A Conflict of Interest

By David

Peter Miskimmin’s new Swimming New Zealand appears pretty concerned that anyone with a conflict of interest should be excluded from positions of power. Both the National and Regional Constitutions are full of provisions preventing those tainted with the suspicion of mixed loyalties assuming responsible positions.

According to Clause 14.1 of the National Constitution even the President “must not hold any governance role in the Sport.” Clause 12.2 excludes any person from Board membership that has any “role in the governance of a Regional association or Member Club.” The Constitution goes on to instruct the Appointments Panel to “consider” whether they have “an awareness of conflicts of interest” before recommending any applicant for Board membership. In fact Board members can be removed for “failure to disclose a conflict of interest.”

The rules are so tough that the Appointments Panel is clearly not aware that the Chairman was around and still remembers one of New Zealand’s best coaches in her speedos. I’m certain that if the Chairman were ever seen on Taylors Mistake beach in Christchurch in a pair of Speedos held up by red luminescent braces it would be considered a conflict of some sort; in that case, a conflict that would have universal acclaim. Worse than that though, I can personally vouch for the fact that Board member, Margaret McKee, was once seen swimming in the McCrae Baths in Gisborne on the same day and at the same time as that bastard who writes the Swimwatch blog. She may have even been a member of the same club. She must have grown celestial wings to receive Miskimmin’s blessing after those indiscretions.

The Regional Constitution is just as tough on conflicts of interest. Coaches and club officials are excluded from being on the Board of a Region. It is rumoured that of the four million New Zealanders living in the country only three, Peter Miskimmin, Chris Moller and Sue Suckling are eligible for election to a Regional Board. And even then the McCarthy Committee of Swimming New Zealand is investigating whether Moller and Suckling were seen having coffee together in the Wellington Regional Aquatics Centre café. That could be reason enough to preclude them from Board membership. Miskimmin is in the clear. We can’t find anyone who has ever seen him go for a swim; clearly the Constitution’s ideal candidate for Board power.

My sarcasm is probably misplaced. It is actually not a bad idea to include constitutional safeguards preventing conflicts of interest. In the old Swimming New Zealand the impression of nepotism and divided loyalties was not healthy. Remember when Jan Cameron’s son Scott appeared to rocket from junior club coach somewhere on the North Shore to Assistant National Coach at the Millennium Institute. Whether Scott would have made that startling transition without his mother being the boss is a legitimate question. Perhaps the current concern with ensuring clean appointments stems back to the impression of nepotism in the past.

For example, until recently Darryll Follows was a selector for Swimming New Zealand. He has not stood for re-appointment in part, I am told, because he has a son who is a better than average backstroke swimmer. Because his son could easily be eligible for a team being selected by his father, I am told, it was deemed to be a potential conflict of interest. And so the organization and the individual took the safe and proper decision to stand down and appoint another selector.

The person chosen by Swimming New Zealand was Mark Saunders. Without any doubt Mark Saunders swimming resume is first class. He is currently the Director of Swimming at the Northern Arena swim school. He swam for New Zealand and is a graduate of the Otago Physical Education School. During the forty years he has been involved in learn to swim he has won countless award for excellence. He was also manager of the New Zealand swim team from 1999 to 2008; although he may prefer to forget his time in Beijing when some out- of-control behaviour fuelled by Chinese liquor cast a shadow over the term management. All in all though, you would have to say Saunders is an ideal choice to take over from the good example and work of Daryyl Follows.

Except for one thing. Mark Saunders employs, in his swim school, three current Swimming New Zealand team members. Since May 2013 Mark Saunders has employed Dylan Dunlop-Barrett. Since April 2012 Mark Saunders has employed Laura Quilter. Since February 2011 Mark Saunders has employed Steven Kent.

Does the employment of these swimmers by a New Zealand selector involve only a straight forward employer/employee relationship? For example are there terms to their employment that reflect their swimming status? Do they get sponsorship from Mark Saunders of any sort? Are they allowed extra time off. Are they paid for time off? Do they get special deals on togs and swim gear? We know a New Zealand swimming selector is employing and paying three swimmers he will one day be asked to select. But is a New Zealand selector also financially sponsoring those he is responsible for selecting; those who will travel and live while they are away on your money and mine?

And you see, that’s the problem. We just do not know. It does need to be stressed that no one is saying anything wrong has happened here. It is the impression that matters and matters a lot. Certainly if Darryll Follows had a problem with his son’s swimming, Mark Saunder’s position is three times worse. His work and CV may be impeccable. But while he employs and possibly sponsors three members of the New Zealand swim team, I do not think he should be a New Zealand selector. In my view he should have declined the appointment.

Previously in this blog I have made the claim that the current Miskimmin new Swimming New Zealand is as bad as the old. The current suspicion created by appointing Mark Saunders does smack of something you would expect to see from the old organization.