In The Vanguard of Political Intrigue

By David

“Approval from the membership will continue to be sought at the end of each phase of the project seeking continuation to the next. Any resulting outcomes or recommendations requiring constitutional change will need to be considered and approved by a Special General Meeting of SNZ.”

On Sunday 12 September 2010 this remit was passed at the Swimming New Zealand AGM. There are 22,000 members of Swimming New Zealand. Everyone should pin a copy of the resolution to their bedroom wall. It is the sport’s lifeboat on a sinking Titanic. The Board, its Chairman, Byrne and Cameron are required to obtain the permission of the regions before they can move Project Vanguard to the next stage. The current stage will conclude in February when Cathy Hemsworth submits her report to the SNZ Board.

Our guess is that Hemsworth will recommend Swimming New Zealand adopt a Gym Sport organizational structure: something called the Professional Services Delivery model. That has been the Coulter, Byrne, Cameron and Hemswoth’s plan all along. A quarter of a million dollars spent on reports, meetings and presentations have all been window dressing; a sting of Newman and Redford proportions. From SNZ’s point of view all the money will be worth it if they can get the organization out from under the scrutiny of New Zealand’s swimming regions. They are not the sort of people who appreciate being held accountable. Manipulating the appraisal of a hundred and eighty small clubs will be a breeze compared to sixteen skeptical, independent regions.

They are probably also acutely aware that their jobs depend on pushing SNZ into some sort of organizational change. Their personal capital is completely wrapped up in the result. Many good things could have been done with the money they have spent on the Project Vanguard folly. Giving $12,500 to each region to help the Clubs they claim to cherish or investing a bit more in reducing the country’s horrible drowning statistics or paying decent prize money at the Open Championships would have been a start. Certainly if Project Vanguard falls over, Coulter should excuse himself from standing for re-election. If he does decide to stand, someone who appreciates the value of SNZ’s money should contest the position. For Byrne, the loss of Project Vanguard will be the final straw. The SPARC review would almost certainly recommend his departure. I wonder if Hemsworth is polishing her CV for the vacant CEO job? Out of the frying pan, into the fire springs to mind. Cameron is more used to losing than the others and is capable of turning the rejection of Project Vanguard into a triumph ranking alongside Obama’s health reform.

It is ironic that the central core of Swimming New Zealand’s argument is that as professionals their executives can deliver the sport better. Things will improve. That’s why they call it “professional services delivery”. And yet today I heard that in December three of their swimming education staff packed their bags and left for greener pastures. Regions considering Swimming New Zealand’s proposal need to reflect on what would happen to their affairs when the next mass exodus of staff involves the “professionals” responsible for the region’s business. It would be interesting to know why the three education staff decided to leave. The moral though is that it is safer for the Regions to look after their own affairs. Experience says, they do it better.

Regional members attending the Swimming New Zealand Project Vanguard road shows will have heard Hemsworth hint that the State Insurance sponsorship was not all it could have been because some Regions had other insurance deals. I was surprised therefore to note that in Byrne’s speech at the Taupo Open Water Nationals there was no mention of State Insurance. Even advertising State Insurance was next to impossible to find. Not much in the way of looking after the sponsor here I thought. It seems that there may have been a sponsorship conflict all of Swimming New Zealand’s own making. As we have said before, Swimming New Zealand would do well to look after its own affairs before meddling in ours.

Once the Hemsworth Report is received SNZ’s Board is required to obtain the approval of the regions before moving to the next stage. SNZ must be held to this obligation. If they try and avoid a vote, the Regions should consider legal action requiring SNZ comply with the AGM approved instruction of its regional owners. Swimwatch would gladly allocate $1000 of its meager resources to the judicial cause. It is about time the central players at SNZ were brought into line and showed the respect due to the regional owners of the organization. The member’s are supposed to run SNZ. They have instructed Coulter to have a vote and that is what he must do.
I have long had enormous respect for both the swimming clubs based in Gisborne. For ten years I was a member of Comet Club when it was coached by the charismatic Mrs. Beth Meade. Her son Greg is the successful current coach. Gisborne’s other club, Enterprise, is coached by Gary Martin and for years produced some very fine swimmers and won the Hawkes Bay and Poverty Bay championship by a country mile.

However the incident that demonstrated the caliber of the people involved in those clubs occurred about nine years ago. A guy called Basil Dyan was the Chairman of the HBPB Region. He didn’t like me or Swimwatch and decided to make his feelings known in the Region’s annual report by claiming my daughter, Jane, was not a worthy recipient of the HBPB swimmer of the year trophy. Being as Jane had just won an open national championship and broken a national open record, Dynan was clearly venting his personal spite; an altogether disagreeable individual. Anyway, at the regions AGM and without my prior knowledge, Comet moved and Enterprise seconded a motion censuring Dyan and requiring his Chairman’s report be withdrawn. I remember Dynan sitting at the front of the meeting saying, “I think I’ve been a naughty boy.” He got that right.

With that history, I was fascinated to read, in the Project Vanguard’s minutes of the HBBP meeting, the following comment.

Only members of the Hawkes Bay Region attended the workshop. The two clubs from Poverty Bay requested it to be acknowledged that they did not want anything to do with Project Vanguard.

I am proud of them. Two clubs, making a statement that again exerts the proud independence of regional New Zealand. It appears that the position Poverty Bay holds of receiving the sun first each day may be symbolically accurate as well.

In the next two or three months SNZ must hold a vote, requesting permission to proceed. They will want to move on to the next stage. According to their website this involves creating an implementation plan and executing the implementation plan. When the vote is taken SNZ’s request for approval should be rejected. It is time to stop this nonsense.

There should be no misunderstanding. Communication shortcomings between SNZ and its members are not the product of structural flaws. Nor will they be fixed by organizational tinkering. The business of SNZ can be conducted perfectly well using the current federal structure. Communication problems and mistrust are the responsibility of Coulter, Byrne and Cameron. They clearly are not up to the job. Read the Project Vanguard minutes. Over and over again they say they can’t make the federal system work. The answer is clear. Replace them with people who can make it work; who can communicate. It will cost us all a lot less than quarter of a million dollars.

  • Andrew

    Hey David,
    Might be a sneaky way through here I think.

    Resolution says “Approval from the membership will continue to be sought…” it does not say such approval is required to proceed.
    Do the regions have membership?
    Do you think they can continue regardless of approval or not as long as they seek it?
    Also only outcomes requiring constitutional change need to go to a SGM. What about non-constitutional changes?


  • It is possible that they could seek approval – lose the vote 15 to 1 and proceed on, confident in the knowledge that they sought approval. They just didn’t get it. But you are right, the remit does not say they have to get approval. Even by SNZ standards that would be pretty dishonest. Not much there in the way of setting an example for young sports people. It would not sit well with their code of conduct.
    ■Be fair, considerate and honest in all dealings with others.
    ■Be aware of, and maintain an uncompromising adhesion to, standards, rules, regulations and policies.
    ■Operate within the Constitution, Regulations, Policies and Procedures of SNZ and FINA.
    ■Never act in any way that may bring disrepute or disgrace to SNZ members, its stakeholders and/or its sponsors, potential sponsors and/or partners.
    ■Be a positive role model.
    Thats about five rules they’d break. If they do as you suggest are you going to report them \to the appropriate authority\ or shall I.
    Good point – thank you for the comment