Archive for March, 2012

Swimming New Zealand’s Dirty Tricks

Thursday, March 29th, 2012

By David

Wikipedia is an easy to use and quick reference document. I had reason today to look up the meaning of “dirty tricks”; the type used by Richard Nixon in the Watergate scandal. Here is what Wikipedia had to say on the subject.

Dirty tricks are unethical, duplicitous, slanderous or illegal tactics employed to destroy or diminish the effectiveness of political or business opponents; manufactured, irrelevant, cruel and incorrect rumors or outright falsehoods designed to damage or destroy an opponent are easily described as dirty tricks. They serve to tie up the opponent into defending against and answering false charges rather than explaining their policies and platform.

The definition perfectly describes an incident involving Swimming New Zealand and the current Review Committee that I experienced yesterday. I was asked to join a conference call with two members of the current Swimming New Zealand Review Committee, the Chairman, Chris Moller and Sue Suckling. You may remember they are the same two members of the Review Committee that I met in Wellington a month ago.

I assumed that the purpose of the conference call was to follow up on our constructive Wellington discussion; a not altogether unreasonable conclusion given that the first sentence in their email invitation said, “Good Morning David, Chris and Sue would like to have a follow up interview with you via teleconference.”

But this telephone conversation had nothing to do with “following up” on our Wellington discussion. In the words of Wikipedia that description of our telephone call was unethical and duplicitous. This conversation was a “kangaroo court” aimed at launching a personal attack that would destroy me and the views I represented. And what vehicle did Moller and Suckling choose to make their assault? They chose the protest I made at the 2012 Age Group Nationals regarding the depth of the Kilbirnie Pool.

For thirty minutes I was assaulted and bullied by a stream of questions clearly aimed at proving my protest was ill-timed and malicious; just another David Wright “beat-up”. Swimming New Zealand had clearly lobbied Moller and Suckling with their version of the Kilbirnie protest in order to discredit the author of the protest and trash his swimming views. Moller and Suckling appeared only too happy to gather evidence to support Mike Byrne’s “David Wright dirty tricks crusade”.

How else would you explain this series of questions?

  • Why did you leave it until the first day of the meet to file your protest?
  • Why haven’t you protested before?
  • Were you working in collusion with the Auckland Swimming Region when you filed the protest?
  • Are you going to take the protest further?
  • Is the Auckland Swimming Region going to take the protest further?
  • When did you find out about the depth of the Kilbirnie Pool?
  • Who actually filed the protest and what was the sequence of events after that?
  • What was the name of the Auckland Swimming Region’s team manager?
  • What’s the name of the President of the West Auckland Aquatics Club?
  • What prompted you to file the protest now?

And so it went on. Thirty minutes spent demanding to know why I had protested an illegal and dangerous pool. Thirty minutes spent trying to find out why I had protested and the procedure I had followed. Now there are two things I think are relevant about their line of interrogation.

First, what on God’s good earth did anything in this conference call have to do with the work of the Swimming New Zealand Review Committee? I do hope Moller and Suckling are not charging for the time they spent on this conference call. They are employed to investigate the structure of swimming in New Zealand; not the motives and method used by a West Auckland swim coach to file a protest at a swim meet. I can find nothing in the terms of reference directing the Committee’s work that suggests protests at a swim meet should draw this amount of attention. The motive for the call was only ever to establish that the protest was the work of a natural born trouble maker, hell bent on destroying the sport. Never mind the message, get the messenger and get him good.

Secondly, through the entire call, the laser-like focus of the conversation was the motive and process used by me to file the protest. Not one mention was made, not one question was asked, about the decision of Swimming New Zealand to send 650 swimmers headfirst into a pool that the world governing body of swimming, FINA, says is too shallow and is dangerous; like breaking your neck dangerous. All Moller and Suckling were interested in was, is David Wright a trouble maker and how can we manufacture this protest to prove it? Not one thought or question about the right to govern of Swimming New Zealand officials and employees who put their members in harm’s way and describe any effort to curb their irresponsibility as a “beat-up”. It is a sad day when the government of New Zealand’s money is spent finding fault with the reputation of a swimming coach ahead of the welfare and safety of 650 young people. The politics of swimming may be of interest to you Chris Moller and Sue Suckling. But you have no right or authority to put politics ahead of the good health of swimming members.

It is worthwhile repeating the Wikipedia definition of “dirty tricks”.

Dirty tricks are unethical, duplicitous, slanderous or illegal tactics employed to destroy or diminish the effectiveness of political or business opponents; manufactured, irrelevant, cruel and incorrect rumors or outright falsehoods designed to damage or destroy an opponent are easily described as dirty tricks. They serve to tie up the opponent into defending against and answering false charges rather than explaining their policies and platform.

Well I certainly spent a portion of yesterday tied up defending myself against and answering false charges rather than explaining my policies and platform. I guess that means Moller and Suckling have something in common with Richard Nixon. Certainly those that they work for appear to understand well the tactics of Watergate.

Quentin Tod

Sunday, March 25th, 2012

By David

In the last Swimwatch story I told you about Selwyn Pohio, one of the superstars of Hawke’s Bay swimming. In response to the story I got an email from another titan of that era, Quentin Tod. This is what his email said.

“Hi David: This is that Tod (with one D) bugger who apparently kicked you in the face in Lake Taupo. Sorry about that! I was through Taupo a few years back and found I still held the record at that point — one hour four minutes. That was some 40 years after I clocked that time.”

I must tell you, Quentin Tod is certainly worth a mention in Swimwatch. So is Greg Meade actually. But he will need to wait for another occasion.

Like Selwyn Pohio, Quentin Tod came from the select rural Hawke’s Bay village of Havelock North. Better than that, his home was well up the fashionable slopes of Te Mata Peak. Status and your Te Mata Peak elevation were pretty closely linked in those days. Quentin was different from most swimmers; slightly more serious, more reserved perhaps, certainly better mannered, even at that young age, almost distinguished. During one Hawke’s Bay/Poverty Bay Championship I stayed at his home. I remember it as a comfortable bungalow; a bit like an old jersey, warm, relaxing and secure.

In those days the Sunday of the Championship weekend was set aside for the open water race around Napier Harbour. Quentin was a long distance expert. I think he won a New Zealand Open Water championship and also placed first in the prestigious Wanganui Bridge to Bridge swim. In the late 1960s and early 1970s long distance races in Hawke’s Bay were a battle between Quentin Tod and another New Zealand open water champion, Alan Christie. Hawke’s Bay’s finest ruled the New Zealand open water swimming world.

Anyway back to my weekend at the Tod home. The family had devised a plan for the Sunday of the Championship weekend. Quentin would swim in the hugely popular cross Lake Taupo event in the morning, and take on Alan Christie in the Napier Port Championship swim in the afternoon. I thought they were quite mad. I did however accept their invitation to go to Taupo to watch Quentin swim across the lake. But, part way to Taupo, I began to put together a plan of my own. What say I entered the Taupo event and swam across right up close behind Quentin; using his slipstream to aid my progress. Surely I could sprint past him in the final few meters? Perhaps I could win the race.

And almost – that’s what happened. I carefully positioned myself behind the speeding Quentin Tod. In no time at all we were well ahead of the pack and, as planned, I was cruising along comfortably in Quentin’s wake. The whole thing was no effort at all; a breeze. This was going to be easy. Best of all the hard working Quentin was blissfully unaware of the free ride he was providing. And then the mistake; the fatal error. I got too close and touched Quentin’s foot.

Showing all his open water skills Quentin paused and then kicked as hard as he could. I was aware of his heel sinking into my nose. I felt the blood begin to flow. I saw the water turn red. I knew Quentin was sprinting and I was losing contact. Fifteen minutes later I came ashore in second place to be welcomed by a concerned Quentin Tod. “I’m really sorry” he said, “If I’d known it was you I’d have never kicked as hard”.

Of course I didn’t believe him. Perhaps I knew for certain that if some bugger had been trying to steal a free ride from me across Lake Taupo, the least he could expect was a kick in the nose. But, if Quentin happens to be reading this story, I’m still positive I would have out-sprinted the New Zealand Open Water Champion, if only I hadn’t touched his foot. And then I could have bored the national and Florida State champion’s I’ve coached, Toni Jeffs, Jane Copland, Nichola Chellingworth, Rhi Jeffrey, Jessica Marsden, Andrew Meeder and Joe Skuba  with the story of how I beat Quentin Tod across Lake Taupo. But I guess second will have to do. “If onlys” don’t seem to count.

Anyway we drove back to Hawke’s Bay the proud owners of the first and second place medals. At the time our prizes were most generous. I think Quentin got a TV set and a gold towel with “Champion” printed on one side. I also got something electrical and a red towel with “Second Place” printed on mine.  But Quentin’s day was far from done. In the early afternoon he lined up at the start of the Hawke’s Bay/Poverty Bay Open Water Championship; his second five kilometre race in a day. In Taupo he only had me to contend with, but now Alan Christie was in the field. This challenge was made of sterner stuff. But Quentin was prepared. An hour or so later he climbed out of Napier’s harbour in first place; clearly very tired by also well pleased with a good days work. I was hugely impressed. I’m not surprised that his one hour and four minute record swim across the lake stood as the record for the event for forty years. Quentin Tod was a class act – and I’m certain still is.

Shake Hands With An Old Face

Sunday, March 18th, 2012

By David

I met Selwyn Pohio at the West Wave pool in Auckland this morning. I am certain most readers will be aware of the name. However, there may be some who are new to the sport and have not caught up with the significant events that forged this nation’s proud swimming history. For those unfortunates let me tell you about Selwyn Pohio.

Through the late 1960s and 1970s Selwyn and I competed together in Hawke’s Bay/Poverty Bay swimming. He came from the flash and pretty exclusive village of Havelock North in Hawke’s Bay. He was coached by John Beaumont and swam for the Trojan’s Swim Team. I came from Gisborne and swam for the Comet Swimming Club. I was coached by the most dominant personality and hardest worker I have met in swimming, Beth Meade. Her son Greg swam at the same time and is coach of the Comet Club today.

Actually, I lived just outside of Wairoa. Each Friday, after school, I travelled 100 kilometres by train to, what for me was the huge city of Gisborne. They were great days. Greg would meet me at the train. He was a good Catholic boy and was under orders to eat only fish on a Friday so, on the way to the pool, we called in at Gisborne’s fish and chips shop to collect our standing order of two pieces of fish and a scoop of chips. Then on to the Comet club night and Beth’s standing order of eight handicap races. The cold nights were made bearable by blankets shared with Rosemary Hewitt, Wendy Fitzgerald and Caroline Adie.

I don’t want you to think the warm blankets were any excuse to misbehave. Our evenings were closely monitored by “old-man Shaw”. He punished any miscreant with half an hour spent sitting in the unheated learner’s pool. Unfortunately, I need to confess to several cold half hour sessions in the McCrae bath’s learner’s pool. Once, I even managed two periods of confinement on the same night. Greg, of course, was far worse than me. He just didn’t get caught as often; bloody cunning bugger that Greg.

After club night, I spent the weekend at Beth’s place, training on Saturday and catching the train back to Wairoa on Sunday afternoon. Two hundred kilometres a week to get to club night, that must be some sort of record. Training during the week in Wairoa was also a bit difficult. There was no pool in those days so I training in the tranquil Hangaroa River. I’m actually quite pleased to have won provincial championships and swum in the national championships with no coach and just a river for company.

Anyway, enough of all that. The purpose of this story was to tell you about Selwyn Pohio. As I said he came from the high-brow community of Havelock North. Us, Poverty Bay sorts thought that was very posh. I guess it’s a bit like the relationship between WAQ westies and North Shore today. Looks like I’m destined to always swim on the wrong side of the tracks. I’m not saying Selwyn had it easy. The Havelock North pool, in those days, wasn’t heated. Selwyn tells me the pool opened for the summer at the end of October. One opening day there was still snow on TeMata peak behind the pool. Coach Beaumont urged his two best swimmers, including Selwyn, into action. Selwyn managed one length before retreating to the warmth of his parent’s car.

Selwyn Pohio, though, was a bloody good swimmer. I’m not sure whether he ever won an Age Group or Open Nationals. I do know he got medals in those competitions. In Hawke’s Bay/Poverty Bay he was a super star. The Championship, I remember most, was held in Gisborne. Selwyn was in his first year as a senior swimmer. Greg and I lay in wait, determined to teach this brash city kid a swimming lesson. The pain of the lesson he taught us, stays with me still. Selwyn Pohio went back to Havelock North with five championship gold medals. The city kid had come, had seen and had conquered.

However, as is the way with sport, the race I remember most from that year, is one that Greg won; the 440 yards individual medley. My backstroke was too bad for me to ever feature in a race between the Meade and Pohio giants. I spent most of the race swimming along with my head up watching the battle unfold; Greg ahead in the butterfly, but caught and passed in the backstroke and Greg drawing level in the breaststroke, before holding on by inches in the freestyle to win the title. I swam into the finish in third place just in time to watch Greg throw up his fish and chip dinner in the lane beside me. I was hugely impressed. They had to stop the Championship for half an hour to clean up the evidence of Greg’s effort.

Pohio and Meade were the titans of that Hawke’s Bay/Poverty Bay era. And here, today Selwyn Pohio wandered into the West Wave pool for a swim. He even asked if he could use one of the West Auckland Aquatic lanes. Could Selwyn Pohio swim in one of our lanes? You’d better believe it. And while he cruised up and down, as relaxed and smooth as ever, I explained to WAQ’s swimmers they were sharing their lane with swimming royalty. Maybe a few kilograms heavier than forty years ago; maybe not quite as fast, but Selwyn Pohio was right at home and most welcome.

After his swim Selwyn and I sat and reminisced. Did he, did I, remember Quinton Todd, Alan Cristie, Sandra Whitleston, Johnny Palmer and a dozen others. Perhaps it’s true. The older you get the better you were. I don’t know. Certainly the more fun, the better the times were. In fact, on the strength of Selwyn’s visit, I think I’ll pop out and pick up a meal of two fish and a scoop of chips. Thank you Greg Meade. Thank you Selwyn Pohio.

Butler: Leave Swimming Now

Monday, March 12th, 2012

By David

I see the protest about the depth of the Wellington Regional Aquatic Centre pool has made the Sunday newspapers in New Zealand. The manner in which Swimming New Zealand’s Jury of Appeal rejected the protest demonstrated contempt for a serious safety issue. The least they could have done was hear our point of view – justice alone required that consideration. But, no, we were not even invited to the hearing.

I was pleased to read that the world governing body of swimming, FINA, treated the issues raised in by the protest seriously. FINA executive Cornel Marculescu is reported in the Sunday Star Times as saying, “If FINA is aware of a situation which is not in compliance with the rules, the times achieved in this competition may not be taken into consideration.”

Cornel Marculescu’s show of respect for the rules contrasts starkly with the contempt displayed by Swimming New Zealand President, Ross Butler and his boss Peter Miskimmin, the CEO of Sport New Zealand. This is what the Sunday Star Times has to say about their reaction.

“Swimming NZ president Ross Butler described the protest as “just a beat-up”, rejected safety and compliance issues and cited another FINA rule that events “should” rather than “must” comply with minimum standards. Butler and Miskimmin both said they felt the venue was appropriate for Olympic athletes to train in. Butler noted swimmers competed last week regardless of Wright’s protest.”

Both Butler and Miskimmin have forfeited any right to remain in their current positions. Those responsible for their employment have a duty to get rid of them both. Any official who treats a serious safety concern about the depth of a swimming pool, felt by many at the Wellington meet, or by coaches with far more experienced in matters swimming than either of them, or by the President of the world governing body as “just a beat-up” has clearly lost touch with reality; is demonstrating behaviour usually associated with tin-pot dictators and has no place in the positions they currently occupy.

How dare Butler say the matters raised in this protest were “just a beat-up”. How dare he treat the safety of swimmers taking part in swimming as “just a beat-up”. I imagine the raft of Swimming New Zealand safety errors made in respect of the Taupo swim were “just a beat-up” to Butler and Miskimmin as well. In that case a swimmer died and that’s not a beat-up. Matters of swimmer safety are never a beat-up. This protest was never a beat-up. And because Butler and Miskimmin don’t understand that, they should be told to leave town.

I bet Water Safety New Zealand doesn’t consider the depth of a swimming pool to be just another beat-up. I hope any money given to Swimming New Zealand for water safety is withdrawn immediately and is not restored until the organization is led by individuals who understand that the depth of water into which athletes are asked to dive is important to safety in a swimming pool.

Butler should not even be on the Board of Swimming New Zealand let alone be its President. His appointment was hugely unconstitutional. The Constitution of Swimming New Zealand only allows independent directors to serve on the Board for four years. That’s not a problem for Butler. He just stays. He’s been there for six years and when the constitutional members of the Board tried to get rid of him recently and apply the rules of the organization, Miskimmin’s hired guns at the meeting, Cull and McDonald, threatened financial ruin if Butler’s illegal appointment was not confirmed. Butler is in the position of President of Swimming New Zealand because Miskimmin put him there. Put him there, even though the Constitution of the organisation said it was illegal.

My guess is they probably think the current Constitution is “just a beat-up” as well. Their attitude to any rule that doesn’t suit their personal agenda is the same. The same contempt for the rule of law that Butler and Miskimmiun demonstrated in their handling of my Wellington protest is the same contempt they display in many of their other corporate dealings.

The Coalition of Regions originally asked for the Board of Swimming New Zealand to resign. Here at Swimwatch we agreed with that. We still do. However Miskimmin talked the Coalition out of that action in favour of the current “Vanguard by another name, whitewash” Review. Miskimmin then had his hired guns secure Butler’s appointment to the Board and to the position of President. Butler is only on the Board of Swimming New Zealand because Miskimmin put him there. Miskimmin made that choice because Miskimmin knows a “yes man, whatever you say man” when he sees one. Everything that Butler does, he does in the name of Peter Miskimmin – including labelling child safety issues as “just a beat-up”. That’s the Miskimmin choice of President for you; another fine example of good sport’s management.

You know, it’s not a coincidence that many of New Zealand’s best Olympic sport athletes choose to live elsewhere. Our swimmers would too, if Jan Cameron, Butler and Miskimmin had not made staying in New Zealand and swimming for their club a condition of receiving financial support. Cameron, Butler and Miskimmin have to buy loyalty because they are incapable of getting it any other way. Valerie Adams, Nick Willis and Kim Smith though have chosen to depart the toxic environment created by administrators like Miskimmin and Butler and train elsewhere. I guess the fact that Adam’s has just won the World Indoor Shot Put Championship shows that her decision was a good one.

The decision to file a protest was not a beat-up. It was based on a serious concern for swimmer safety and a belief that the rule of law is important. I have known for some time that Butler and Miskimmin had little concern for the rule of law. Until this morning I was not aware that they put child safety into the same category – just another beat-up. Well this Swimwatch article is certainly another beat-up. It’s a beat-up about two administrators who, last week, forfeited the right to rule.

When “Should” Becomes “Must”

Thursday, March 8th, 2012

By David

Well, I paid the $50.00 fee and filed the protest. And I lost – that’s the fee and the protest. Swimming New Zealand decided that because FINA’s rules say that all pools should comply with their minimum standards there was no need for them to provide a pool meeting the 1.35 meter FINA minimum depth requirement. “Should,” they said does not mean “must”. Of course I took their decision to the Jury of Appeal. I lost there as well.

And so Swimming New Zealand happily ordered 650 young New Zealanders to dive into a swimming pool that the world governing body of swimming says is unsafe; says is dangerous. The minimum depth standard is there for a reason. Sure, there is an element of performance, but primarily the standard is to there to protect the safety of participants in the sport. Swimming New Zealand knows this full well, and still they are happy to put verbal semantics ahead of the safety of their members.

A day seldom goes by that I do not encourage my swimmers to dive deep in order to use and improve the underwater portion of their start. The start used by top swimmers today is unimaginably different from the start used ten years ago. Swimmers dive deeper and stay under the water longer than they ever did when FINA’s depth rule was written. If 1.25 meters was dangerous then, today it is an accident waiting to happen.

The title of this story is “When ‘Should’ Becomes ‘Must.'” Well, the cavalier attitude of Swimming New Zealand toward swimmer safety pretty well ensures that when some swimmer dives into their 1.25 meter deep pool and in that instant is transformed from star athlete to tetraplegic – that’s when “should” will finally mean “must”. And every administrator who had anything to do with the decision to overturn my protest will be directly responsible for the maimed life of that child. I do hope they sleep badly tonight.

There has already been one death at a Swimming New Zealand event this year. The disregard of Swimming New Zealand administrators for the safety and care of their members means that unfortunate tragedy is unlikely to be the last.

For their information, this is what will happen when a Swimming New Zealand athlete hits their head on the bottom of the 1.25 meter deep Wellington Regional Aquatic Centre pool. “The injury which is known as a lesion, causes victims to lose total function of all four limbs. Functioning is also impaired in the torso, meaning lost control of the bowel, bladder, sexual function, digestion, breathing and other automatic functions. Secondarily, quadripegics are often more vulnerable to pressure sores, osteoporosis, fractures, respiratory complications and cardiovascular disease. If the injury is high enough the swimmer will probably lose all function from the neck down meaning they will be ventilator-dependent for life. Certainly the swimmer will need constant care and assistance in the activities of daily living such as getting dressed and bowel and bladder care.”

And just to avoid making a safety announcement prior to each session and moving the 2012 winter short course championships to Auckland, the Swimming New Zealand officials at this meet and Mike Byrne and the Board of Swimming New Zealand and Peter Miskimmin from SPARC were prepared to play Russian roulette with the lives of 650 of their members. These administrators have much to answer for in the way this sport is managed. They have lied, hidden information from their members and promoted personal ambition ahead of the interests of the sport. No neglect or deception however compares with this most recent treachery. I seldom resort to asking for divine intervention. On this occasion some celestial assistance may be needed. The actions of those responsible for the sport here on earth guarantee that the physical trauma we sought to avoid is now just a matter of time.

There is one more possible action. Perhaps I can take this case to the Sport’s Tribunal. Certainly, a positive outcome would be worth the effort. During the next two weeks I will investigate what is involved and let you know whether a Tribunal action is possible. If Swimming New Zealand and SPARC have no interest in protecting the safety of their members then we should do it for them.

Strangely the action of the Age Group Championship administrators in the case of the pool depth contrasted starkly with their decisions regarding an Auckland swimmer’s broken toe. I must preface this story by saying it was told to me second and third hand. If I have made a mistake in any of the detail please forgive me. But as I understand it here is what happened.

The Auckland swimmer broke her big toe a week ago but was cleared by her doctor to swim in the Championships on the condition she strap her big toe to the next toe. She swam her first event well and qualified for the final. An official, called Jo Davidson, who has given me dishonesty problems before, summoned the swimmer and disqualified her for illegal strapping. The swimmer would only be allowed to swim the final if, in the three hours between the heats and the finals, she obtained the approval of the FINA Medical Committee in Switzerland. And so we had the spectacle of officials who were prepared to allow swimmers to dive into illegal shallow water but were also happily banishing, on the grounds of personal safety, a swimmer who had two toes taped together. You are right, of course – Monty Python could not write this stuff.

I am delighted to report that sanity prevailed. A New Zealand doctor, who knows more than most about swimming and is also on the FINA Medical Tribunal, was contacted by administrators from the Auckland Centre. The doctor wrote to the Meet Officials and confirmed he saw no problem with the swimmer taking part in the backstroke final. I’m not sure whether that’s what happened. I certainly hope so. Either way though – it’s hard to escape the feeling that a C1 spinal fracture is less important to Swimming New Zealand than a strapped big toe.