Nothing to Lose But Your Chains and a World to Win

By David

Last week Swimwatch discussed the management of elite swimming. In particular, we talked about the difference between the collective socialist method followed by Jan Cameron and the philosophy of “rugged individualism” as practiced in the United States. We concluded last week’s article by recommending New Zealand dump the Cameron system that has failed to produce any Olympic medals. In its place we recommended New Zealand introduce the free market principles of “rugged individualism”.

What we did not do, was reflect on what this would mean; how would “rugged individualism” be introduced, how would it affect those involved in coaching New Zealand’s best swimmers. We avoided these questions because they raised issues far too complex to be resolved in a thousand words or by a writer whose interest is in coaching, not restructuring elite swimming programs. However it may be of interest to consider the most fundamental change “rugged individualism” would bring to coaching swimming in New Zealand.

It would mean the end of the current Cameron cult of personality. Through clever use of the media Cameron has created an idealized image of herself as the nation’s ultimate authority on elite swimming. Sky Sport broadcasting junkets and SNZ propaganda have carefully shaped her image as an expert; the benevolent guide of all New Zealand’s best swimmers. Without her, the transformation of New Zealand swimmers to a better, more successful future would not occur. Popularity is used to impose conformity to her plan and program by way of peer pressure and herd mentality. In spite of her astonishing lack of success, I know of a dozen good swimming people and a handful of sport’s journalists who just could not imagine New Zealand’s elite swimming program without Jan Cameron’s picture on the wall. “Dear Leader Kim Jong-il” inspires the same emotions among his North Korean subjects.

There seems little reason why 15,000 New Zealanders should continue to support swimming’s “Dear Leader”. Three Olympics have come and gone without a medal, ten million dollars has been spent; sixty thousand of it paying for the “Dear Leader’s” son to coach at the Millennium Institute and another check to pay for the “Dear Leader’s” step daughter to be her personal assistant. A score of fine athletes have passed through the Millennium Institute without realizing their potential and another score have been discarded for failing to secure the “Dear Leader’s” approval.

Her position goes unchecked because the SNZ Board is not doing its job. For example, it enforces a strict regime of collective responsibility. Dissenting opinions simply never see the light of day. The SNZ Board is required to obtain the approval of the Regions before proceeding to the next stage of Project Vanguard. There is every indication that legally binding instruction is about to be ignored. Certainly the question was not answered at the Auckland Project Vanguard road show. Any organization that publishes minutes of meetings where opinions not to their liking are highlighted in red or printed as a separate set of minutes deserves to be disbanded. SNZ’s Board has done that on their website with the minutes of Project Vanguard meetings. I wonder which set of minutes the Chairman is going to sign as a true and correct record. He is standing for re-election later this year. It would be good to question him on how he has managed the organization’s “Dear Leader” and the general affairs of SNZ before electing him to another term.

Cameron’s cult of personality should be replaced by a doctrine of “rugged individualism”. This is a more difficult world, of course. In 1700 the French economist described what we propose here as “on laisse faire la nature” (let nature run its course). In this system responsibility for producing New Zealand Olympic champions falls on every New Zealand coach. Swimming New Zealand’s role is to clearly articulate the responsibility New Zealand’s best coaches have to produce world champion swimmers. This should not be a concern. I know of coaches in Auckland, New Plymouth, Palmerston North, Wellington, Christchurch, Dunedin, Invercargill and a number of other towns who are able to exercise that responsibility better than anyone currently hired by Cameron at the Millennium Institute. Swimming New Zealand just needs to give them the chance, the freedom and the responsibility.

Instead of pouring huge resources into the bottomless and barren pit called the Millennium Institute, Swimming New Zealand should reward coaches and swimmers all over New Zealand who achieve agreed standards. It should always be a matter of policy that whatever funding a swimmer is paid their coach should be rewarded equally. Instead of Cameron or Cameron’s son or some other Australian coach always attending overseas meets, coaches such as Hurring, Bouzaid, Winter, Kent, Miehe, Duncan, Speechley, Francis and others should lead New Zealand teams to international events. I imagine there are some who are saying. “That’s ridiculous – those coaches are never good enough.” The answer is simply, “Yes they are.” Land those coaches with the responsibility and watch them respond. For example I bet Bell would have won the New Delhi Commonwealth Games 100 Backstroke if Winter had still been coaching him. Hind seemed to be a far better swimmer when she was with Hurring. Come to think of it, Bouzaid did a really good job with Lauren Boyle. I know Greg Meade fairly well and I’m certain he was capable of coaching Thomas to better than a bronze medal at the Pan Pacific Games. To those misguided individuals who wander around saying New Zealand’s private enterprise coaches can’t produce Olympic champions, I say, “How would you know?” For a decade SNZ have denied them the chance. And remember they used to say that Arthur Lydiard and Arch Jelley weren’t up to it either. Freedom is swimming’s best steroid.