the nation’s best swimmers winning Olympic medals. Three barren Olympic Games have proven that prediction correct. Issues, that would eventually be identified by the main stream media and main stream sport’s administrators. At last that day may have arrived.

I do hope the independent review does not restrict its consultation to Jan Cameron, Mike Byrne and the Swimming New Zealand Board. Cameron and Byrne have led the sport into this mess and have so brilliantly spun their failings that the facts of their failure have been ignored or overlooked. Swimwatch may have long been branded as a “strident” (Mike Byrne’s word) provocateur. Perhaps, at last, our deeply and sincerely held concerns are about to be vindicated.

This Swimwatch article will not rerun the “issues” the independent review should scrutinize. However, to the extensive discussion that has occupied in previous Swimwatch posts, we suggest the review should look at the relationship that exists between the parents of Millennium swimmers and SNZ staff. Has it always been appropriate? Have New Zealand’s best swimmers always been granted access to the Institute’s facilities? Has personality and prejudice played too big a role in the selection and coaching of New Zealand’s best swimmers?

No, instead of addressing these “issues” we would like to proffer our wish list of seven outcomes.

RECOMMENDATION ONE: It is time for Cameron to leave the program. Jan Cameron has done her dash; served her time; had her chance. Whatever expression you choose it is time for someone else to lead New Zealand’s best swimmers in international competition. It’s not as though she hasn’t had the swimmers capable of winning Olympic Championships. For three Olympics she’s had access to the best we’ve got; about eight of them capable of winning an Olympic medal. Over the same number of Games Lydiard coached ten finalists and won six medals; so it can be done. Just not by Jan Cameron. I would imagine there may be some who fear that New Zealand may not be able to find a suitable replacement. SPARC should approach the world’s best coach who happens to be unemployed at the moment. His name is Mark Schubert and he’s been the personal coach of 22 Olympic Gold Medal winners. He would not have New Zealand return from the London Olympic Games empty handed. The disrespect shown by Cameron towards her swimmers and her sport by accepting a broadcasting position in New Delhi is unforgivable. Our first recommendation is that Jan Cameron be asked to leave.

RECOMMENDATION TWO: It is time Byrne was replaced. The failures of the High Performance Program, the waste of time and money on Project Vanguard, the decline in participation have all occurred on Byrne’s watch. It is a mess and the buck stops at the top table. Byrne should go. I don’t have a suggestion for a replacement except to say the person obviously has to have successful management experience and academic training. He or she must also know swimming at the coal face. They should have been a top swimmer themselves or have been closely associated with world class swimmers. There is no time for learning on the job. Current management shortcomings need to be filled immediately.

RECOMMENDATION THREE: Project Vanguard is a distraction and should be dropped. There are more important things to be accomplished. The whole thing is an exercise in fiddling while Rome Byrnes. Swimwatch has published thousands of words on the futility of Project Vanguard. It is an exercise devised by weak people, for weak people. It has nothing to do with improving the sport of swimming. It’s all about making poor managers feel important. It’s been a mistake. Drop it now before it causes real harm.

RECOMMENDATION FOUR: Swimmers should have access to full funding while still swimming at their home programs. There is no need to spirit swimmers away to the Millennium Institute. If a program is approved by the new High Performance Director, swimmers should be able to stay at home with access to all the funds and privileges enjoyed by Millennium swimmers.

RECOMMENDATION FIVE: SNZ should focus on its core activity; competitive swimming. Poor management has spread the organization way too thin. It’s time for SNZ to concentrate on their knitting. For example, SNZ is up to its eye balls just now in learn to swim and water safety; competing with organizations far better qualified to spread that message. I went to a meeting several weeks ago where a SNZ employee gave a detailed report on how SNZ was going to improve water safety. Ten minutes later Water Safety New Zealand and Water Safety Auckland told us of their very different plans. That sort of division is no good for anyone. SNZ should get their noses out of other people’s business. I would think that a spin-off benefit of refocusing SNZ would be a staff reduction from 22 to less than 10.

RECOMMENDATION SIX: The High Performance Center should be restructured into just another swim club that earns money from swim fees and pays for pool hire like all the rest of us. Oh, and it should not be part of the North Shore Swimming Club. Just as Gary Hurring has a club in Wellington that has Keane as a member and Jeremy Duncan has a club in Invercargill with Wiegersma as a member, Regan should have his HPC Club, no more and no less than all the rest of us.

RECOMENDATION SEVEN: New Zealand coaches should receive far better coaching and day to day support. The real lie in the High Performance Program, as it is practiced by Cameron and Byrne, is that the best coaching in the world can only be found at the Millennium Institute. That is not true. Simcic broke a world record from Christchurch. Loader won two Olympic gold medals from Dunedin. Jeffs and Perrott came from Whakatane and Wellington. Cameron and Byrne have a Millennium obsession. They have to; the organization they have created depends on Millennium results. And it’s been catastrophic. Lydiard was adamant – the prime responsibility of a High Performance Program is to improve the standard of coaching throughout the country. No one knows where the next Olympic Champion is going to be born. Jack Lovelock came from Reefton. Murray Halberg was born in Eketahuna and Peter Snell came from Opunake. Swimming would do well to always remember that legacy of New Zealand sport.

So there they are; seven recommendations. They are neither strident nor absurd. They are considered and are most certainly valid alternatives to the policies of Cameron and Byrne. Their efforts have seen participation numbers collapse and performance medals disappear. Our alternative recomendations will certainly do better than that.

  • NZswimmingfan

    Great call on trying to pick up Schubert – it is a once in a generation opportunity to have someone of his calibre out of a job and SNZ should spend as much of that SPARC grant as it needs to to get him over here while we still can. That could be a crunch decision that (positively) influences the direction of NZ swimming over the next 10 years.

  • Thank you swimmingfan. I absolutely agree.

  • jim cole

    yes it is about time someone spoke out.

  • It is humbling indeed to have a comment from such a long time servant of SNZ. Thank you. Pushing for change is a huge and serious responsibility. Hearing that very senior SNZ members feel some action is needed is very reassuring.