A Political Solution

By David

Simon Plumb’s Sunday Star Times article (“Another Swim NZ restructure puts coaches’ jobs on line”) highlights the fiasco that is Swimming New Zealand. One of the many important observations reported by Simon Plumb is this fascinating comment “Associate Minister of Sport Murray McCully is now taking an interest.”

If that means what it seems to mean it is welcome news indeed. Swimming New Zealand has had review after review after review after review. Millions have been spent studying the subject. The analysis has been breathtaking. Sweetenham was well paid to tell us that following his advice would yield a bucket full of Beijing Olympic medals. Swimming New Zealand followed his instructions; Jan Cameron got control of the Miskimmin centralized delivery of elite training. But inevitably the Sweetenham promise of Olympic Gold came to nothing.

And then, when Swimming New Zealand couldn’t impose Project Vanguard on the sport, Miskimmin employed Chris Ineson to prepare another report. Ineson did a good job. His report included many “down to earth” truths and good advice that the sport desperately needed. I was a bit embarrassed by Ineson’s findings. I thought he was a Miskimmin hired hand that would write whatever Sport New Zealand ordered. But I was wrong. Of course my admiration for Ineson’s work was more than matched by Miskimmin’s disapproval. The Ineson Report was shelved, never to be heard of again.

And then, just as the regions of Swimming New Zealand were about to roll their corrupt, inept and incompetent rulers, Miskimmin called for another review. Chris Moller was brought in. He was well aware of the rules of the game and prepared a report that fitted perfectly with Miskimmin’s ambition. The report was bulldozed through a Special General Meeting; remember the infamous Moller instruction, “The recommendations of the report cannot be cherry picked.” Game, set and match – Miskimmin owned the sport of swimming. And from that day onwards it has all been downhill.

By now, it must be obvious to everyone – in the sport of swimming Miskimmin’s policy of centralized delivery does not work. Miskimmin’s policy will never work in the sport of swimming. Swimming is different from cycling and rowing. Swimming has a history of private businesses providing commercial instruction. Cycling and rowing do not have that same commercial history. Their clubs have traditionally been coached by amateur coaches. The government taking over these sports was like the government managing our national parks. No one cared. No one’s business was being impacted as a result. But swimming is different. Taking over swimming is like the government wanting to assume control of supermarket retailing. PAK’nSAVE and Countdown are not going to like that one little bit. Just as New Zealand swimming clubs are going to object and prevent government bureaucrats, in the form of Swimming New Zealand, stealing income and business from our swimming retail outlets. Sport New Zealand and Swimming New Zealand’s current strategy is a threat to the livelihood of every professional club and coach in the country.

Swimming New Zealand has become an object of jest. Renford, Villanueva and Layton are despised by some and laughed at by others. The governance of the sport is respected by almost no one. The way Swimming New Zealand has dealt with David Lyles and Gary Hurring is a final insult. Pencil pushing foreigners, driving around in flash new Mazda cars, appear to have treated an honest New Zealand sporting icon and a world recognized poolside coach with contempt and disdain. The grass roots of the sport should not, will not, stand for that behavior. How Mark Berge can worship Swimming New Zealand on a prayer mat facing the Auckland Harbor Bridge when, of all people, Gary Hurring has been treated like this, beggars belief.

If the Government is to avoid serious political fallout from the mess that is the sport of swimming it would indeed be prudent for the Associate Minister of Sport Murray McCully to take an interest. For the government doing something about the mess that is swimming is all upside; the ultimate win, win. Decisive action by the Minister will win favor with swimming people throughout the country. They are sick of losing, sick of the “them-and-us” culture, sick of the flash offices, inflated salaries and corporate cars. For New Zealanders outside of swimming government action will be seen in an even more positive light. Of course other sports are wondering why swimming, with its appalling performance record and management chaos keeps being rewarded with multimillion dollar handouts. With some justification the public are asking, “Aren’t there more worthy causes?”

Murray McCully has been presented with the perfect opportunity to fix swimming and earn the support of thousands of regular New Zealand observers of sport. Here are the Swimwatch suggestions of what the Associate Minster should do.

  1. With the exception of grants paid directly to athletes withdraw all government funding of swimming. No more $1.4million per year for the high performance program. No more government funding provided to swimming under other headings.

  2. Appoint an employee of Sport New Zealand to manage the withdrawal of the government’s involvement in the sport of swimming; to teach swimming to stand on its own two independent feet again.

  3. Fund the closure of Antares Place including the departure of Renford, Villanueva and all the other staff. Find private employment for Loader, Bentley, Lyles and Hurring.

  4. Terminate all Swimming New Zealand’s involvement in high performance training or emerging talent identification. Assist athletes currently coached by Swimming New Zealand find suitable coaches in New Zealand or overseas. In other words – return those responsibilities to the private sector.

  5. Terminate all Swimming New Zealand programs such as the Whole of Sport Plan, the membership register, the centralized meet entry procedure and the sport’s involvement in learn to swim.

  6. Employ two Swimming New Zealand employees, a CEO and an Assistant, to manage and run the affairs of New Zealand Swimming. Find office space for Swimming New Zealand’s two employees in the building currently occupied by Auckland Swimming.

  7. Ensure that all Swimming New Zealand operating costs are funded by membership fees or money received from national meets or from private enterprise sponsorships or from “Pub Charity” type grants.

  8. Teach the organization to stand alone. Teach the organization that it does not need to be a welfare beneficiary to operate successfully.

  9. With the exception of direct athlete grants paid under the PEGS or Prime Minister Scholarship programs provide no government financial assistance to swimming for a period of five years. At the end of five years fund the appointment of a Head Coach who would not coach but would be charged with assisting private coaches do their jobs better.

  10. Prepare a new national constitution that provides a strong federal power structure for the sport based on robust regions governing the affairs of Swimming New Zealand and managing the sport of swimming in their geographical areas.

  11. Prepare new regional constitutions that provide for the democratic election of regional boards by clubs. In other words use the governance structure of the organization to invest power in the clubs and the regions – not Sport New Zealand’s electoral commission.

In a month Murray McCully could win huge popular support for his management of sport; not to mention votes at the next general election. He could find a better home for millions of government dollars and could turn a sport that is currently a shambolic welfare beneficiary into a successful, strong, independent organization capable of beating the world. As I say, please Murray McCully, do it. It’s a win, win for us all.