When is Spin a Lie?

By David

The last thing I wanted to see on Swimwatch was another article on the SPARC review of SNZ’s management and performance. I thought we had covered the subject to death. However when SNZ publish the sort of rubbish that went up on their website this morning someone has to say something. Their press release is simply scandalous. The people involved can criticize Swimwatch all they like, but when it comes to misleading distortion, SNZ is in a league of its own. SPARC’s independent review needs to double check everything they are told from that source. Here is what I mean.

QUOTE: Swimming New Zealand is pleased with the funding support announced 17 December by SPARC.

Does anyone believe that? Overall government funding goes up by 12%. Athletics gets a 16% boost to $1.8m. Cycling gets 14% more to $4.1m and rowing gets 23% more to $4.3m. Even triathlon, with only two Olympic gold medals on offer, gets $1.5m. And Mike Byrne tells us he’s pleased with no increase and $1.6m. One quality that is essential in sport is performance honesty. If things are not going right, face that reality, examine the reasons and set about taking corrective measures. I had to do that when Toni Jeffs swam badly at the Barcelona Games. I had made mistakes in her training that needed to be corrected.

But that’s not the way SNZ do things. Instead they try and sell the idea that no increase, a grant of $1.6m and an independent review is a pleasing result. When swimming deserves only 40% of cycling’s grant, there is nothing to be pleased about. It is a really awful result and if Mike Byrne is pleased he shouldn’t be and if he’s not pleased, he’s just lied to us. When is spin a lie?

QUOTE: “Our coaches and swimmers showed that they are on the right track for London with their performances at Delhi where we won six medals to match what we achieved in Melbourne.”

Mike Burn is right. In New Delhi and in Melbourne swimmers won six medals. There are, however, two problems. In Melbourne New Zealand actually won a championship, something that did not happen in New Delhi. In four previous Commonwealth Games the swim team returned with two gold medals. Seen in that light are we really on the right track for London? New Delhi was a poor result. In a list of ten previous Games the New Delhi result ranked seventh. Again Byrne appears to be incapable of facing up to the problem. Mushroom management perhaps but when is spin a lie?

QUOTE: “Swimming is one of the most international of all sports with more than 200 nations competing at the likes of the Olympics.”

This nonsense is simply not true. I do hope it is a mistake and not Byrne’s effort to mislead swimming people and the national funding agency. At the last five Olympic Games swimming attracted entries from 163, 152, 150, 117 and 92 countries. Never, ever have “more than 200 nations” taken part in swimming at the Olympic Games. As you can see the number of participating nations is miles short of that exaggerated figure. In fact there are only 196 national federations affiliated to FINA. On this evidence alone SNZ rank and file members and SPARC need to be very cautious about the information they get from Pelorus Trust House.

Byrne’s claim that swimming is “one of the most international of all sports” is only partially true. The number of nations affiliated to swimming is far from unique. There are 196 national swimming federations affiliated to FINA. But athletics has 212, boxing has 195, soccer has 208, hockey has 127, cycling has 175, basketball has 214, shooting has 154, weightlifting 187 and tennis 205. The implication that swimming is especially difficult because of its size is misleading to the point of not being true. It was just as difficult for Nick Willis to get his 1500 meter track medal in Beijing as it was to win any swimming race. I do hope SPARC are not misled by all this bias. When is spin a lie?

QUOTE: “Our challenge is that we will always be unable to match the funding levels of the likes of swimming superpowers USA, Australia, Japan and many European nations.”

Don’t you just love these guys? They are really pleased with what SPARC has provided but now it’s not enough. When he was alive I stayed in Lydiard’s home on more than 50 occasions. I spoke to him on the phone almost every day for five years. Not once did I ever hear him say, “I need more money to win an Olympic gold medal.” That comment is the catch-cry of the depressed and defeated. I know Olympic swimming champions in the USA who came from the most humble of circumstances. Sure, their gold medal changed all that, but prior to their win they were worse off than most of New Zealand’s top swimmers. Next month an American Olympic champion is coming to train at our club in Auckland. The independent review should interview her about the reality of funding swimmers in the USA. In the US you don’t get until you really deliver. I would caution SPARC; if you hear the claim of not enough money, it’s not true. It’s the way swimming spends it that’s causing the problems. When is spin a lie?

QUOTE: Mr Byrne said he is pleased that SPARC is to help Swimming New Zealand undertake a review of the high performance programme. “Swimming New Zealand is committed to continual improvement and the opportunity to work with SPARC to identify ways we can help our swimmers get better results is welcomed.”

The balance of the report is flannel; Mike Byrne trying to make the best of a bad deal. If SPARC thought the people running swimming were above reproach there would be no need for a review. A review is not a case of special attention being offered to a successful sport. A review is called for when SPARC hears that a sport may have serious problems. This press release tells us a lot about the organization. It confirms problems do exist. A swimmer I coached in Florida has been following the Project Vanguard and other SNZ stories on Swimwatch. He sent me a text this morning. It read, “Did you read SNZ’s press release on their web-site? It is enough to gag a maggot!” When is spin a lie?