Have We Lost Control Of Our Sport

By David

Last week Northern Swimmer sent Swimwatch a comment on the story titled “The Board Reappoints Butler.” The points made by Northern Swimmer are so important; so far reaching in their consequence, we have copied the comment below.

Have we lost all control of our sport? We have one Independent Board Member submitting a remit to re-appointment the other Independent Board Member.

Looking at the Legal and Governance page on SNZ it says that there are two Independents and five [elected] Board Members. The absence of his name shows that Mr Coulter has gone, however from what I have heard Mr. Toomey has been permanently based in London since August; I presume he no longer takes part in the Board meetings. However what that page does not mention, but what can be found if you look at the Board Meeting Minutes is that along with the Board Members also in attendance were:

Mike Byrne SNZ CEO

Nelson Cull Board Advisor

Kerry McDonald Board Advisor

(Martyn Newman-Hall (minute taker))


Effectively you have four elected Board members, two independent board members, two ‘independent’ board advisors, and the CEO. (I am assuming the minute taker breathes through his nose). While only Board Members have voting rights, you effectively have ‘independent’ and SNZ voices out-numbering the elected members 5 – 4. I can only guess as to who is controlling the content of the meetings. Have we lost all control of our sport?

Northern Swimmer is right. Participation on the Board of Swimming New Zealand is five “appointed” participants and four “elected” members. Here are their names.

Appointed Participants

Ross Butler, Acting Chairman

Jane Wrightson, Independently Appointed Director

Mike Byrne, SNZ CEO

Nelson Cull, Board Advisor

Kerry McDonald, Board Advisor


Elected Participants

Mark Berge

Ron Clark

Alison Fitch

Humphrey Pullon

I have omitted Dominic Toomey because, as Northern Swimmer says, Toomey has been in London for the past few months and can hardly be counted as an active participant in the affairs of Swimming New Zealand. And so, given these two teams – who do you think is running the show? Who do you think is scoring the most points? A cozy Wellington clique is up to its eye balls in running the sport of swimming. It is undemocratic. It is unconstitutional and it is reality. Appointed participants, controlled by SPARC and Miskimmin have absolute control of what goes on in every Swimming New Zealand Board Meeting. The sport is a shambles and Miskimmin and SPARC are responsible.

But it is not only the Board that has an undemocratic bias. It is not only on the Board that the membership of Swimming New Zealand has lost control of the sport. Just look at the membership of the Steering Committee set up to direct the current review of Swimming New Zealand.

Peter Miskimmin SPARC Appointee

Bill Birnie, SPARC Appointee

Ross Butler, SNZ Appointee

Jim Swanson, Elected Representative

It is worthwhile repeating. And so, given those two teams – who do you think is running the show? Who do you think is scoring the most points? A cozy Wellington clique is up to its eye balls in running the sport of swimming. It is undemocratic. It is unconstitutional and it is reality. Appointed participants, controlled by SPARC and Miskimmin have absolute control of what goes on in every Swimming New Zealand Board Meeting. The sport is a shambles and Miskimmin and SPARC are responsible.

But not only Miskimmin and SPARC are responsible. Sure they have invaded the sport of swimming and have appointed puppets to exercise power on their behalf. But they did not conduct their campaign in a vacuum. The Regions capitulated without firing a shot. Bay of Plenty and Auckland talked up a storm. But when the going got tough we were being led by Neville Chamberlains offering “peace for our time”. Does this sound familiar? “My good friends, this is the second time there has come back from Germany to Downing Street peace with honour. I believe it is peace for our time. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Now I recommend you go home, and sleep quietly in your beds.”

Here is the way those who offer “peace with honour” in this swimming moment say the same thing these days

“It became evident that better progress could be made through engagement. SPARC will fund and support the review but will not lead or direct it. If we engage fully, openly and in good faith to make this a good process that it will yield a good result for swimming. In this regard we are extremely positive about the opportunities this represents for us as a sport. While there are still significant differences of view, alternative ways of resolving those issues were agreed. We are very hopeful that these will provide better solutions than would be available through adversarial conflict. While there will be no grand and immediate result we believe that the process that has been initiated will bring constructive changes that will benefit generations of swimmers to come. We’re looking beyond our need for immediate gratification and playing for the long term. We are committed to ensuring that the process is open and transparent and that the respective parties deal with each other in spirit of respect and good faith.”

Yup – that sounds like Munich to me. All is well. We too can go home and sleep quietly in our beds. This page of idealistic platitudes can be found on the Auckland Swimming website under the heading, “ASA Board Message for Clubs and Swimmers!” Why that announcement needs an exclamation mark, I have no idea. Here at Swimwatch we take a far more Churchillian view. The evidence is clear. The appeasement accepted by the Coalition of Regions is ceding control of the sport of swimming to SPARC and other unelected bureaucrats at a hundred miles an hour. The sport is being invaded. Just look at the participation membership of the Swimming New Zealand Board and the most recent Steering Committee. Auckland and Bay of Plenty Swimming are fiddling while Rome Byrnes.

  • Sensible Swimming

    I agree. You are right.

  • Joe Smith

    Is it time for another Swimming Organisation that we can join instead. Can we have New Zealand ASA with a new board, constitution etc Start all over again!

  • Northern Swimmer

    A look at the minutes of the most recent Board meeting gives an idea of who is in charge of Our sport’s direction:

    – This board meeting was solely concerned with the events [involving] the board, the coalition and SPARC.
    – Ross Butler thanks the Board, Mike Byrne and the SNZ staff.
    – The board notes that Mike Byrne received an anonymous threatening letter.
    – Kerry MacDonald updated the Board on his discussions with SPARC.
    – The establishment of a steering group with Ross Butler appointed as the SNZ (Board) rep.
    This was moved by Jane Wrightson; seconded by Mark Berge.
    – Reappoint of Ross Butler as an appointed director for a further period of 2 years.
    This was moved by Jane Wrightson; seconded by Humphrey Pullon.
    – Agreement to the terms of the 3 party agreement; with “Any evidence of contravention of the agreement is to be documented and sent to Ross Butler”
    – Owing to his significant commitment to the Steering Group Ross Butler will stand down from the HPGC.
    – Ross Butler’s resignation from the HPGC is accepted and Nelson Cull is appointed to the chair.
    This was moved by Humphrey Pullon; seconded by Alison Fitch.

    It seems that Ross Butler is truly the captain of this ship.

    It seems as though the only others making active contributions over two hours at Miramar Golf Club are (arguably) Mike Byrne, Jane Wrightson and Kerry MacDonald.

    It seems as though the elected board members are reduced to seconding motions, or at the most accepting the transfer of power from one non-swimming Independent Board member to a non-swimming Independent Board advisor.

    The glaring omissions of the meeting, even though it was “solely concerned with the events of the previous 7 weeks”:
    – No mention of the postponement of the AGM.
    – No recognition of the service the former Chairman Mr Coulter had given to the Board.
    – No recognition of the resignation of Jan Cameron.

    And while not on point,
    – No mention of the successes of the swimmers, coaches and officials at the recent World Championships, World University Games, Youth Commonwealth Games, New Zealand Short Course Championships, and New Zealand Secondary Schools Championships.
    – And sadly, no mention of the passing of Bill Matson, a former president and life member of Swimming New Zealand, and the Vice-President of FINA

  • James T

    Once again Northern Swimmer is right on the mark! An excellent review of reality.

    What does this man Butler want from our sport? Maybe he sees a trip to the Olympics? Or maybe an opportunity to replace Bill Matson on FINA? Maybe a place on the NZOC?

    Whatever his motivation his influence on the sport as a part of a poor board for 6 years has not been benign.

  • Tom

    I’m not sure about the motivations of Butler. But, I’m guessing the motivations of Cull and MacDonald is their $1,500 p/day ‘independent advisory’ fee. Good if you can get it – I’m obviously in the wrong game.

  • Ex-pat Kiwi

    I find the pay rates for these “independent advisory fees” incredible. It’s no wonder the world is coming together 15 October to say “ENOUGH”

    I am constantly appalled at what is happening in the country I once held up as an example of honest administration and hard-working people.

    Thank goodness Swimwatch still has the independent spirit we once were so proud of!

  • Chris

    Hi David (blimey you’ve been prolific lately)

    Ross Butler’s motivation? Easy. This is about nothing other than cleaning up his CV and spinning his reputation. He fancies himself as a successful professional director and the failure of SNZ during his 6 years is a huge blot on his copybook.

    And so it bloody well should be.

    David, Ross Butler is a nobody. Upon first meeting him people get sucked in by the congenial, urbane suaveness. Of course this is the persona cultivated from years of insurance salesman conferences which you yourself wrote about when you recounted your own meeting with him a few months ago. And he is all full of bonhomie until he is challenged at which point he becomes “No, no, I don’t want to get into this now”. And he is all “Trust me, trust me”, I’m a professional director and you don’t know s***.

    Why did Helen Norfolk resign? It was clear from her statement in the Sunday Star Times that there were serious issues on that committee and you didn’t need to read between the lines to know that Butler only had Helen there for window dressing and to give him credibility – because he has none. As Northern Swimmer says above this is the guy that can’t even use a Board meeting to recognise the efforts of our swimmers. Remember … HE DIDN’T EVEN KNOW THAT THE FINA WORLD CHAMPS WAS ON THIS YEAR when he was made the bloody Chair of the High Performance Committee.

    So he rolls from one disaster (HPGC) to another (Steering Group). That was about as predictable as the sun rising in the east.

    Jim Swanson. Don’t know you but have heard some very good things about you and the fact that you do Ironman says a hell of a lot. But at least you were prepared to subject yourself to an election WHICH IS MORE THAN ROSS BUTLER HAS EVER DONE.

    Good luck mate.

  • Chris

    James T. You are right. He wants a trip to London.

  • David

    Chris – We too wish Jim Swanson the very, very best. Being successful, by definition, will require him to swim against the wishes of Butler and Miskimmin. The sport has been run their way for the last seven years and it does not work. I do hope Jim Swanson has the strength of character to do what’s right – and not court popularity. In this case the colision of right and popularity is inevitable.

  • Sensible Swimming

    Joe Smith – oh that life were that easy! I have spoken with some of the thinkers on that very subject. They explained there was no way to get that done without having a catastrophic impact on our swimmers.

    New Zealand’s FINA affiliation is not held by SNZ, it is held by an organization called Aquatics NZ. SNZ facilitates our athletes’ participation internationally (and to be fair, nationally as well) under delegated authority from Aquatics NZ. To create a breakaway you would somehow have to persuade Aquatics NZ as well as the NZOC to back the rebel organization as the legitimate deliverer of swimming. “Swimming against the tide” of the establishment would likely be even more difficult than replacing the current board and CEO.

    Maybe an examination of the place and role of Aquatics NZ might be an interesting topic for a future Swimwatch post?

  • James T

    So Humphrey Pullon, what are you playing at, by seconding Ross Butler’s non-constitutional appointment for another two years?

    Your own region had a remit clarifying the term of an appointed director and limiting it to “one further term” instead of “a further term” as is presently in the Constitution. And it also had a clause about a Chairman only being elected from amongst the “elected” members of the Board.

    And what is this misplaced term “independent” when referring to the appointed directors? Several issues here:

    1. Both Ross Butler and Jane Wrightson most certainly could not be described as “independent” when they have been a part of the shocking litany of inept Board decisions and shocking deceit over the past 4 years (in the case of Wrightson) and 6 years (in the case of Butler). Butler’s continued appointment is already unconstitutional, the latest “term” expiring this month in fact, and Wrightson’s “further term” expires November. So by my calculations, both Butler and Wrightson should be nowhere near this sport by next month. Yeah right!

    2. The Constitution refers to “appointed” directors, not “independent appointed” directors. There is absolutely no reason why an appointed director needs to come from outside the sport. The theory of appointing directors onto Boards (and similarly when using the term “seconded”) is that these appointees have skill sets that may be lacking in the present Board of elected members. It is a nonsense to suggest that the appointed directors have to be, so called “independent” therefore outside of the sport, or that not to do so is not good governance. To suggest that both Butler and Wrightson have unique and irreplaceable skill sets is to stretch credibility beyond any element of belief.

    3. There are three things that a new Board, by Constitution, have to do following the AGM. The first is to elect a Chair. The second is to make an appointment to replace Butler’s expired term of office which has already passed. And the third thing that they must do is act within the terms of the Constitution, which means that they cannot reappoint Butler (as they agreed to do in their last Board meeting) because constitutionally he was only allowed to be appointed for “a further term”, which means he is already one term beyond what the Constitution allows. Besides, two members of the new Board have yet to be elected, and constitutionally they can’t make the appointment of Chair until after the AGM anyway. Doubtless they will get their dodgy lawyer to tell them that “a further term” means that you can appoint him for as many further terms as you like.

    But when I went to school, “a” is singular, not plural.