High Performance Funding Shambles

By David

Joseph Romanos is New Zealand’s best sport’s journalist. Occasionally I have been on the receiving end of his sharp pencil and even sharper mind. During the period I coached Toni Jeffs, Joseph wrote several articles accusing me of putting politics ahead of performance. He was right. His opinions should be listened to and taken seriously. For that reason I was fascinated to read the following report on the Television One News website. Here is what Joseph Romanos had to say. A link to this report is also here.

Lydia Ko apparently feels uncomfortable about the debate swirling around her after New Zealand Golf applied for $208,000 in high performance funding in her name. I’m not surprised Ko is embarrassed. The world No 4 didn’t apply for the money and clearly doesn’t need it. She is one of New Zealand’s wealthiest sports stars.

Some of the statements being made to explain the funding application are ludicrous.

New Zealand Golf chief executive Dean Murphy said Ko would be self-sufficient “at some stage”, but “currently that’s not the case”. Sport New Zealand high performance chief Alex Baumann wrote to newspapers over the weekend, justifying a potential payout to Ko.

“We support athletes and teams from targeted sports who can win on the world’s toughest sporting stages,” he said. “Lydia Ko meets our criteria and we’ll continue to work with New Zealand Golf to increase her chances of winning a medal in Rio.”

Baumann went on to explain that the application was lodged before Ko turned pro. But she turned pro last October, and the application hasn’t been withdrawn, so such an excuse is nonsense.

Ko knows she doesn’t need any financial support. That’s why she’s embarrassed. She declined nearly $1 million in prizemoney before she turned pro. It was obvious then money was never going to be a problem, and it hasn’t been since. She has made the cut in every tournament she has played as a pro and has already earned more than $300,000 in 2014, quite apart from sponsorship, advertising and appearance fees income that could spiral into many millions of dollars if she wants to chase it. Ko is one of the glamour figures on the women’s pro tour, used heavily in marketing tournaments. She has bought property in Florida and travels with her own entourage. She is a wealthy young woman. Good on her.

But for New Zealand Golf and Baumann to try to justify giving precious funding to her is stupid. There’s an infatuation with Olympics sports that is unhealthy, too. There are plenty of high achieving New Zealand sportsmen and women who really do need a financial leg up. They’re the ones who should be targeted. I’m uncomfortable with how much money the big earners are given by the high performance unit. Last year Ko was given $185,000. Val Adams, one of the superstars of world track and field, is still on the list, too. It reminds me of the 1990s, when the Sports Foundation and the Hillary Commission seemed to want to give cash to the stars just so those organisations could rub shoulders with them and get spinoff publicity.

I do think Joseph makes a very good point. The money spent on those that NZ High Performance Sport smiles on is obscene and unnecessary. Joseph refers to Lydia Ko and Valerie Adams. However, examples of waste are far wider than New Zealand’s best female shot putter and golfer.

In previous posts Swimwatch has mentioned several examples. Swimming New Zealand’s fleet of new Mazda SUV’s, the trips to high altitude in Spain and the United States, the supply of fake national uniforms to Millennium members, the exorbitant hiring of expensive foreign coaches, the Australian coach’s accommodation in a posh Auckland hotel and his premium flights into Auckland have all received attention in the pages of Swimwatch.

But the cost that illustrates Joseph’s point best is the decision to house Auckland Millennium swimmers in a Henderson motel during the National Championships. For heaven’s sake they all live in Auckland. A few of them are paid a very good living on the tax payer’s dollar. If what I have been told is true there is no possible justification for paying Boyle and Stanley and their mates to stay at the three star AK West Motel in Henderson. If Auckland swimmers are not happy about staying at home then they should pay for themselves.

The Miskimmin, Baumann, Swimming New Zealand partiality towards promoting an environment of “Haves and Have-Nots” was further accentuated today when I got an email from Swimming New Zealand advising me that two WAQ swimmers (one of them from Paul’s group and the other from mine) have been selected to represent New Zealand in the Oceania Championships. Along with the letter offering Swimming New Zealand’s delight at their selection came an invoice for $1,223.95. That’s $287.50 for accommodation, $83.95 for a mini bus, $465 for clothes, $100 for a contingency and $287.50 for food. It is ridiculous – $1,223.95 to compete in a pool that’s about two kilometers from their from home front door.

Our guys would prefer to stay at home – isn’t that part of the meaning of home advantage. I bet they would swim faster and they’d save themselves the best part of a thousand dollars. Funding priorities appear to need addressing when Baumann defends giving $200,000 to a woman rich enough to buy a home in Florida and through SNZ holds his hand out for $1,200 from a young New Zealander taking her first steps into international sport. With Ko’s money Bauman could pay for a team of 166 swimmers to attend the Oceania Championships; at this stage, a much better investment.

The real point though is the one made by Joseph Romanos. At the same time as the haves, that’s Ko, Boyle, Stanley and Adams are getting what could be called lavish attention, New Zealanders who have shown their potential, who have been selected to represent their country are given nothing, are asked to find another $1,223.95. Donna Bouzaid was recently asked to look after the development of New Zealand’s future swimming stars. Perhaps her first achievement could be to stop the organization she works for ripping them off. Spreading the spending around more evenly would be a good and worthwhile little project. But, Donna, are you brave enough to take on the ones that make those decisions? We will see.

Of course the swimmers are delighted they are about to swim for their country. They are delighted with Swimming New Zealand’s acclaim. They will find and they will pay the required amount. But it will not be forgotten. Swimming New Zealand does itself no favours when, financially, it treats swimmers beginning their international careers as second class citizens.

The final point made by Joseph Romanos seems to be right. Certainly all the signs point to its validity; “It reminds me of the 1990s, when the Sports Foundation and the Hillary Commission seemed to want to give cash to the stars just so those organisations could rub shoulders with them and get spinoff publicity.” Our guys will forever be reminded that there are 1,223.95 reasons they have to offer Swimming New Zealand little in the way of loyalty. No one could blame them for giving that organization and its decision makers what they have received – nothing.