Worse Than Cameron

By David

In a decade of writing for Swimwatch I never thought this was possible. The organisation that has replaced the Cameron, Byrne and Coulter era is worse; worse by far. It is not even close. Remember I used to call the leaders of Swimming New Zealand in those days, the Coulter Gang. Today that phrase sounds like a term of endearment, three soft teddy bears that kept us interested and occupied through this swimming journey.

The new occupiers of power are not teddy bears. They are a far more dangerous species; tough and able, they deserve the utmost respect. They also deserve our full attention to their termination. For certainly, they are bad for swimming. The effort that went into replacing the Coulter Gang will need to double. The skills that saw Coulter, Cameron and Byrne move on will need to be far sharper; far better-honed.

Swimming New Zealand’s new owners are the best of Miskimmin’s hired guns. They have been hardened in a tough, competitive, commercial world where mass redundancies, strike breaking and disposable foes are their daily fare. Miskimmin used their likeness to assume power. He now expects them to use that power, ruthlessly to crush any discontent; to consolidate the ownership rights of Sport New Zealand. Things are going to be done the Miskimmin way – whether the members like it or not.

So, how do I know all this? Well, here is a story of events that took place last weekend. I am still trying to find out all the facts but this account is accurate enough to give you the idea. If there are any errors of fact Swimming New Zealand can let me know and Swimwatch publish their full correction.

Last weekend one of the largest swim meets in New Zealand (5,000 starts) took place at the West Wave Pool in Auckland. National Champions, Hayley Palmer, Samantha Richter, Jane Ip, Steven Kent and Orinoco Faamausili-Banse were there. So was eight year old Kate Logan who swims 50 metres freestyle in the same number of seconds and Oliver Avis, he’s eight as well, and will soon break a minute for 50 metres breaststroke. The meet was big. It was universal. It represented all that is good and important in sport.

Last weekend, less than 50 meters away from the West Wave Pool, at the exclusive and expensive Falls Restaurant, Swimming New Zealand met the Millennium Institute swimmers. I know this because I was told they were there and went across to check it for myself. Sure enough, the new Chairman, Brent Layton, nicknamed Dr Who by the less than respectful swimmers in Auckland, the new Director of Coaching, Luis Villanueva, two new Board members and the new Acting CEO Mark O’Connor, were in Auckland.

To his credit Villanueva made the effort to come to the West Wave Pool for a few minutes to introduce himself and check out what was going on. To the best of my knowledge the others just didn’t bother. In their CVs they all make great play of the importance of grass roots swimming. For two days they were less than 50 meters from the nation’s largest demonstration of grass roots participation and they couldn’t leave their posh restaurant for long enough to say hello. Why? Probably because they didn’t care.

You see, their precious Millennium Institute was all that mattered. That obsession killed this sport in the Cameron years. It will do so again. But this time it will be quicker and more severe. To give Cameron credit I doubt she would ever have spent a weekend wining and dining Millennium Institute swimmers at the Falls Restaurant without visiting the country’s biggest swim meet going on 50 metres away. In my view Cameron had her faults. Many of them have occupied the pages of Swimwatch. Treating a thousand swimmers with the contempt that appears to have been shown by those who are now in charge of swimming in New Zealand was not one of them. I see Dr Who’s CV says he was a competitive swimmer in his youth. That must have been some time ago. This weekend the polished wooden floor opulence of the Falls Restaurant appears to have had more appeal than eight hundred members of this generation, toiling at the sport that is his responsibility.

So what was it about the Millennium swimmers that brought Dr Who and his Tardis companions to Auckland? The truth is, I don’t know. But here is my best guess. It has to have had something to do with the resignation of Mark Regan. My guess is that the Millennium Institute swimmers were concerned that their coach was about to leave. Possibly they had a plan to keep Regan in New Zealand. If that is the case, they were wasting their time. There is no way this Swimming New Zealand Board will compromise on anything. Dr Who and companions want Regan gone and they have the backing of Miskimmin’s millions to get whatever they please. Corporate bosses don’t tolerate even mild rebellion. The Millennium swimmers needed to be taught a lesson. My guess is that Dr Who told them that if Regan stayed they could kiss goodbye to their Swimming New Zealand pay. I told you, these guys play hard ball.

My guess is: that was it. Rebellion over; lesson learned. New Zealand’s Millennium swimmers crept off back across the Harbour Bridge now fully aware that what the State says, the State gets. If I’m right I have little sympathy. Swimwatch has told them for years the day would come when they would regret their affiliation. Last weekend was that day.

But then, I wondered, where was Lauren Boyle in all this? If she was backing a call to retain Regan that would have made Dr Who’s task more difficult. I was aware that Boyle had entered a number of events in the Auckland Swim Meet but hadn’t swum. An email I got today from a swimming friend in Europe may shed light on that subject. Had I heard, the email asked, that Boyle had been despatched to Europe to train at a high altitude training camp. The only high altitude training camp I know in Europe is the French facility in Font Romeu. I’ve been there twice with swimmers preparing for the Mare Nostrum meets. I know several staff who work at Font Romeu. I’ll find out tomorrow if a New Zealander is currently enjoying their pool and cramped bed rooms. If my informant is correct Dr Who has done well. New Zealand’s best swimmer is 13,000 miles away from the Falls Restaurant; high in the French Alps as near as it makes no difference out of communication with the goings on in New Zealand. Difficult to cause a problem from that distance.

So there you have it. I know the meeting was held. I saw some of those who were there and guessed the others. What went on is all guess work. But knowing how the corporate brain works I bet this account is pretty much what went on in the “Falls’ beautiful heritage building and grounds” last weekend.