Archive for December, 2012

They Covenanted with him for Thirty Pieces of Silver

Sunday, December 23rd, 2012

By David

Most observers of swimming in New Zealand will have seen the announcement that the sport’s funding status has been downgraded. Predictably Sport New Zealand decided that the results of New Zealand’s swimmers in London were not sufficient to merit the priority status of the Jan Cameron years. While Cameron was around Miskimmin paid the sport top dollar. Miskimmin gave and Cameron spent a fortune, that’s about $18 million. And in Olympic Games after Olympic Games after Olympic Games Cameron and her funding sugar daddy came home with nothing.

For Miskimmin the failures of swimming must have come with a sense of déjà vu. Miskimmin understands well what it’s like to lose at an Olympic Games. He’s used to it. His personal career includes an underwhelming seventh, out of twelve teams entered, in the 1984 Olympic hockey tournament. Eight years later and he dropped even further to eighth, again out of twelve teams entered. In Barcelona, I’m pretty sure; his team played nine games and lost eight. Even Jan Cameron’s swimming empire would struggle to match that record of mediocrity.

The result of swimming’s downgraded status was a cut in the sport’s funding down to $1.4 million. That’s depressing. Here we were, confident that the Cameron years had been so dire, so totally devoid of success that Miskimmin would cut the sport off, without a penny. The jilted lover would write swimming out of his will. And swimming would be free; no longer social welfare dependant; by circumstance forced to grow up, forced to stand on its own two feet.

Honestly funding of nothing, not a penny, is what swimming needs. Ninety nine percent of the sport never sees a penny of the government’s money anyway. When was the last time your club or a swimmer you know received any of Peter Miskimmin’s largesse? Miskimmin does nothing for the sport of swimming. His money pays for Pelorus House, its population of paper-pushing bureaucrats and a foreign coach on the North Shore of Auckland – and that’s about it. The coaches and athletes who toil away in pools from Invercargill to Kaitaia never see a penny. Miskimmin isn’t interested in that definition of sport.

But Miskimmin obviously needed swimming more than we thought. Certainly he needed swimming more than swimming needed him. And so to keep the sport in line; to keep swimming dependent on him he stumped up with enough money to buy off the Wellington faction – that’s the $1.4 million. Swimming however will pay a huge price for accepting Miskimmin’s cheque.

The sport of swimming will not run itself. Miskimmin and Baumann have bought control. Through the new constitution they imposed on swimming Miskimmin and Baumann will determine and approve everything that happens in this sport. If either of these bureaucrats ever claims that swimming is independent; that they do not influence the sport’s decision making; that swimming people is what the sport of swimming is all about; that they are there simply to provide funding – then they will be lying to you. Peter Miskimmin and Alex Baumann have bought and own the sport of swimming in New Zealand. And this year’s occupancy fee is $1.4 million.

It won’t work of course. They will repeat all the old mistakes. They will return from Rio empty handed. I see Wellington are telling us that Lauren Boyle, Glenn Snyders, Gareth Kean and Matthew Stanley will “lead the way towards finals and medals in Glasgow in 2014 and Rio in 2016.” In the case of Glenn Snyders that prediction may well be right. He is away to train with Dave Salo in Los Angeles. That is a good move. Salo is a good coach and could be just what Glenn Snyders needs. The wisdom of his move could well yield gold in Rio. I am not so confident about the other three. But before explaining why, I must congratulate Boyle on a wonderful result at the World Short Course Championships last week. I believe she made a courageous and wise decision to spend four years being tutored by Terri McKeever at Cal in the United States. Her London and Istanbul results are the product of a fine athlete nurtured in a world class program.

But the Regan, Miskimmin Millennium Institute sure isn’t McKeever’s Cal Berkley. The carnage of lost talent that has characterized the Millennium Institute shows no signs of moderating. Their appalling addiction to the cult of personality smacks of sporting insanity. How do I know? Well, Einstein defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” You must remember how Swimming New Zealand consistently used cult of personality superlatives to describe Hannah McLean, Moss Burmester, Dean Kent, Mellissa Ingram and Helen Norfolk. According to Swimming New Zealand the swimming world was about to be rendered speechless by the feats of the Millennium’s finest. The promise of jam tomorrow – Cameron was an expert at that game.

And Swimming New Zealand is still doing it. The names have changed but the script is straight out of the Cameron play book. According to the new Swimming New Zealand Chairman, Dr. Brent Lay;

“The 2013 programme provides for appropriate support to Swimming New Zealand’s world class athletes like Lauren Boyle, Glenn Snyders, Gareth Kean and Matthew Stanley who are expected to lead the way towards finals and medals in Glasgow in 2014 and Rio in 2016.”

And every time we fall for that three card trick. I have said this before. Lauren Boyle, Glenn Snyders, Gareth Kean and Matthew Stanley are being used just as badly as those who went before. In all cases they would be well advised to get out while there is still time for them to prepare in a competent program capable of producing champion athletes.

One of Arthur Lydiard’s most famous quotes on selecting a coach was; “”Just have a look at the athletes he’s trained. If many have become elite you may also. If none have made it, that’s how you’ll end up!” Right now the Miskimmin Regan Millennium folly has won nothing at an Olympic Games. Boyle, Snyders, Kean and Stanley – be concerned. That could well be “how you’ll end up.”

Where O Death Is Your Victory

Tuesday, December 18th, 2012

By David

The Swimwatch blog has seldom, perhaps never, addressed a subject that is not related to sport. True, on a number of occasions, we have strayed from swimming. Boxing, running, hunting and even All Black rugby have been discussed. There may be some who would argue that the pages spent on Swimming New Zealand politics are not really sport – and they could well be right. Certainly many of those involved in New Zealand swimming have little understanding of sport the way it was taught to me.

However, today that will change. This week an event occurred that is so repulsive, so devoid of humanity, that I feel justified in using the pages of Swimwatch to express my disgust. I refer, of course, to the shooting deaths of parents, teachers and children at the Sandy Hook School in Newtown, Connecticut.

I have lived in America for some time – one year at High School just outside of Green Bay Wisconsin, two years coaching in the US Virgin Islands and five years also coaching swimming in Delray Beach, Florida. That’s long enough to know that the United States is way too complex a subject to support any generalization. “Americans are horrible” ignores the millions of good people who live productive lives there. I know a host of them – Tiffany and Andrew, Jonathan, Larry, Skuba, Michael and Linda and John and Barbara. Republican or Democrat, and there are both in that list, these, and many others, are kind and generous people who treated me well during my time in their country. “America is a God-fearing nation” – and yet there are more strip clubs (3829) in the US than any other country on earth. Sex in the United States generates $12 billion dollars annually. “America is the richest county on earth” – in Miami and Los Angeles it is also home to some of the saddest sights of poverty I’ve seen. Even parts of Delray Beach, Florida, are called the ghetto with some good cause. “America’s health care is the best in the world” – and yet in the year 2000 a report by the World Health Organization put the United States in 37th place in healthcare outcomes, including mortality rates, immunization rates, and the number of people currently fighting disease, just behind Costa Rica. The USA is well known as the only industrialized nation that allows its citizens to go broke just by trying to stay alive. “America is a land of huge diversity” – even that’s not true. Can you tell me the difference between a McDonalds, a Staples, a KFC, a Walmart, a Starbucks, a Home Depot or a Target in New York, Los Angeles, Dallas, Chicago or Miami. There is enough of the same blandness in the US to drive the average European crazy. “America is home to the world’s best athletes” – is that right? What about Barry Bonds, Lance Armstrong, Marion Jones, the 1919 Black Sox, Tonya Harding, Danny Almonte, Bill Belicheck and Rosie Ruiz of Boston Marathon fame? No the USA is not a place that lends itself well to short generalizations.

And so with my disclaimer in place here is a generalization on the factors that I believe have influenced so many Americans to take a gun into a mosque, a movie theatre, an office, a restaurant, a University, a shopping mall and a school and gun down the innocent.

The United States is a country that nurtures violence. In a hundred ways violent behavior is supported and admired – even institutionalized. It is easy for an outsider, as I have always been, to see how a deranged and stressed mind could quickly resort to killing as a means of release. Let me list some examples.

American society still kills its worst offenders. One of the primary reasons the civilized world stopped capital punishment was because it brutalized its people. To the deranged mind it is an easy step – if my society kills those who do it harm, why shouldn’t I? US lawmakers, take a bow.

Recent American history is drenched in the blood of foreigners their government has justified killing – in Iraq 109,032 – in Afghanistan 13,000. US military take a bow.

Life in America is a constant parade of adulation for those whose job it is to kill others. No Presidential speech, football, baseball or hockey game would be complete without the spectacle of soldiers carrying guns and regimental colors. War, death, invasion and guns are more than normalized, they are revered.

Even their national anthem is about the glory of war – the lyrics come from “Defense of Fort McHenry”, a poem written by Francis Key after witnessing the bombardment of Fort McHenry by the British Navy in the War of 1812. The anthem’s official website tells Americans, “The words should stir emotions that the National Anthem should be invoking in all of us today.”

Religion too gets in on the act. Former Arkansas governor, Presidential hopeful and darling of the evangelical, Mike Huckabee, claims that mass shootings are the result of the separation of church and state education. Because America has removed Huckabee’s God, from public schools, Huckabee told Fox News we “should not be surprised that schools would become a place of carnage”. I have no idea how he explains the absence of monthly massacres in the UK, France, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and Canada who all have the same separation of church and education (it’s called secular education). Some leaders in the United States are fruitcakes.

Many average Americans are gun and military obsessed. Tom Gurley is the best example of this phenomenon. He was the President of the Aqua Crest Swim Team in Delray Beach. He had a relatively mundane job, managing a tree planting company. His wife was strange. I once took her on a swimming trip to Spain. She spent most of our week there searching out McDonalds, KFC and Subway fast food stores so she wouldn’t have to, “eat any Spanish food.” Tom’s daughter is a good swimmer who has not fulfilled her considerable potential. All in all a pretty typical American family – including the fact – Tom collects guns. In the middle of Delray Beach, Florida, one of the most densely populated portions of the United States, where there is no possible use for a gun, Tom lives absolutely delighted that the Second Amendment to his country’s constitution entitles him to arm himself with a range of semi-automatic weapons that any Afghan warlord would be proud to call his own. Sadly Tom is not alone. Adam Lanza’s family, in Connecticut, was equally well armed.

While I was in Delray Beach, Tom’s tree planting took him down to the Port of Miami. He came to the pool later that day positively buzzing with excitement; the ample hair on his chest was bursting from his shirt. “You know,” he said to me, “I’ve just seen ten US warships sail into Miami. We are the strongest country in the world; makes you proud to be an American.”

I do wonder if he is as proud today. But probably he hasn’t made the connection.

Editor’s note: I used to live in a house with as many as six or seven guns. The person I lived with liked them and “collected” them. I tried to ignore their presence, but as they became a larger and larger part of our lives, that became ever more difficult. The guns’ owner seemed to believe that he needed these weapons for self-defence. Along with an engineer’s fascination with taking them apart and putting them back together, he was convinced that they made him safer.

From whom, I was not sure.

But I’ll tell you what – when camping in the bush in Idaho where bears, moose and cougars are common and towns aren’t, I did feel safer knowing that one person in the party had a shotgun. Cougars especially are horrible animals, and the forests were relatively full of them. But that’s it. In a small flat in Seattle? Walking on Capitol Hill? Going to QFC? You need your concealed carry permit for that? You need assault rifles sitting next to your gym equipment? You actually carry the paranoid belief that you need arms to protect yourself from not only your fellow citizens, but from the city police, the state and the federal government?

The longer I spend outside of the United States, the more ridiculous all that sounds. And if any of it is true, it’s a situation they created for themselves by arming each other. Everyone is armed. The cops are armed because civilians are armed. Civilians are armed because the Second Amendment allows them to protect themselves against the government.

I spend a lot of time online and I am watching Americans defend their gun rights. They say alcohol kills people. Cars kill people. Trains kill people. Should we ban drinking and public transport?

Are you blindly ignoring the fact that cars, trains and booze were not created for the specific purpose of killing? I have no comprehension how these people, many of whom are my friends, can sit around and celebrate their nation’s free ownership of machines designed only to kill. It would be more understandable if these legally owned weapons were never involved in mass killings.

Legally owned guns are routinely responsible for these deaths. By proxy, I was a legal gun owner. I watched an otherwise sensible person become more and more convinced of his sense of security and control based upon seven weapons, some of which were semi-automatic, locked in a cabinet in his small Seattle flat. I lived in a 500 square foot apartment with three assault rifles. Even I can’t believe that.

Sometimes I think this country (the UK) goes too far in the other direction regarding self defence; until recently, people were being prosecuted for inflicting harm on burglars confronted in their homes. But the US’s celebration of militarism, weaponry and killing startles and confuses me as much now as it did when I was removing flyers for semi-automatic guns and ammunition designed to break apart in a victim’s body from the junkmail in my letterbox on a Saturday morning.

We could all write forever about gun laws and fallacies and mental health, but let me say as someone who lived in a home with these guns, they are abhorrent. They made us a lot less safe. We both knew how to use them, clean them and lock them away, and yet I never felt so vulnerable than when we were storing machines designed to kill us in our own home.

People ask me all the time why I left the US. The list of things I love about the country is long, but so is the list of reasons I left. Not sending my kids to schools where guns are kept or brought to was pretty high up there.

Swimming New Zealand Management

Tuesday, December 11th, 2012

By David

Swimming in New Zealand has recently experienced major surgery. There is a new constitution, new management, new coaches and new responsibilities. Most New Zealanders involved in the sport want to give the new structure a chance. I certainly do. Swimwatch readers may have noticed that this column has avoided the harsh criticism justifiably piled on the old guard in Pelorus House.

But, as each day goes by, preserving a diplomatic silence is becoming more difficult. Swimming seems hell-bent on providing the most benign observer with an endless assortment of case studies on how not to manage an organization.

I mean isn’t it ironic that the guy Miskimmin appointed to sort out the problems in swimming is the same guy in charge of the biggest shambles ever seen in New Zealand sport – the chaos called cricket. Chris Moller was the author of the Moller Report on Swimming New Zealand and the five star general in charge of pushing through the Miskimmin constitution that now governs Swimming New Zealand. And as the Chairman of New Zealand Cricket, the buck for what goes on there stops with him.

Today the “Stuff” website portrayed Moller’s cricket empire in these flattering terms, “There are accusations of lying by the top brass of New Zealand cricket from former skipper Ross Taylor.” Sounds just like the sort of thing that used to go on in Swimming New Zealand. Sounds just like the sort of thing that was used to con and bully the Regions of Swimming New Zealand into accepting its new totalitarian constitution. Sounds just like the environment that is a speciality of the Sport New Zealand style of management. Sir Walter Scott must have had New Zealand sport in mind when he penned the proverbial lines, “Oh! what a tangled web we weave. When first we practice to deceive!”

There is little doubt that Swimming New Zealand remains specialist in the art of the monumental cock-up. A week ago the organization published a document called, “Swimming New Zealand Draft High Performance Strategy 2013 – 2020.” The plan is as unimpressive as it is badly timed. I will consider the deficiencies of the plan in a minute – but first the timing.

Swimming New Zealand has just made a most important appointment. On the 8th December they announced that, “Luis Villanueva, the Technical Director of the Spanish Swimming Federation, will take up the role of High Performance Director in New Zealand.” And then, positively frothing with excitement the Swimming New Zealand press release went on, “We wanted someone with a technical and coaching background but most importantly with the skills in planning and directing the implementation of a world class high performance programme,” said Swimming New Zealand Chair, Brent Layton. “We wanted someone who also understood the resources and challenges of a programme of New Zealand’s size within a global sport competing against nations with many more swimmers. We also wanted someone inspired by this challenge.”

Well Mr. Layton, if you have found someone in Spain with all those skills; with vision and resume expertise why on God’s good earth have you, three days before he is appointed, published a document telling him and the rest of us how the High Performance portion of Swimming New Zealand is going to be run for the next eight years. For ten years now Swimming New Zealand has demonstrated their inability to win an Olympic swimming medal. Then they appoint someone who they feel can do that task. And at the same time publish a strategy document telling him how to do his job. Good management and good manners demands that Mr. Villanueva should have been given the freedom to plan his own strategy. But oh no, not in good old Swimming New Zealand. Here we appoint an expert but before he gets here publish a set of rules that tells him how the Miskimmin gang want him to behave. It is a comedy of “Monty Python” proportions. Sadly, though it is also another generation of young New Zealander’s they are in the process of wasting.

Mr. Villanueva has no option but to accept the High Performance Strategy Document. No one lasts long in New Zealand sport if they openly defy the word according to Miskimmin. So what’s in this, his most recent trumpeted missive? Well it’s the same old, same old. It’s all about how good things are at the centralized Millennium Institute and how it must be the blue print for the next eight years. Of course the High Performance Strategy Document doesn’t put it like that.

What it says is that, “Swimming New Zealand is recognised as having one of the leading high performance programmes in New Zealand.” A program the report says, “Athletes, coaches and support staff aspire to become part of.” Miskimmin can’t possibly be serious. The Swimming New Zealand program hasn’t produced an Olympic swimming medal ever. The medals of Loader, Kingsman and Moss had nothing to do with any Swimming New Zealand high performance program. If the Millennium Institute is Miskimmin’s idea of a leading program he should join Cameron, Byrne and Coulter doing something else.

The Swimming New Zealand website says that, “Swimming New Zealand has a group of world class swimmers from which to build for Rio in 2016, led by Lauren Boyle, Glenn Snyders, Gareth Kean and Matthew Stanley.” Well, those four swimmers would do well to look into the Millenium mirror and inspect the swimming lives of Ingram, Bell and Kent; lives that offered so much but never quite delivered. Talent used and wasted in the New Zealand High Performance Program. Theirs is a tale that will be repeated if Boyle, Snyders, Kean and Stanley stay in Swimming New Zealand’s High Performance Program.

I’ve heard Snyders is on his way to train with Dave Salo in Los Angeles. Now that is a smart move that could very well yield gold in Rio. The remaining three swimmers would be well advised to get out of the Miskimmin Millennium trap while they can. And others considering a move to Auckland should stay in their home program. Face it; home programs have produced all of New Zealand’s Olympic swimming medals. That’s better odds than Miskimmin, Regan, Moller or Layton can offer.