Miskimmin Is In Our Tent

By David

A close friend recently used a metaphor that he called, “the camel’s nose”. I’d never heard the expression, so I looked it up. I found that the “camel’s nose” image entered the English language in the middle of the 19th century. An early example was printed in 1858 in which an Arab miller allowed a camel to stick its nose into his tent, then other parts of its body, until the camel was entirely inside and refused to leave. In a 1915 book of fables by Horace Scudder, the story, titled “The Arab and His Camel”, ends with the moral: “It is a wise rule to resist the beginnings of evil.”

For a long time now Swimwatch has urged every member to be cautious of the camel called Sport New Zealand and its owner Peter Miskimmin. But I suspect it’s too late. This camel is well and truly in the swimming tent. There will be blood on the tent floor before this beast leaves and returns the pavilion to the ownership of its members. The last two Swimwatch stories have suggested that Sport New Zealand is not only in the tent; it has begun wearing our clothes, eating our food and drinking our wine.

But, as they say, wait there is more. The camel is beginning to reveal its personality. Until now coaches and officials have been valued for their contribution to the sport. For one hundred thousand hours an army of unpaid volunteers have stood selflessly on the side of swimming pools starting stopwatches, judging turns and collating results. For no personal gain the sport survived because people like Beth Meade, Jo and Alan Draisey, Jill Vernon, David Jack, Barbara Neish, Leigh Johns turned up to put in the timing pads, stack the timekeepers chairs and print off the meet program. And do you know what the camel decided at its last meeting? Every volunteer is now going to have to pay Pelorus House in Wellington $15 per year for the privilege of working as a swimming official. The amount is small, the principle is huge. This camel is a greedy, amoral son of a bitch.

In addition, the camel decided to charge the coaches it values so highly $25 per year and increased the amount it charges swimmers by 10% and the club’s fee by 16%. Those three charges are bad enough but the new charge on volunteer officials is beyond redemption; unspeakably despicable. Swimwatch has come in for some criticism over the years. Some of it well deserved. However our warnings about the motives and intention of this camel’s nose are proving to be right. And it will get worse. A levy on each Region, to pay for the excesses of Pelorus House and the Millennium Institute, is not far away. We would strongly recommend that every Region does not register any officials from now on. That way swimming officials can continue helping the sport they love without feeding Wellington and Millennium fat cats as well.

So what else has the camel been up to this week? Well I see it has appointed an Australian as Acting Head Coach, an Australian as the new CEO and a Spaniard as the new High Performance Director. Their admiration for things foreign knows no limits. Jan Cameron was Australian. One of the early coaches at the Millennium Institute was English, followed by a German and two more Australians. And now I see the camel is delighted that enquiries about the permanent Head Coach job have been received from “several countries”.

British Swimming has been through a similar period of worshiping things alien. Sweetenham was Australian, the current Head Coach is American and another Australian is a senior member of their administration. It got so bad that the UK’s best swimmer, Rebecca Adlington recently made the following recommendation. “Hire a British head coach: “make your own people responsible, make them step up; pick a British leader, one that will be bold and capable of being a British leader. The non-Brit leader is always going to ‘go home’ – coaches know it, athletes know it. Commitment and pride in the leader is half the battle’”

The camel would do well to heed Adlington’s advice. New Zealand has a proud history of world class coaches; Duncan Laing, Ross Anderson, Lincoln Hurring, Hilton Brown, Tony Keenan. Numerous current New Zealand swimming coaches are just as capable. The camel should trust its own. It won’t of course; camels never do. On the subject of coaches, I was surprised to read in the Swimming New Zealand’s Board minutes that the new Chairman, Dr Who, didn’t know that the organization’s Head Coach in Wellington is Gary Hurring. Dr Who’s minutes call him Gary Hutching. Dr Who – your organization is paying a man who has coached in Wellington since 1989, who was 1978 New Zealand Sportsman of the Year, who won the Commonwealth Games in the same year and would have won the 1980 Olympics if New Zealand had attended the Moscow Games. Gary has an equally famous swimming mother and father. Their name is or was Hurring as well. Your knowledge of things swimming is hugely suspect when you can’t get Gary Hurring’s name right.

On the subject of Rebecca Adlington’s recommendations, I see she also made the following recommendation. Hold “fewer national team camps and when you do hold camps make them more discipline-specific to bring the best freestylers, the best flyers and so on together in a competitive environment.” Coming in a week when Swimming New Zealand has ordered all the swimmers it controls to a training camp in Rotorua, this too is timely advice. Quite how the new Swimming New Zealand intends to get any mileage out of a camp that includes the country’s fastest 50 sprinters and 10,000 open water specialists, will be revealing, to say the least. Especially when no one knows yet who is going to coach this assorted crew.

The whole thing is a joke, but not a funny joke. No matter how meaningless – any swimmer who recognizes the futility of a week wasted in Rotorua and choses a good week’s training with their home coach has been threatened with financial ruin. It seems the only way Dr Who can get loyalty is to buy it. The threat of withholding money is the new Swimming New Zealand’s option of first choice. But that should not be a surprise. It is, after all, the way Dr Who and his Sport New Zealand friends got their nose and eventually their ample being into our tent in the first place.