Archive for December, 2017

Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit?

Sunday, December 31st, 2017

There are occasions when I am puzzled by the decision to grant New Year’s honours. Why should some guy, who made a fortune from buying and selling the New Zealand railway network, get a knighthood? Does being a rapacious radio DJ really merit the status of “sir”? Today, I am asking the same sort of questions about another award. You see, this morning’s newspaper tells me that John Mace has been awarded the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to swimming.

Swimming New Zealand has made the Mace news a central feature on its website. I’d love to hear their justification for getting this announcement up in ten hours compared to the three or four days it took them to report the deaths of two important administrators, Norma Williams and John Beaumont. However back the award to John Mace.

In my opinion the honour should not have been awarded. I think that the events that have occurred during his time in Swimming New Zealand have so damaged the sport that all those directly and indirectly involved should hide in shame. On a number of occasions Mace was close enough to decisions that, in my opinion, have caused harm to swimming that awarding him the New Zealand Order of Merit is not justified. Let me explain.

Mace served as Vice President and was President of the New Zealand Swimming Federation from 1992 to 1996. They were a critical four or five years. In my opinion a damaging course was initiated in those years that has continued to haunt New Zealand swimming to this day. You see in 1991 Jan Cameron moved to New Zealand and began working as Head Coach at the North Shore Swimming Club. Jan began sowing the seeds of centralization. She became known for attracting, some would say poaching, swimmers from around the country to feed the North Shore machine. She held up the prospect that what she was doing for North Shore could be done for New Zealand. All we had to do was follow her centralized model. And, in my opinion, Mace was complicit in allowing that philosophy to take hold. He certainly appeared to do little to prevent Jan’s drive to centralisation.

As New Zealand swimming moved through the early years of 2000, Mace was no longer President, but Jan’s centralized model grew and prospered. The organization spent $200,000 promoting the concept in a campaign called Project Vanguard. The Regions rejected Swimming New Zealand’s plan and in the Sport New Zealand commissioned Ineson Report the high-performance culture of Swimming New Zealand is described as “negative” and “dysfunctional”. Jan left New Zealand and centralisation was dying.

But, in 2012, back came Mace to rescue Swimming New Zealand’s precious drive to centralize swimming. Swimming New Zealand had wanted power and control for fifteen years. And, in Mace, they found a willing accomplice. This is how the Swimming New Zealand website describes Mace’s contribution.

“He played a leading role in restructuring the sport of swimming, leading to the review of Swimming New Zealand in 2012, at which point he was elected as President of Swimming New Zealand and concluded that term in 2015.”

And, from 2012, it’s all been downhill. Downhill and picking up speed until finally in December 2017 even the current Board of Swimming New Zealand could see the light and abandoned centralisation in favour of targeted athlete selection. The central plank of Swimming New Zealand policy from the 1990s through to 2017 was rejected. And not before time.

It has to be the ultimate irony that, in the same month as Mace accepts a New Year’s award for services to swimming, the product of much of that service collapsed and died. Has Mace received an award, in part, for a service that has not worked?

I certainly think that argument has merit. For their support of centralization, Project Vanguard and the 2012 restructure, those involved like Cameron, Byrne, Coulter, Miskimmin, Moller, Palmer and Mace should hide in shame. The policy they supported or allowed to take hold has wasted millions, caused two generations of New Zealand young swimmers to fail, created the utter mess that is Swimming New Zealand today and will take years to repair. In my view if they reward that legacy they’ll reward anything.

I can’t help the thought that the reality of making an award like this one undermines the fine tradition, purpose and merit of the Queen’s recognition.

PS Although Mrs Myra Larcombe of the Bay of Islands only got two lines on the Swimming New Zealand website I was delighted to read that she received a Queen’s Service Medal for her service to swimming. Now she is someone who has earned the recognition. And there are others who I would rank well ahead of Mace – Donna Bouzaid, Clive Power, Noel Hardgrave-Booth, Judith Wright and Gwen Ryan for a start. Perhaps Gary Martin and Greg Meade could share an award for the huge difference they have made to life in Gisborne.

Exercise Extreme Caution

Friday, December 29th, 2017

In several posts recently I have discussed the imminent appointment of a Targeted Athlete & Coach Manager. The proposal is a good one. It offers the prospect of real progress throughout New Zealand swimming. But in welcoming the appointment I have also stressed the importance of the new position being kept separate from the normal legislative duties exercised by Swimming New Zealand. There must be a clear separation of powers between the responsibilities of assisting coaches, clubs and athletes to perform better and the management of a national swimming federation. They are very different duties and must be kept separate.

In New Zealand however there is a danger the two functions will not be kept separate. For example, we know that the Targeted Athlete & Coach Manager is going to report to the Swimming New Zealand CEO, Steve Johns. So already the separation of powers is being compromised. And if as a consequence the Targeted Athlete & Coach Manager simply becomes a missionary for Swimming New Zealand to extend its influence into the affairs of clubs, coaches and swimmers then there is a need to exercise extreme caution.

If the new Targeted Athlete & Coach Manager arrives at your club and you detect that he is selling a Swimming New Zealand package, politely ask him to leave. His job is to help your club be better at what your club does, the way your club does it. He is not there to turn your club into a clone of some Steve Johns and Bruce Cotterill manufactured image.

Because never forget this. The swim team run by Steve Johns and Bruce Cotterill bombed; went out of business; died.

There is no one who would go to Bernie Maddoff for advice on personal banking or Lance Armstrong for guidance on avoiding performance enhancing drugs. For the same reasons Swimming New Zealand is in no position to offer advice on the management of a swimming club or a coach’s program or an athlete’s career.

And that caution is especially true when you consider the advantages that the Steve Johns and Bruce Cotterill swim team had that no other club in the country can get anywhere near. They had access to huge government funding. They had unlimited pool space. They could poach the country’s best swimmers in a way that would see a normal club severely sanctioned. They had subsidised or free access to medical and other professional support. They could operate without charging coaching fees. And still they blew it.

With all those advantages the Swimming New Zealand swim team was a mess. Just imagine a New Zealand club that couldn’t keep a coach for more than a year, who came back from championships without winning an event and with PB percentages in single digits or every five minutes had swimmers leaving for Australia and, who through it all, bred an unearned and nauseous culture of elitism. No club would last five minutes in the real world. But the Steve Johns and Bruce Cotterill version ploughed on, living off its state sponsored socialist subsidy.

So no, if the new Targeted Athlete & Coach Manager comes to your club and is selling some Swimming New Zealand corporate package, tell him you are doing just fine thank you. His job is to make what you do, the way you want to do it, better; not to spread some failed Steve Johns and Bruce Cotterill philosophy. There are signs to look for. If the Targeted Athlete & Coach Manager bursts into corporate speak, that spells trouble. Too much talk of mission statements, corporate objectives and a holistic vision, then buy the guy lunch and send him back to Auckland. And if the words “you should be training smarter” or “you should stretch before warming up” come out of his mouth don’t even bother buying lunch, just ask him to leave.

And so a club’s attitude to this new appointment should be one of extreme caution. Has Swimming New Zealand observed a clear separation of powers? Is the new person merely an Auckland missionary? Or has he made contact to discuss what your club or coach does and the way you can improve? Is he there to make your swimmers and your club better? Or has he been instructed to go out and turn every club in the country into a mini Millennuim Institute. Because if that’s his brief we are in big trouble indeed. We will see.

We must hope that he is independent and wise enough to understand that the way swimming is approached at Team Aquabladz in New Plymouth might be vastly different from Capital in Wellington or Sun Devils in Hastings or Waterhole in Auckland or AquaGym in Christchurch. That does not mean that one of them is right or that one is wrong. There is always more than one way to be successful. The new Targeted Athlete & Coach Manager will hopefully understand that and will be there to assist Sun Devils be a better Sun Devils and Comet be a better Comet and Capital be a better Capital. That is what we need. I do hope that is what we get.

Targeted Athlete & Coach Manager – A Job Description

Thursday, December 28th, 2017

The Targeted Athlete & Coach Manager is going to be critical to the success of swimming in New Zealand. It is important to discuss why. To do that it is necessary to combine political science with some business administration. That will not make for compelling reading but it does explain the structural mistakes that have brought the sport to its knees.

Good governments tend to have characteristics in common.

First they are democratic. There is a responsibility to the membership.

Second, they maintain a clear separation of powers. The functions of administration, legislation and judiciary watch over each other in a cycle of checks and balances.

Third, all three functions are expected to operate according to the rule of law.

Fourth, the freedom of minorities to dissent and the press to critically examine is protected and encouraged.

With these four characteristics in place a society is in good shape to be well governed.

Countries like New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States demonstrate these qualities. Their governments are democratically elected, there is a clear separation of powers between the three branches of government, the rule of law is protected and the freedom of the press and minorities to dissent is safeguarded.

That is very different from a country like Saudi Arabia. The Saudi royal family is not accountable to any democratic choice of the people. The three functions of government are vested in one person, the King. The rule of law is whatever the King at any moment says he wants it to be and the freedom of the press and the population to dissent is non-existent.

So how is this relevant to Swimming New Zealand? Well prior to 2012 Swimming New Zealand did display most of qualities characteristic of good government. The Board was accountable to the membership in annual democratic elections. There was a clear separation of powers between the clubs and coaches who exercised the executive function of nurturing New Zealand’s swimmers and the Swimming New Zealand legislature who set the framework of rules. The judicial function was subject to too much control by the legislature, but appeal to the Sport’s Tribunal was separate and available.

Prior to 2012 Swimming New Zealand also observed the rule of law. Of course open and genuine annual elections and an independent executive (that’s the clubs and coaches) went a long way to making sure the rule of law was protected. And prior to 2012 Swimming New Zealand was less inclined to control public discussion. Now the Code of Conduct and the Athlete’s Contract demand obedience to the corporate line.

So what happened in 2012 that changed Swimming New Zealand’s government from a reasonably democratic organization into something more akin to the Saudi model? Well in 2012 Sport New Zealand forced Swimming New Zealand to accept a new constitution written by a Sport New Zealand minion called Chris Moller. What was the result?

Well democracy was shredded. The constitution introduced a series of what were effectively Sport New Zealand Board appointments. The organisation was controlled by the Sport New Zealand royal family. Board members no longer relied on the Swimming New Zealand membership for their power. As long as Miskimmin was happy, Bruce Cotterill kept his job.

But the worst change brought about by the 2012 Constitution was the abolition of the separation of powers. The legislature (that’s Swimming New Zealand) got directly involved in administration. They took over the function that had previously been managed and controlled by the clubs and coaches. They had their own swim team that they promoted and financed ahead of everything else. The effect of that was catastrophic. The standard of club activity and the performance of New Zealand coaches was savagely reduced. Regional coaches knew they were rated second best and acted accordingly. But most damaging of all, there was nothing and no one to control the excesses of Swimming New Zealand. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. And it did.

The effect of centralised power can be seen in many ways. Because the executive and legislative functions are now controlled by the same people, you end up with fiascos like the recent Commonwealth Games’ team selection. Before 2012 Swimming New Zealand selected teams prepared by the club coaches. The selectors were very separate from those responsible for training the swimmers. Because of centralization Swimming New Zealand is effectively picking its own team. A poor team selection or a team of only two swimmers reflects directly on the performance of those doing the selecting. Swimming New Zealand cannot be expected to act properly when it is called upon to pass judgement on itself. That is not good government. Why? Because there is no separation of powers, no checks and balances.

And because there is no separation of powers, there is no rule of law. The organisation can select who it wants for what it wants and there is no means of redress. That is Swimming New Zealand today; a sham democracy with no separation of powers and no rule of law.

But what can the new Targeted Athlete & Coach Manager do about that problem. Well his primary goal should be to reform the system of government. He will not be able to do anything about reintroducing democratic elections. What he can do though is re-establish the separation of powers and the rule of law. He can strip Swimming New Zealand of any involvement in preparing swimmers. For the good of swimmers and swimming he needs to insist that the legislators (that’s Steve Johns and Bruce Cotterill et al) are kept well away from preparing swimmers. They do not know anything about it and it is not their function. Recent history tells us they are no good at it either. The executive function (that’s the clubs and coaches) will prosper if it is independent. Preparing swimmers must be transferred fully back to the executive, clubs and coaches. After the years of neglect the Targeted Athlete & Coach Manager can then begin to strengthen the role of clubs and coaches and improve their performance. And he can take upon himself the judicial function of ensuring the separation of powers is safeguarded and the rule of law is protected.

Those are the core policy goals of the new position. Without proper governance anything else the Targeted Athlete & Coach Manager tries to do will founder in exactly the same way as everything else has done in swimming recently. Assisting a promising swimmer from Dunedin or Napier or Taupo is only going to be effective when the environment in which they operate is properly governed. And rule by a Sport New Zealand monarchy such as Swimming New Zealand has right now is not good governance.

A Targeted Athlete & Coach Manager can change that. The Targeted Athlete & Coach Manager must change that.

PS – I read a social media comment recently that we need to be told which athletes the Targeted Athlete & Coach Manager is going to help. That comment fails to understand the importance of the position. There are much more important issues for the Targeted Athlete & Coach Manager to address before we get to individual athletes and clubs assistance.

The Targeted Athlete & Coach Manager

Wednesday, December 27th, 2017

The proposal that Swimming New Zealand should appoint a Targeted Athlete and Coach Manager is of huge importance. For years, in spite of evidence to the contrary and our advice, Swimming New Zealand persisted with a dozen Head Coaches who came, saw and failed. The saga that unfolded was right up there with the best of British comedy. If it wasn’t Mrs. Brown’s Boys it was certainly Swimming New Zealand’s Boys. There was a pom who after a year in the job was replaced by someone whose job seemed to be the same as the redundant guy. That was a novel use of redundancy. There was an Australian who spent his stay in a good Auckland hotel. There was New Zealand’s best swimmer who in a desperate effort at self-preservation fled to Australia. Then a Spanish import who took control for six months. I could find no evidence of him ever having any poolside coaching experience. An American age-group club coach was hired to save the nation. He lasted a year before using the call of “family reasons” to get out of here. He left just as the program and him personally were about to go under for the third time. Finally an “intern” was chosen to guide us to the Promised Land. And through it all, like some dementia patient in need of help, Swimming New Zealand fumbled around, telling us, “I think we have the right coaching in place.” Yea bloody right.

But at last Swimming New Zealand made a good call. The idea of a Targeted Athlete and Coach Manager is what is needed. The trick, of course, is going to be finding the right person. I’m pretty sure Swimming New Zealand has someone in mind. They have said they plan to make an announcement in January. In a normal recruitment process that means things are well down the track. Not even Swimming New Zealand would be planning on making an announcement in four weeks if they were only beginning the recruitment process. Or would they?

My guess is Swimming New Zealand has identified a person. They have discussed the position. They have agreed terms. And right now the possible recruit is weighing up the risks of joining Swimming New Zealand. If it were me, I’d have Auckland’s best employment lawyer going through the offer very carefully. If past experience is any guide the contract is in for a testing time. Personally he or she must be in a state of mental confusion. The volatility of Swimming New Zealand’s employment history, the desperate need for the Targeted Athlete and Coach Manager function, the catastrophic pool results and the recent poor policy direction of the organisation, must all be weighing heavily on the mind of the potential recruit.

I wonder who Swimming New Zealand has offered the job. My guess is they won’t have gone overseas. They better not have gone overseas. Their history of international recruitment is almost entirely negative. This position is going to demand an intimate knowledge of things New Zealand. The person appointed is going to have to deal with, work in and understand things Kiwi. Swimming New Zealand doesn’t have time for a cultural training course. And so the person selected is a New Zealander or a person who has lived here a long time.

My guess is the selected person is a male. With the exception of Jan Cameron, who selected herself, the Head Coach selected by Swimming New Zealand has always been male. Swimming New Zealand doesn’t mind picking women for the second tier jobs, Donna Bouzaid and Amanda White for example, but the bosses are always blokes. And so the person selected is male.

The person must also have been employed in a senior position in swimming. Not even Swimming New Zealand would employ a novice for a job like this one. Mind you they were happy leaving an intern as Head Coach. But I think in this case it will be someone who has been involved in swimming for some time.

And here is where I have a problem. I am certain that being as the offer will have been made to a New Zealand based male who has been involved in New Zealand swimming for some time, Swimming New Zealand will have selected a nice guy, someone who won’t rock the boat, someone who looks on getting along as important, someone that Swimming New Zealand thinks they can manipulate and control. If that is right we could be in for a rocky passage. You see, without question, this job is going to require a Schubert, a Sweetenham, a Talbot type character; a person who without fear or favour sets about moulding the future to their will. Those three men changed America, the UK and Australia because they were tough and took no prisoners – ever. I don’t think that’s what Swimming New Zealand wants. I don’t think Swimming New Zealand has good enough managers to pick someone like that. And that could be a real problem.

And so I believe the Swimming New Zealand’s pick will be a male, New Zealand resident, who has been or is in a senior position in swimming in New Zealand and is a nice guy.

So who could that be? Well Gary Hurring fits the specification. I’ve not spoken to Gary but I don’t think he would accept the position. Once bitten, twice shy. Besides, I think, Gary’s elite status in New Zealand sport and knowledge of swimming makes the people in Antares Place uncomfortable. And although Gary is the ultimate nice guy he can also stand his ground. He is after all his father’s son.

I have two others on the list of possible recruits. One lives in Auckland and the other does not. However, whoever accepts the job is taking on a position offering the best prospect for delivering much needed CPR to elite New Zealand swimming. The appointment is a good one. It is in the right direction. It will require more courage than the appointee has ever had to show in the past. If one of my two picks gets the job I will report back. Whoever it is, I wish him the very best of luck. I fear he is going to need it.

Steve Johns’ Idea Of Optimistic

Monday, December 25th, 2017

I am acutely aware that I have been banging-on about the selection of the New Zealand Commonwealth Games swim team. This will probably be misunderstood as a criticism of the swimmers involved. Not at all. My irritation is with administrators, who do not keep their word; who lie when it suits them.

But it is important to stress that none of this complaint involves the para swimmers. That team has merit and has been properly selected. Sophie Pascoe especially is a bloody miracle. No, this is not about the para team.

Some readers may recall the complaint I lodged about Lauren Boyle’s 1500 meter world record swim. Swimming New Zealand officials were very quick to paint this as an effort by me and others to attack the validity of Boyle’s swim. But that was never the truth. The complaint was only that Swimming New Zealand signed a form that said the Kilbirnie Pool complied with all FINA minimum standards, when it most certainly did not. Swimming New Zealand could have told the truth about the depth of the pool. The record would still have been ratified by FINA. Lauren Boyle received no benefit from the shallow pool. But no, Swimming New Zealand had to tell a lie. And follow that with a lie about our complaint.

And now we have this Commonwealth Games selection fiasco. The standard for Games selection was set at 6th place individual and 3rd place relay. Swimming New Zealand published a whole series of escape clauses in the selection rules booklet. They are not stupid when it comes to preparing “get-out-of-jail” clauses. Every possible excuse is covered. Things like, if you are really slow but we think you might be faster one day we can put you in or if you hurt yourself parachuting in Queenstown we can take that into account. Essentially the escape clauses turn the selection document into a justification for Swimming New Zealand being able to pick anyone they like. Twenty-five meters with water wings and, if the selectors like the water wings, you’re off to Brisbane. But really all that fluff should not be allowed to disguise the fact that 6th place individual and 3rd place relay were the standard.

I doubt that Swimming New Zealand ever intended to keep to that standard. It was just published as window dressing. It was a Saudi style con intended to convince funding authorities and sponsors that the sport was prepared to set and live by the highest world standards. But Swimming New Zealand knew full well that if anyone suggested that their shop window qualification standards were a lie, they had more than enough escape clauses to justify the deception. Their excuses were prepared and were quietly published well ahead of time.

To give you some idea of how unjust and unfair the Swimming New Zealand selection policy is the table below shows the World and Commonwealth rankings for all the selected swimmers.

Swimmer Event World Ranking Commonwealth Ranking
Bradlee Ashby 200 IM 24 4
Carina Doyle 200 Free 129 89
Gabrielle Fa’amausili 100 Free 184 28
Helena Gasson 100 Fly 66 13
Bobbi Gichard 100 Back 93 22
Daniel Hunter 100 Free 149 25
Corey Main 100 Back 30 3
Georgia Marris 200 Free 168 93
Samuel Perry 100 Free 125 19
Bronagh Ryan 100 Breast 233 38
Matthew Stanley 100 Free 147 24
Laticia-Leigh Transom 100 Free 203 30

So what can one take out of those figures?

Well, first of all, how on God’s good earth did we get into a position where it is acceptable to pick athletes who are 233 and 203 and 184 and 168 in the world to represent New Zealand in a world class event? Steve Johns is optimistic about that. I’d love to hear a fact-based explanation of why. Along with performance, the ethical standards of those who run Swimming New Zealand has been dragged into the gutter.

Second, we have clearly come a long way as a country from 1960 when the press and many others involved in sport went crazy when New Zealand selected Peter Snell to run in the Rome Olympic Games. That was terrible, they said. Standards were being sabotaged. Sport was in the decline. Snell in 1960 was ranked twenty-fifth in the world. That’s effectively the same as Ashby and higher that everyone else on this swim team. And yet in 2017 the press and Swimming New Zealand trumpet the selection as a sporting victory.

Third, Swimming New Zealand’s use of suspect relay rules to pad team numbers is grossly unfair on other, more deserving swimmers. For example Emma Robinson is currently ranked 44th in the world and 8th in the Commonwealth. She misses out in favour of swimmers ranked between 100 and 150 places worse than her in the world. I hope Steve Johns is pleased with himself because that is just not right. It’s those sort of decisions that end promising careers; decisions from administrators who have no idea of the meaning of fair play and who pad team numbers possibly only to pad their next job application.

Fourth, the selection of the swimming team is most unfair on the selected swimmers. Academic opinion universally warns about the dangers of promoting anyone in any activity beyond their level of competence. And if you are a swimmer ranked over 80 in the world, the Commonwealth Games are beyond your level of competence. The result almost always is pain caused by expectations set too high; of being exposed too soon to the world’s best competitors. Swimming New Zealand should know that. In recent years a dozen swimmers have been selected in similar circumstances to this team and have retired shortly after returning home.

And fifth, the selection policy of Swimming New Zealand is unfair on other sports who do behave properly. Instead of picking unqualified relay teams, if Swimming New Zealand had handed back the ten places they could not legitimately use, those ten positions would have been available for other sports to pick far more qualified competitors. The selfish decision of Swimming New Zealand to send these relay teams could well cost qualified athletes from other sports the chance to compete at the Commonwealth Games. The lowest ranked competitor in triathlon is ranked 45 in the world. Track and field is still being decided but the lowest so far is 29th. The examples are endless. We know that what is good for New Zealand swimming did not figure in selecting this swimming team. Clearly what’s good for New Zealand sport in general did not either.