Archive for October, 2011

What Happens When Swimming Officials Lie

Monday, October 10th, 2011

By David

You may recall a recent Swimwatch post in which we mentioned an official who, at the Auckland Relay Championships, reported that a person on our team was coaching swimmers to lie about their names in order to avoid disqualification. When something as dishonest as this official’s allegation occurs it is difficult to know what procedure to follow. Is it best to move on and forget the whole thing? Perhaps a protest should be made to the Meet Director? Just about always I am at a loss to decide what action is best.

In the case of the Relay’s event I decided to mention the official’s bad behaviour on Swimwatch in the hope that the publicity may make her think twice before initiating unfounded gossip in the future. Many have said that was not the best solution. Few have suggested a better alternative.

I place no weight in the argument that officials are unpaid and are therefore shielded from criticism. We have a right to expect good behaviour from officials irrespective of whether money is involved. Doing something for free does not put officials above the law. Nor does it offer protection from criticism when the law is violated. The Auckland CEO and a few coaches are the only people paid to be at most Auckland swim meets. They are not however the only ones expected to behave properly.

There is a Region on New Zealand’s East Coast called Hawke’s Bay/Poverty Bay. It is a real paradox. Poverty Bay is an area that has two clubs and two coaches, Enterprise, coached by Gary Martin and Comet, coached by Greg Meade. In this area, officials are welcoming, honest and fun to be around. Two hundred kilometres south and the behaviour of officials is toxic. Jane has mentioned in earlier Swimwatch articles, a senior official, Gwenda Cowlrick, ripping Jane’s photograph off a pool notice board, accusing her of sleeping with a newspaper photographer twice her age and the Region’s chairman filing a police report that our car had been abandoned in the pool parking lot.

Swimwatch reported recently that the current Chairman felt it was acceptable to question the decision of a Hawke’s Bay swimmer who recently left her Hawke’s Bay club to join our club in Auckland. Well Mr. Bone, that is not good behaviour. I also heard an official from Hawke’s Bay suggest that our club was so unreliable we would not turn up to meet swimmers arriving on a bus.

When bad behaviour occurs it is difficult to know whether, or how, to respond. Almost always I decide to bring it out into the open. It is a sure fire way of becoming hugely unpopular but fresh air is also very cleansing. Dishonesty and gossip thrive in dark places. Silence gives bad people a license to continue being bad.

It’s simple really – if being outed is a problem, don’t misbehave in the first place. Don’t lie, bully or intimidate swimmers. That’s not what you’re here to do.

In a similar vein, why is Ross Butler a member of the most recent Swimming New Zealand Steering Committee? He is an official who is behaving badly. Rule 10.1 of the Swimming New Zealand Constitution says:

10.1 The board shall comprise of: (a) Six elected Directors. (b) The elected Directors may appoint up to two appointed Directors on the basis of specific knowledge or skills, for a term no longer than two years. Upon expiry of that term the Board if it thinks fit may reappoint such Directors for a further term.

What does this mean? Well as far as Ross Butler is concerned here is what Swimwatch reported in an earlier post.

The current Interim President, Ross Butler, is an appointed Director on the Swimming New Zealand Board. In that capacity Rule 10 says that he is only allowed to be on the Board for “a term no longer than two years” plus a further term of (it does not say but implies) two years. That’s four years in total. Ross Butler began his term on the 3rd November 2005. On the 3rd November 2009 his time was up. Two years later and he is still here. The Constitution says he should be long gone. The guy responsible for preserving the organization’s rules is in breach of the Constitution.

So what should be done in a situation like this – when a rogue Director defies the Constitution and refuses to leave the Board or stand for election? Imagine Prime Minister John Key deciding that a national election was unnecessary. In principle that is exactly what Ross Butler has done. But, who is responsible for the outrage? Well, it’s not Ross Butler.

Responsibility lies with those who let Butler’s membership of the Board continue when it was time for him to leave, but it also lies with Butler himself.

Responsibility lies with the people who told outrageous lies about my daughter and my wife, and tore up my daughter’s photograph, as well as with the people who knew about it and did nothing.

Responsibility lies with the officials who told swimmers that their coaches were unreliable or undesirable in an effort to hurt the swimmers.

Butler got away with his bad behaviour because the Regions of Swimming New Zealand were negligent, even though he should have never behaved so badly in the first place. Swimwatch may be censured for highlighting bad behaviour. The alternative is for the conduct of people like Butler to go unchecked. While Butler put himself on Steering Committees and appointed Olympic Game’s managers, the Regions did nothing. It is disgraceful. There is no merit in Regional people telling me how badly Butler behaves if you continue to let it happen. Jim Swanson is about to sit on a Committee with a person he should be removing from office.

Swimwatch offer no apology for applying the disinfectant of daylight to problem officials. Not when the alternative is to accommodate the deception of officials like Ross Butler.

Swimming New Zealand Website Error Audit

Saturday, October 8th, 2011

By David

Does Swimming New Zealand pay someone to keep their website up to date? For some months Swimwatch contributors have highlighted obvious errors – the never ending list of swim meets described as our best ever; the world rankings that no one else on the planet recognizes; the novel that Swimming New Zealand called Project Vanguard. For a national sporting organisation the website is in need of serious attention. Here are one or two examples of the sort of thing that needs to be fixed – our website error report.

The HP Governance Committee page continues to list Ross Butler and Helen Norfolk as members of the Committee.

I’m pretty certain last week’s Sunday Star Times reported their resignation. Helen Norfolk went into some detail about why she felt the Committee was not what she expected. All that has clearly missed Swimming New Zealand’s attention.

On the State AquaBlacks’ page Mark Regan is excluded from the list of coaches. He is relegated to the role of Support Staff.

On the High Performance page however he’s back listed as the “HPC Senior Performance Coach”. Someone in his position should really have a settled coaching title.

The same High Performance page lists Jan Cameron as the General Manager of Performance & Pathways. That must be wishful thinking on Mike Byrne’s part. Cameron has been gone for over a month.

The Membership page tells me there are 17 registered clubs in Auckland. A quick check of the Auckland website tells me there are 21 clubs in the region. SNZ says there are 15 clubs in Northland. Northland say they have only 14. SNZ say Waikato has 26 clubs. Waikato’s website lists 23 clubs. Ever loyal Wellington is listed on the SNZ website with 12 clubs when Wellington credits themselves with 14 clubs. I’m sure you get the idea. The club figures on the Membership page are in need of some attention.

It’s not really an error, but I was amused at the membership page’s revelation that SNZ has 25,000 members. The 2011 Annual Report [PDF] confirms that is right – 25,467 to be exact. However the 25,467 includes 7136 learn to swim members that Byrne, Butler and company have spent weeks telling everyone are not really members.

It seems that when Auckland enroll learn to swim members, they don’t count – but when it comes to boasting on the website they are all in the family.

I did notice that there are 15 swimmers listed as 2011 State AquaBlacks. I wondered therefore why only 14 AquaBlack swimmers have biographies included on the website. Dylan Dunlop-Barrett misses the “one team” roll call.

So there are several obvious problems for Byrne and Butler to ponder, alongside the previously-mentioned tradition of exaggerating New Zealand team achievements, such as reporting higher rankings or better race placings. Sometimes, perfectly good results are exaggerated, which really does boggle the mind.

I did notice an announcement today that has not made the pages of Swimming New Zealand’s news. The SPARC and Swimming New Zealand members on the steering committee set up to examine the organisation were announced. SPARC are represented by Peter Miskimmin and Bill Birnie. Swimming New Zealand will be represented by (would you believe it) Ross Butler. About a week ago the Regions appointed Jim Swanson to look after their interests.

I am surprised by the membership of the committee. I never expected Miskimmin to pick up this sort of hot potato. I’ve been to two meetings where Miskimmin has stressed that getting involved in the governance of New Zealand swimming had nothing to do with him or SPARC. Now, here he is, up to his eyeballs in the centre of the whole damn deal.

Well, it is Miskimmin’s to own now. Whatever the result, good or bad, the future of Swimming New Zealand belongs to him. Whatever the outcome, we will hold Miskimmin responsible. We do however start off a little suspicious of guys who say one thing and do another.

I don’t have many thoughts at all on the appointment of Bill Birnie. He’s a pretty standard 1990s high flying financier of the Bay of Island golf course and put options variety. I’m unsure whether that experience equips him to structure an international sport’s organization to win Olympic championships.

The least surprising announcement is Swimming New Zealand’s decision to appoint Ross Butler to the committee. No one else exists in Swimming New Zealand these days – Butler, Butler and Butler Inc. His presence on the committee is ironic given that constitutionally Butler should not even be on the Swimming New Zealand Board. He is an appointed Director and has been on the Swimming New Zealand Board for two years longer than the limit set by Rule 10 of the Swimming New Zealand Constitution. There is no way he should be on this Committee. If the Regions and Jim Swanson were doing their job, Butler’s membership should be challenged. He should be removed from this committee and from the Swimming New Zealand Board. He has no right on either body. We must just wait to see the spin the Swimming New Zealand website puts on his appointment. Given the discomfort Butler’s behavior should cause there may be no announcement. Butler may prefer to keep his assent to committee membership “away from the glare of publicity.” In Butler’s position I’d be trying to avoid attention as well.


Wednesday, October 5th, 2011

David’s note: From time to time Swimwatch receive stories from people involved in the sport of swimming (and would love to receive more! If you have something to share, send it on to We think it is good for Swimwatch to be a platform for these issues to see the light of day. Here is an email I received late last week.

My coaching / teaching career began in the United Kingdom when I took my swim teachers certificate in 1986. This involved preliminary teacher’s certification, bronze medallion lifesaving and then I progressed to take my full teacher’s certificate of many hours practical experience. My examiner was Joe Jagger (Mick Jagger’s father).

I taught swimming after my retirement as a swimmer and carried on teaching whilst my sister continued to swim for a couple of years at the Centre for Excellence at Crystal Palace London. For 10 years I helped out and taught a variety of people the basics of swimming till my own children became involved. I then went through a 4 year updating process – (re-taking all my teacher’s exams) in order to start the coaching programme. This resulted in me being awarded the Level 3 Club Coach’s certificate. I also became a regional timekeeper and licensed official. During this time I became an Age-Group coach and developed Regional and National swimmers. Prior to coming to New Zealand I had a swimmer who got onto the British Talent Podium programme and up for selection for Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.

In New Zealand I registered with NZSCAT and had my qualifications audited by Jan Cameron and Sheila Galloway. This resulted in me receiving my Silver Coaching certificate (with a note that there were aspects of Gold equivalence). Other than helping out 1 hour a week at Zenith (Dan Loader’s former Club) I am not permitted to coach swimming. This is a Dunedin City Council Policy. There are approximately 6 other pools in Dunedin under the city council’s control. Moana Pool being the only one available for 12 months of the year – the others are closed for 6 months of the year.
The reason that I am not permitted to coach is that there are two “professional coaches” that the council has signed a contract with. The council would be in breach of contract. Refer to: (Policy : Gennadiy Labara and Andy Adair currently have the Swim Coaching rights at Moana Pool. No other person may coach swimming in an amateur or professional role other than in his or her own swimming club and during that club’s specified time, unless they have hired a lane for private use. The only resource I have is to use a school pool of 25m for 2 sessions.

A parent, amongst many, is so exasperated that her daughter cannot get the coaching she wants and needs she has written to find out who in the area has the skills to coach. NZ Swimming has reported that I am the only Silver accredited coach in the immediate area. I do not mentor any other coaches.

I have coached her daughter for a 1 hour session each week, for some stroke correction but clearly this is not enough. This swimmer, in my humble opinion, has exceptional talent, but her times under her existing coach have dropped approximately 25 seconds between her 15th and 16th birthdays. Too much more information will identify this swimmer in the area. She is amongst a group whose times have done the same.

I have done everything I can to make some allegiances with these coaches but they do not want to know. I am employed full time and do not want to take over their role or club and am happy they take any credit. I would just like to be part of the local set up where I can offer some really good expertise and help for their club.

Everyone I talk to shrugs their shoulders and accepts there is nothing that can be done and I too agree that I have exhausted every possible way to help this swimmer. She is destined to give up or move out of the area. What should she do? Isn’t this sad?

David: Here at Swimwatch we have no idea of the merits of this sort of story. We certainly do not want to get involved in a debate with the Dunedin City Council. However there is possibly one issue a story like this does highlight. Swimwatch has frequently argued that the resources available to New Zealand’s swimmers should be available irrespective of where they live. It should not be necessary to move to Auckland to receive the support of your country. If that view is to succeed it is important that local issues such as this one are sorted out before they damage the reputation of all New Zealand’s local coaches. It is a very easy step for centralist supporters to say, “Look they can’t even sort out their own local affairs and you want us to provide them with the resources required to win the Olympic Games.” Jan Cameron was an expert at making that argument. South of the Harbour Bridge was a swimming wasteland as far as Jan Cameron was concerned. Petty politics damages us all. Surely it’s possible to find a Silver qualified coach some work that will successfully use his ability. When all New Zealand’s coaches are given responsibility for producing Olympic medallists again we are going to need all the help we can get.

The Millennium Institute of Sport

Monday, October 3rd, 2011

By David

Regular Swimwatch readers will not be surprised to hear that I see no merit in the centralized delivery of elite training as practiced by the Millennium Institute. After almost a decade and millions of dollars of trying Jan Cameron never made it work. No one else will either. There are many reasons that explain the failings of centralized, socialist sport’s delivery. Two reasons are more important than the others.

First, the Millennium Institute asphyxiates the oxygen that makes competitive sport work. It kills competition. In an individual sport, when the state indulges in blatant poaching, the competitive nature of the sport becomes a mockery. New Zealand’s coaches are relegated to the position of second class citizens. Centralized delivery leaves the impression that the finest coaches are at the Millennium Institute employed by Swimming New Zealand. Less able coaches are everywhere else. Swimming New Zealand’s website proudly claims that their Institute best provides selected swimmers with “international level coaching, gym membership, training equipment and individualised training plans and evaluations”. Swimming New Zealand doesn’t say that it alone provides these services. They certainly infer it though. Well, Swimming New Zealand, there are many of us who do exactly the same thing, and do it better.

Second, there are many ways of producing an Olympic champion. In the United States there are 38 swimmers on their national team. They are coached at 22 different programs, by 22 different coaches. Bowman is hugely different from Salo, who has nothing in common with Dara Torres’ program in Coral Spring’s, who could not be more different from Amanda Weir’s coach in Atlanta. Diversity is America’s strength. In New Zealand, any swimmer wanting to access assistance from the state has to choose between the two Millennium coaches, Regan and Talbot. But what say neither of their programs suits a good swimmer. What say my 100 kilometres a week is what a swimmer finds best. Why should that deny the athlete state financial aid? The socialist delivery of international main stream sport is fatally flawed – especially when one of the coaches has the spectre of nepotism hanging over his appointment.

All this is a real concern just now because the regime that will replace Cameron’s folly is still being debated. One of the best officials in Auckland is a guy called Jim Swanson. He is the Chairman of the Mt Eden Swimming Club and a Board member of Auckland Swimming. Between 9.00 and 5.00 he is the Chief Information Officer at Watercare Services Limited in Auckland. In his resume on the Swimming New Zealand website he says his “management style is open and inclusive”. I agree with that. At most swim meets he wanders up to the West Auckland Aquatics area and has a chat about current events in New Zealand swimming. I appreciate that gesture. There are many in swimming who would rather meet Lucifer than discuss anything with “that horrible” coach from west Auckland.

Last weekend, during Swanson’s visit to the West Auckland Aquatic’s camp site, I raised the subject of the Millennium Institute. As you would expect, I was making the case that elite swimming should become the responsibility of every New Zealand coach – including those at Swanson’s Mt. Eden Club. Free enterprise delivery should replace Millennium socialism. I was concerned to hear that Swanson did not agree. “No” he said, “there are some swimmers who thrive best in a centralized Millennium structure.”

Now, that is just tree hugging political correctness run riot. Jim Swanson has no evidence to support his ridiculous assertion. They are empty words mumbled to impress rather than edify. He is making the argument that for some swimmers diversified free enterprise delivery of elite training, works best. For others the Millennium Institute is utopia. That way he clearly believes he will be popular with “rebellious” coaches like me and will keep the leaders of Swimming New Zealand and SPARC happy as well. Like most administrators, who do not understand the demands of elite sport, Jim Swanson fails to appreciate that compromise does not win Olympic championships. It may be fine for delivering Watercare Services information but compromise has no place in international sport. After a decade of unfettered access to all New Zealand’s best swimmers Jan Cameron never found a swimmer that thrived best in her Millennium palace – especially if “best” is defined as winning an Olympic or World Championship title.

My advice to Jim Swanson is to cut out the crap, stop making decisions on the grounds of what you believe will be popular. Swimming New Zealand and especially its elite performers need Board members, who can listen to the competing arguments, weight the evidence and will do what’s right. Jan Cameron was wrong, as wrong as all hell, but she did not compromise. She did what she thought would work without concession. Jan Cameron was wrong but she was strong. The strong part is something Jim Swanson needs to learn.

After all, he is playing with swimmer’s lives. Anyone who gets up at 5.00am six mornings a week, swims 100 kilometres a week, lifts 20 tonnes in a gym each month, suffers chlorine burns that stain bed sheets red at night and tolerates hacking coughs that last for weeks, deserves administrators prepared to ignore what’s popular and do what’s right. This is not a popularity contest. This is about creating the structure that best nurtures the talents of New Zealand’s finest swimmers. On that Swanson must not compromise. Right now, Jim Swanson is vacillating on the very principles that require uncompromising strength. Swimming New Zealand needs people like Jim Swanson. However he will be no use to this sport if he fails to deliver a method of coaching elite swimming that liberates New Zealand’s coaches and makes them responsible for producing world championship swimmers. He must forget what is popular and do what is right.

There has never been anything wrong with the SNZ concept of “excellence in every pool”. Danyon Loader came from Dunedin; Rod Dixon won an Olympic medal training in Nelson; Anna Simcic broke a world record living in Christchurch; Russell Coutts honed his sailing skills in Dunedin. Diversified free enterprise delivery is best. It would be a very sad day for swimming in New Zealand if Jim Swanson was to set about watering down that concept. I won’t tell him how to deliver water to Auckland City if he backs off telling us how to deliver elite sport. That is a coaching job and he would do well to listen and learn.                

Life Out West

Sunday, October 2nd, 2011

This article has been removed due to the abhorrent behaviour of Nikki Johns in 2015.