Butler: Leave Swimming Now

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.

  • Is there any answer to why races in Wellington all can’t be started from the diving well end?

    Chris raised some good points about how the pool isn’t ideal no matter which end is used, due to the stark changes in depth from one end to the other. I’m no hydrodynamics expert, but even if the wildly varying pool depth is sub-par, at least starting at the far end would be safe.

    The comments from Helen in the piece about sometimes touching the bottom at the shallow end are fascinating. I can’t say I remember any incidents of that myself (I trained at the WRAC, but it was fourteen years ago and we usually trained across the pool at the 2m depth in the middle). I do remember the turning end being super shallow for some of the long-course or Wellington Champs meets we had there, but again, this is all at least eleven years ago now.

    If Helen, someone who is neither six feet tall nor an inexperienced swimmer, says it’s too shallow, it’s too shallow.

    As far as the “beat up” goes, I have some considerable experience with this sort of allegation. I linked to the piece I wrote about rampant sexism in my industry in the last comment thread. Well, the discussion on the subject didn’t end there. Twitter went crazy. Someone–not even me–pointed out that a tech company who are direct competitors with my former employer in Seattle were using women as sexual entertainment at their booths at trade shows. I agreed on Twitter that the marketing tactic was “tacky.”

    And then it became my fault. Instead of being their fault for doing something shitty in the first place, it was my fault for highlighting it. I was a bad person for drawing attention to it. Others realised they could blame me for casting a light on their scummy, dark little corner, and deflect the negativity to me. I was snapped at on Twitter; snide comments were made out of class.

    People, that isn’t how culpability works. If you’ve done something wrong, it’s not actually the fault of the person who points it out.

    If my experience is anything to go by, people work this out. The Sunday Star Times writer certainly doesn’t appear to fall into the trap of labeling the whistle-blower as being in the wrong. In my industry, very few people are still trotting out the same old arguments about why using next-to-nude models at tech shows, or harassing any attendee, is okay. You know why I won most people over? Because I was right. I was well-spoken, well-argued, and I was right.

    It’s also right that the Wellington pool is too shallow, and that there are other, better options for swimmers, both in terms of safety and performance.

    Regarding what Northern Swimmers said about the astronomical costs of building a world class pool like London’s, it would be really interesting to actually learn how much it would cost to upgrade a pool like the WRAC. Surely, a fraction. Besides the depth, I remember that pool as being great. Lots of seating on the right (if you’re looking towards the diving boards), great atmosphere, a 25m warm-up pool, close to the airport, two sets of decent sized changing rooms, and it’s in the country’s best city ;)

    Seems like there are several good ideas, like starting at the deep end and working towards renovation of several New Zealand pools, that are worth pursuing.

  • David, again, some historical perspective; ten years ago, with the full support of the frequently vilified CEO, Catriona McBean, I recommended to SNZ that Kilbirnie should never be used for a Trials situation because of the adverse conditions. The depth at the normal ‘starting’ end, the shelf half way along the pool floor and the water flow in some lanes as opposed to others made it a joke as a serious competition pool. It seems nothing has changed regarding the pool configuration. I seem to also remember the lighting values at water level were dubious making sighting of the turns difficult.

    During the break at one age group Nationals I was taking a senior international swimmer for a series of 20 x 50; the times were significantly and consistently different swimming one way as opposed to the other. This was a swimmer who trained long course every day of her career, was very experienced, a seasoned ‘trainer’ who knew how to pace herself and was giving a genuine effort as she prepared for major Games trials a few weeks ahead. In other words, the time difference was due to the pool not the swimmer.

    Even using the diving end for starts is not perfect for long course races; sprinters speeding along in full flow can be seen to ‘hit a brick wall’ and have their rhythm and coordination destroyed within a space of a couple of meters when they reach the shelf. Also mooted at that time was using the pool for short-course meets only and going across using the deep section – that would have produced some sparkling times.

    Of course, these suggestions incurred the wrath of the Dominion Post, Wellington Council and Wellington Region and nothing was done to improve the conditions.

  • Northern Swimmer

    Do New Zealand Championships need to be held in New Zealand?

    I ask this question in response to Jane’s above post.
    I too believe that WRAC is a great pool, it can accommodate swimmers, divers, waterpolo and flipper ball, canoe polo, underwater hockey, surf life-saving pool competitions, and community members of all abilities. However it is not a pool designed for Elite Level swim competitions, and any conversion to make it so would be at the expense of another community group And the reality is that none of our functioning pools are suitable for International level competitions.

    West Wave was built so that the Auckland Commonwealth Games swimming would be held in Auckland, rather than in Hamilton at Te Rapa. After 23 years it is out-dated as a competition pool being only 1.8m deep, and 8 lanes wide.

    QEII was 2metres and 10 lanes, however following the earthquakes it is out of action, if not permanently, then I would hazard a guess of at least for another 24 months.

    Invercargill’s Splash Palace is 8 lanes, is of varying depths, similar to Wellington, although they do start from the deep water end.

    Both Hamilton and Dunedin are 8 lane pools, which are too shallow for World Class performances.

    As I mentioned in a previous post, building World Class pools is very expensive:

    I would estimate that the cheapest an International standard pool could be built for in New Zealand would be $25-30 million. As West Wave has shown the technology involved in pools quickly becomes obsolete. I am sure that the London pool will be outdated by the 2036 Olympics.

    However, within 4 hours of flying there are World Class standard pools. In Sydney. In Canberra. In Adelaide. In Brisbane. (Melbourne’s competition pool is exposed to the outdoors and arguably would be unfair to subject swimmers to such conditions in late March, early April, when NZ Opens usually run).

    Sydney’s Olympic Pool boasts that it has had more World Record’s set in it than any other pool. It is 10 lane, with a depth of 2-3m, on a gradual slope. It has warm up and down facilities, and accommodation within walking distance. The competition pool is frequently hired for swim competitions, be they International level, national, state, or school champs. There are also frequent cheap flights from numerous New Zealand centres to Sydney.

    I suggest that New Zealand could run it’s National Opens in Sydney when the swimmers are required to post times which compete with those from other countries. This would not have to be every year, in all likelihood only in Olympic years.
    A subsidy for flights could be given to all swimmers, coaches and officials. 265 swimmers competed at last years Open Champs for 59 clubs which I would estimate meant 90 coaches. 45 officials makes a total of 400. A $400 subsidy each would equate to $160,000. A cost to be borne every 4 years. Surely easier than finding the millions of dollars in capital funding required for a whole new complex.

  • David Wright

    Clive – Good to hear from you. That is a very interesting insight into the WRAC pool. I’d love to know who the senior international doing the 20×50 was. If it’s who I think it might be the differance in time had to be the pool. Toni knew too much about swimming for her swimming to be responsible.

    Northern Swimmer – I like the idea of a Nationals in Sydney. In the 400 seat leased Jumbo please don’t sit Byrne or Butler in the evacuation aisles. I hear they think safety aisles are just a Boeing “beat-up”.

  • That is really interesting about the swimmer whose times fluctuated depending on which direction she was going. Especially if she was good, I’d bet it was definitely not her “fault.” Every good swimmer I’ve ever known has been able to hit pace dead on, choosing their times and number of strokes. I honestly don’t remember this about Wellington, but I think the last long course meet I swam there must have been in the 90s!

    The middle section, however: there is nothing wrong with that part of the pool. It was very wide, if memory serves me correctly, allowing for waves to dissipate before hitting the bulk-heads. There were no high walls at either side, but many college meets in America are swum cross-ways in 50m pools, and the lack of a high wall at turning ends doesn’t matter. In fact, many American 25 yard pools (in which they have meets like NCAAs) have gutters at the start / turn end: e.g. http://www.bigeast.org/DesktopModules/DigArticle/MediaHandler.ashx?portalid=5&moduleid=2430&mediaid=14628&width=587&height=331 and http://www.stevens.edu/news/sites/default/files/imagecache/ic_n_pr_full/ct-n-pr/men%20and%20women%20swimming%20NCAA.jpg

    I would think this would be okay?

    As for holding nationals in Sydney, that would be *fantastic*, but I wonder if pride would get in the way and Swimming New Zealand wouldn’t like to admit that we don’t have a good enough pool for Olympic qualification, even though it’s true? The idea is definitely a good one, and is far more cost effective than building a new pool. I just wonder whether administrators wouldn’t go for it out of embarrassment, even though it could result in far better swims from Kiwi athletes.

  • James T

    Guys, guys, guys. We are getting ahead of ourselves here. The reality is that in the short-term we are lumbered with a pool in Wellington that doesn’t comply with FINA safety regulations, is known to be flawed in terms of performance, and a national organization that is out of control and insisting that a FINA selection meet be held there in September.

    And why has their response to David’s protest been so predictable? Because they would rather stick pins in their eyes than to admit that David just might have a very valid point here. And clearly Clive Rushton above has confirmed what others have said, that this has been known for many years (that was very interesting, BTW Mr Rushton), which makes it even more despicable.

    The only credible explanation for SNZ’s insistence in having SC Opens in Wellington rather than Auckland is money and politics. By having meets in Wellington they are in total control, its in their backyard, Swimming Wellington is just an extension of SNZ, and besides, they will make a bucketload more money because they won’t need to ship their 33 staff members out of town for a week long jolly. Besides, they hate Auckland and any other region that is part of the Coalition (ditto Southland and the Invercargill pool option, or Bay of Plenty and Bay Wave or the Rotorua pool).

    But let me tell you why they are b*****ed. Having had David’s protest overruled on the basis of “should” instead of “must”, notwithstanding the myriad of inconsistencies in their arguments, and being publicly exposed for that and made to look ridiculous by FINA, if they are bloody-minded enough to persist with SC Opens in September, then two things will happen. They will run the risk of not having their results ratified, and the indignity that that poses. And they will be set up for any number of potential Sports Tribunal cases, because any swimmer who arguably would have been considered to be a reasonable prospect for selection, who doesn’t make the cut, could legitimately argue that the facilities did not comply with FINA regulations, therefore, SNZ failed in their obligations to ensure that suitable facilities were made available.

    And why? Because our revered national body have proven, yet again, why they are not fit to govern this sport, and why their dysfunction and arrogance has led to two costly six-figure reviews in the space of 12 months.

    This is what I reckon has happened here David. You bet that when you first posted here your intentions to protest, Byrne, Butler et al were onto the Meet Director, probably the likes of Jo Davidson and Ron Clarke, and their bucket-shop lawyer and hatched a plan to throw out the protest on a technicality, at all costs. Forget about safety, forget about FINA regulations, forget about compromised performance, this was “just a beat-up” and they had to win. Problem is, they’re just too stupid. The press clearly read this blog, they picked it up, contacted FINA and Helen Norfolk, and succeeded in dumping Butler on his arse. In fact, the only reason why Butler was quoted, instead of Byrne, is because Byrne is forbidden from speaking to the media after way too many “foot in mouth” episodes (he had to apologise at the AGM, apparently, for his media brain explosions), and so Butler, supposedly the better PR exponent, OMG, fronts everything. Notwithstanding he knows nothing about the sport, and is probably the only Chairman of Swimming New Zealand ever, that has never been voted by the membership. So Butler is made to look like the fool that he is, and in the process pulls the whole sport, including the Technical Committee, further into the mire of public ridicule.

    Let me tell you what I think should have happened instead: The Meet Director should have met with you David and together worked through a solution that could have met any immediate concerns without shutting the meet down, and a commitment to deal substantively with the issues away from the pressures of a swim meet on a countdown for a start. At the very least this could have, as has been suggested here, included safety announcements at the beginning of each session, and a serious look at having the start at the dive end.

    And then Butler should have said to the press: “First and foremost, we are committed to ensure the safety and well-being of our swimmers at all times, and to to provide the best environment for competitive swimming that we can. While I do not have all the details on hand and cannot comment on any specifics, we can assure you that if there have been failings, of course we will seriously look into these and implement any changes that may be required.” End of story!

    Oh well, the above of course would have required a bit of leadership – something that has been absent for a very long time.

  • David, not Toni but Liz VW.

  • David Wright

    Clive – She knew what she was up to as well – like Toni another good one who avoided the Cameron charm and whose swimming prospered as a result.