What A Bloody Mess

By David

For days now swimming in New Zealand has been awash with rumour and gossip. The High Performance Unit in Wellington was about to be closed. Gary Hurring and his Assistant were out of a job. The High Performance unit at the Millennium Institute was about to be restructured. David Lyles and Danyon Loader were being stood down and were expected to apply for new positions created as part of the restructuring. Swimming New Zealand was about to change its high performance focus from senior “Lauren Boyle” type swimmers to emerging talent. On and on the gossip train rolled.

And where was the leadership from Swimming New Zealand in all this? Where was the much trumpeted communication between Layton and the Chairmen of the Regions? Where was the architect of this shambles, Chris Moller? Where was Miskimmin, the sport’s esteemed leader? Where was Baumann who only a week ago told us the Dutch had visited New Zealand to find out our swimming secrets? Gone, vanished, nowhere to be found is the answer. In a management style for which they have become famous, Swimming New Zealand bumbled and stumbled and sat in silence. Swimming New Zealand fiddled while Rome burned.

In a move straight out of Monte Python, the first indication that Swimming New Zealand was up a creek without a paddle was published 12,000 miles away in London on the SwimVortex website. The wreck that is Swimming New Zealand had circled the world and still Miskimmin, Layton and Renford said nothing.

The first rule of a government bureaucrat is, “never make your minister look stupid.” Take a bow Peter Miskimmin. On the same day as Swimming New Zealand was falling to bits; one week after Miskimmin had promised high performance swimming $2.8 million, the Minister of Sport, Dr Jonathan Coleman was reported as “defending the process for handing out High Performance Sport New Zealand funding.

Coleman is reported to have said Sport New Zealand is “getting results where they want them. In the end look you’ve got to pick a strategy. We’ve been quite clear of what we’re looking to achieve and the path to achieving that, and I’ve got real confidence that it is delivering.”

Well good for you Dr Coleman. But I’m not so sure you are right. In fact I think you are being made to look like an incompetent fool. In three weeks the program you finance has lost New Zealand’s best swimmers. Clearly Boyle and Stanley think your program is not “delivering”. They think it stinks. Your program may have just sacked a New Zealand sporting icon and winner of the Halberg Award. The same guy is also one of the best swim coaches in the world; a man who struggled to get results out of your ridiculous strategy and unsurprisingly failed as many before him and others still to come will fail. How do I know all this? Well I worked in the same club as that coach many years ago. And let me tell you this for nothing – he’s worth a hundred of the Sport New Zealand and Swimming New Zealand air-brains you currently rely on.

And if your “path” to achievement is buggering about with David Lyles, that is just as bad. I don’t know Lyles. But as I have made clear on several occasions my only complaint with the man is that he supported Miskimmin’s barren sporting strategy – a strategy that looks like its bitten Lyles on the arse just as it has done to a dozen good coaches that went before. What I can say about Lyles is that many good swimming people, who I do know well, hold him in high regard. I trust their opinion. It appears as if David Lyles is another good man wrecked and abandoned by Swimming New Zealand. Thank you Chris Moller. Thank you Peter Miskimmin.

The most amusing aspect of this sorry saga is the suggestion that Swimming New Zealand is going to focus on developing emerging talent. What on earth convinces Swimming New Zealand to believe that it is going to be successful with junior swimmers is beyond me. What is Swimming New Zealand saying? We couldn’t prepare Lauren Boyle or Mathew Stanley properly so let us loose on the careers of Bobbi Gichard and others. If they are, it is sad and it is pathetic.

But that’s not the amusing bit. One rumour doing the rounds today was that Donna Bouzaid saw herself as a potential National Head Coach of the new emerging talent program. Now that is funny. Swimming New Zealand discards Chief Engineers Hurring and Lyles and appoints the oily rag to run the engine room. I did not believe Layton, Renford and Villanueva could do worse than they already have. It looks to me like they are giving it a real shot.

This last point may or may not be relevant. But if it is true and Swimming New Zealand is pulling out of high performance preparation in Auckland, what is happening to the $24million swimming pool being built at the Millennium Institute? Auckland City Council agreed to pay for that pool because it was going to be the home of the High Performance Sport New Zealand and Swimming New Zealand elite swimming strategy. A commitment to spend $24million was entered into on the basis of high performance assurances given to Auckland councillors by High Performance Sport New Zealand and Swimming New Zealand.

And now, it seems, those assurances are being abandoned. They count for nothing. I’m no expert in corporate law but it seems to me that the request for money to build that pool may now be as corrupt as any finance company that prepares a false prospectus. The Serious Fraud Office has locked away numerous executives who have asked for money on the basis of false promises. It may be worth the SFO making a visit to Antares Place. It is certainly worth Councillors with a deep understanding of sport (Quax and Walker) looking into this potential funding fiasco.

I would be the first to admit that this post is based on rumour and gossip. It has to be that way. Swimming New Zealand seems incapable of telling the membership what is happening to the sport. It will be interesting to read their spin. It should make fertile ground for further Swimwatch comment.