Archive for September, 2018

Downhill & Picking Up Speed

Sunday, September 30th, 2018

 I imagine even the sternest Swimwatch critic would agree that a central theme of much that is written here has been the damage caused to New Zealand sport by the funding policies of Peter Miskimmin. I even have an email from the CEO of Swimming New Zealand (SNZ) acknowledging this blogs role as a critic. The SNZ Chairman used his Annual Report to recognise our critical contribution.

Sadly their appreciation has not done us much good. Oh, we did manage to call for the removal of Jan Cameron before she was asked to leave. We did assist in turning down Project Vanguard; not that we wanted the Moller Report that followed. Few would doubt that the decision to abandon the shallow end of the Kilbirnie Pool was influenced by Swimwatch. And most recently the Clayton decision to change the SNZ high performance program has been a central theme of this blog for a decade.

While SNZ bureaucrats sit in Antares Place, fiddling while Rome burns, change has always come too late and at a huge cost. But their apparent incompetence is not entirely their fault. You see Cotterill, Johns and Francis have a master that they must obey. His name is Peter Miskimmin, the CEO of Sport New Zealand. Even when they know Miskimmin is wrong they lack the power, the will and the courage to do anything about it. Their wages, their motorcars, their lives are bought and paid for by Miskimmin. They are bonded slaves to their Sport NZ master and it shows.

But SNZ is not alone. Many Miskimmin sports exhibit the same flaws. Recently we have seen turmoil in cycling, football, hockey, rowing, netball and triathlon. Swimming may have led the collapse but others are following fast. Swimwatch may have predicted the failure but the main stream media is now on the case. The most recent example is an article written by Andrew Alderson in the NZ Herald this weekend. In it he reports on an interview with triathlon coach Chris Pilone. Here is a summarized version of the Alderson story. For those wanting to read the whole thing here is the link.

Frustrations with Triathlon New Zealand’s accountability have seen one of the sport’s finest coaches break his silence. Chris Pilone said the sport “should not be the recipient of public money” as a result.

“I think unless Triathlon New Zealand can… move away from ‘Masons Society’ principles there will be further problems within the sport.

“I know they are conducting some sort of internal review and hope this is a sign they are moving towards operating in a clearer and more transparent manner.”

Pilone’s comments follow the resignation of high performance director Mark Elliott. The organisation sent out a statement at 9.07pm on Monday, but offered no opportunity to question the decision via media.

Pilone said his recent dealings with Elliott differed markedly with previous experiences.

“Prior to the first four months of this year I had a very high opinion of Mark both as a person and also in his role as high performance director for various sports in New Zealand over a number of years.”

Pilone stressed the issue was wider than just one person or one organisation.

“In New Zealand, the only measure of success we have for the high performance programmes of the various Olympic sports appears to be medals at major championships.

Beard said they care about their people and participants.

“This includes our elite athletes. There will be an ongoing effort to improve. Triathlon will continue to work hard in this space and participate in any future collaborative efforts that aim to enhance the elite athlete environment.”

Pilone appreciated that on the face of it New Zealand sport had enjoyed plenty of medals success at recent Olympics and world championships.

“However, I have some reservations about how the whole the high performance environment works in Olympic sports. Events at Triathlon New Zealand over the last six years have done nothing to cause me to revise those concerns.”

All that seems pretty clear. A practical, successful coach is pissed off with the national federation. Sound familiar? It should, swimming has dozens of “Pilones” who feel the same frustration. Rowing had one and he resigned, cycling had two and they both caught a taxi to Auckland Airport, hockey has one and he is under the hammer – and football? Well who knows what goes on in New Zealand football?

It is a mess. Miskimmin caused the problem. Spineless bureaucrats, appointed in his image, slavishly obey his orders. And when knowledgeable people, like Pilone, voice their concerns all they get in return is empty management speak like “continue to work hard in this space” and “enhance the elite athlete environment”.

Cotterill, Johns and Francis are full of that jargon. Not that it does the sport any good. The three of them have had a year since the last Short Course National Championships. What have they accomplished? Bugger all is the answer. One Commonwealth Games bronze medal and that’s it. Don’t tell me about promising juniors. There are always promising juniors. That is not the measure of Cotterill, Francis and Johns’ success.

The Short Course Nationals begin this week. Of the 34 events, 20 (59%) of the fastest entry times, are slower than the winning times at last year’s Short Course Nationals. 53% of the fastest women entered are slower than last year and 65% of the fastest men are slower. But of even more concern than this year’s fastest entry times being slower than last year is the appalling drop in the depth of the entries. In almost every event the average of the top eight entry times are slower than the average of the eight finalists in last year’s championships.

Another way of saying the same thing is; in excess of $300,000 of our money has been spent on the wages of two bureaucrats in the past 12 months and in that time a majority of the events contested at the national championships have got worse. We need to face the fact that Francis and Johns are incapable of reversing the decline. With one small change I repeat the words of Chris Pilone, “Events at (Swimming) New Zealand over the last six years have done nothing to cause me to revise those concerns.”

Those Damn Lists

Wednesday, September 26th, 2018

The SNZ Antares Place Trinity

I see British journalist and one of the world’s leading swimming reform advocates, Craig Lord, has just published an article on the Swimvortex Facebook page. Some readers may remember that Craig Lord was the guy who almost single-handedly managed to get FINA to ban full-length swim suits. Swimming is a better sport because of Craig Lord. His views deserve our respect.

His most recent article discusses the publication of the British Swimming Squad list for 2018/2019. Craig Lord points out the failings of Federation prepared lists. For example Commonwealth Champion, Aimee Willmott, is dropped from the British list because she did not swim a PB this season. Hannah Miley, another Commonwealth Champion, is also dropped for the same reason. You have to wonder at the gulf in performance between the UK and New Zealand. Swimming bureaucrats in the UK drop two Commonwealth Champions. New Zealand bureaucrats are dancing in the street when the whole country can only muster one bronze medal. Both are wrong. And both are wrong for the same reason.

In both cases bureaucrats, who know very little about swimming, are made responsible for decisions way above their pay grade. In the case of New Zealand, Chairman Cotterill, does some recreational triathlons. CEO Steve Johns was a mediocre pool swimmer at high school. Gary Francis coached an Auckland age-group club squad. Nothing in their past equips them to decide the fate of the country’s best swimmers.

As we have argued in Swimwatch the problem is also the subjective nature of the lists. It is the worst of all worlds. Incompetent people are producing worthless lists based on a flawed policy. And the solution is so very simple. Drop the lists, drop the training camps, except before a major event, and as Craig Lord says make “team selection a professional exercise in which the winner wins the day and gets funded until defeated, fair and square.”

We all know that in New Zealand idiots are running the asylum. It sounds like the UK might be as bad. Take for example two decisions announced by Swimming New Zealand (SNZ) this week. The first told us that SNZ was putting on a training camp junket in Auckland. The second said that the swimmers selected to represent New Zealand at the World Short Course Championships would each have to pay $5000. SNZ pay a fortune to drag swimmers up to Auckland for a week of fun and games and at the same time charge the nation’s best swimmers $5000 to represent the country at a World Championships. That is not right.

In forty years coaching I have yet to see a training camp, anywhere in the world, that does any good. This one will be no better. Toni Jeffs walked out of one SNZ camp. The first day’s warm up began with several 200 butterfly swims. Toni was a New Zealand 50 butterfly champion but I never asked her to do 200s in the warm up. The whole thing was a sick joke that took no account of the individual circumstances of the athlete. I didn’t blame her for pulling the pin on the whole thing. Since that experience I have never allowed a swimmer of mine to attend a SNZ camp – unless it was immediately before a major competition.

SNZ camps are run either by coaches who are obsessed with demonstrating how tough they are and set mammoth schedules that require a month recovery when the swimmer gets home or by feel-good coaches intent on having swimmers enjoy their week in the big city. The games they play might be fun. Everyone might leave saying how wonderful it all was. But, either way, camps are a waste of time and money. Swimmers would improve more by staying at home, doing their normal work.

But what about the money? Well that would be better spent paying the full cost of attending the World Championships. If a swimmer is good enough to represent the country they should have their air fare and accommodation paid for. Some of the stuff SNZ has done to swimmers is disgusting. When Nichola Chellingworth was first selected to swim for New Zealand in the Pan Pacific Games she received a detailed invoice for user-pays items. Included on the invoice were three SNZ caps. SNZ expected national representatives to pay for their SNZ caps. That is about as low as it gets. But that’s what they did.

On another occasion two swimmers that I ended up coaching, Jane Copland and Rhi Jeffrey, were selected to swim in a Pan Pacific Games in Yokohama. Both got through to finals. In fact Jane broke a NZ record as part of the 4×100 Medley Relay. When they got home Rhi was, quite rightly, sent a USA Swimming cheque for her success. When Jane arrived home she was welcomed back with a SNZ invoice for $3000 for the user pays portion of her trip. No wonder the Americans beat us to death.

And it’s not about how much money the Federations receive. It is what they spend it on that matters. They can waste it on training camps or spend it on eliminating the punitive cost of representing the country. Of course right now the training camp option will always win. A training camp provides Johns and Francis with the opportunity to strut around the pool for a week beating their chests and boasting about the wonderful job they are doing. Who knows, if they are really lucky a reporter from the NZ Herald may do a story on their wonderful camp. What’s in it for the bureaucrats? That is what the whole thing is really about. That is what our money is being spent to promote.

Craig Lord concludes his article by asking British administrators this question. “Which of you have taken a pay cut for this failure; which of you have been forced to look for another job because you ‘underperformed’? Wow, would I love to get the chance to ask the Father, Son and Holy Ghost that run SNZ that question. They put on training camps for their own deification, they get paid way more than they earn and at the same time they charge workers, like Hunter and Perry, $5000 to represent the country. There is something really sick about our values when that’s our idea of justice.

Total Sport & Bent Copper

Monday, September 24th, 2018

I see the fallout from drug cheat policeman Keenan’s appearance in the Tauranga Marathon continues. Writer, Kevin Norquay, has published an excellent opinion piece on the Stuff website. Here is the link:

Norquay doesn’t pull any punches. With some justification he compares New Zealand’s cheating policeman with marathon runners who win events after riding miles in a motorcar or on a New York subway. He concludes by suggesting that the cheating policeman should be left to run these social events on his own. I agree. Norquay’s article is well worth reading. Allowing Keenan into the Tauranga event is a slippery path that sport in New Zealand can do without.

But there was another article on the Stuff website that made my blood boil. It was written by Chris Skelton and is titled, “Tauranga Marathon organisers back their decision to include banned runner”. Here is the link to that report.

The article reports that Aaron Carter, the owner of the company that organised the Tauranga Marathon, has doubled down on his decision to allow Keenen to enter the event. Carter’s excuses are pathetic. He should change his company name from Total Sport to Total Cheats. The owner’s philosophy has nothing to do with sport. Here is a summary of the points Carter made to Stuff in an effort to justify his decision.

“I totally appreciate their position, that’s their job, their underlying values and principles of business would put them in that position, But we don’t adopt that view.

“Our stance is pretty clear – we’re a company that’s all about participation. And one of our core values is being inclusive and trying to create events that have a broad appeal to a wide variety of people.

Carter said there wasn’t a blanket open-entry rule, but that it comes down to a case-by-case basis.

Carter was satisfied due diligence had been done prior to the race, having spoken to people who knew Keenan, and read the full background about his situation.

“I believe that it was just an unfortunate series of events. I believe that he probably made a naive decision, and I think he would agree with that.

“What’s important to me is that he made that decision based on trying to deal with a health issue, and ended up buying a product that he shouldn’t have. And then I think [it was creditable] the way in which he dealt with that when it was found, and the fact that he told them to destroy it.

“Had he actually purchased products, taken them to improve his performance, that would change things for us.

“He’s been really dragged through the wringer, I actually just think it’s a bit sad.

“He made a mistake, he’s paid for it over and over and over again, it’s affected his life in a number of ways. And I believe him.”

Keenan, he said would be welcome to future events, provided they were still detached from Athletics New Zealand.

Did you ever hear anything as pathetic as that? That’s close to being worse than I’ve ever heard coming from Cotterill and Johns. And believe me it takes something to beat those two when it comes to verbal vomit. Let’s look at some of Carter’s excuses.

“I totally appreciate their position, that’s their job, their underlying values and principles of business would put them in that position, but we don’t adopt that view. 

What is he saying? We don’t have underlying values and principles? If Carter is talking about the Keenan entry then he certainly has that right.

We’re a company that’s all about participation. One of our core values is being inclusive and trying to create events that have a broad appeal to a wide variety of people.

In other words we are prepared to accept any deadbeat, dishonest crook as long as they pay me their entry fee. Give me your money and I don’t care who you are or what you’ve done. Child molesting priest or drug dealing cop, if you have money, you are welcome here. That is a disgusting way to run a sporting business.

Carter was satisfied due diligence had been done prior to the race. I believe that it was just an unfortunate series of events. I believe that he probably made a naive decision.

Good God, Carter, what are you talking about? Keenen’s a policeman, trained in the law. He consciously went on to the internet and bought EPO and paid for it to be imported into New Zealand. He’s trained to catch people who do that sort of thing. An unfortunate event? A naïve decision? Surely no one believes that rubbish. Next thing you will be telling us you let him run because he didn’t sell the stuff at the local primary school and his parents said he was a terrific boy scout. Don’t try and sugar-coat what Keenan did. He’s a policeman who imported an illegal sporting drug. There is nothing good about that – nothing, period.

He made that decision based on trying to deal with a health issue. Had he actually purchased products, taken them to improve his performance that would change things for us.

That excuse is good enough to put on a Tui advertisement. A policeman bought an illegal drug to deal with a health issue and had no idea the drug would improve his performance. What kind of fools does Carter take us for? If Keenen had a health issue he could visit his local doctor like the rest of New Zealand. The drug was imported to improve his performance and Carter knows it. In my opinion to claim otherwise demonstrates a level of stupidity that should debar Carter and Total Sport from all sporting events.

“He’s been dragged through the wringer. It’s a bit sad. It’s affected his life. And I believe him.”

Surely Carter is not asking for us to feel sorry for drug cheating Keenan? Sure seems like it though. This whole thing is beginning to reflect as poorly on Carter as it is on the guilty Keenen. I guess you are known by the company you keep.

Keenan, he said would be welcome to future events.

That’s great. I can only hope that Carter and Keenan are the only two that turn up. They deserve each other.     

A Duty To Protect?

Monday, September 24th, 2018

 The Stuff website reported today that Rotorua policeman Brendon Keenan was able to compete, and win his age-group title, in Saturday’s Tauranga International Marathon. You might think there is nothing too unusual about that. But there is. You see Brendon Keenan is serving a four year suspension from “all sport”.

Keenan was banned in July by the Sports Tribunal of New Zealand, after admitting to importing the drug Erythropoietin, (EPO), which is used by cheats to illegally increase red blood cell production. The suspension was backdated to 7 September 2017 – the date Keenan made the online purchase of the drug.

However, Keenan was allowed to run in Saturday’s race, because it was not considered an Athletics New Zealand ‘authorized’ event, and was operated by an outside promoter – Total Sport.

Stuff reporters asked Drug Free Sport New Zealand (DFSNZ), Total Sport and Athletics New Zealand for their view on a convicted drug cheat competing in the Tauranga Marathon. The three organizations ducked for cover.

DFSNZ chief executive Nick Paterson said, “It’s all organized sport carried out under the guise of the national sporting organization. What it doesn’t include is social events. I want to see increased leadership on the part of promoters.”

Total Sport event organizer, Jules Harvey, said, “I need to get a bit more information about that.”

Athletics New Zealand chief executive, Hamish Grey, confirmed that the event wasn’t sanctioned by his organization, which he said left him in an unfortunate spot.

“If they’re not under the auspices of the bodies that he was banned from, then there’s nothing we can do, as much as we might like to. In the end, it’s over to each of the promoters, but we would welcome that dialogue.” he said.

Their responses are pathetic. All three organizations have a duty to protect sport from drug cheats – no matter what the circumstances or risks. All three failed in that duty. The only person feeling delighted with himself today is the cheat, Keenan.

Authorities have a habit of being tough when it’s easy and running for cover when the going gets tough. It really annoys me when I compare the way DFSNZ has treated clean athletes compared to their gutless reaction to Keenan.

For example consider their response to the Trent Bray positive test. Trent proved that his sample had baked in the summer sun in an Australian laboratory over the Christmas holiday. Any chemical reaction was possible under those conditions. But did DFSNZ take that into account. Of course they didn’t. Instead of throwing the samples away and starting over again DFSNZ used their wealth to drag Trent through a legal nightmare. Eventually, but only after spending a fortune on legal fees, Trent was cleared of all wrong doing.

Take for example the treatment of New Zealand’s best sprinter, Toni Jeffs. Toni was a big strong girl. She loved working out in the gym and it showed. Because she was female, because she was a sprinter and because she had muscles, DFSNZ wouldn’t leave her alone. She was tested eight times in one year. I don’t feel there is any need for that frequency. When does proper surveillance become harassment? Actually the number of tests would have been nine. I got Toni to refuse to attend one of the tests. She had been contacted and ordered to attend a motel in central Wellington. The motel was next to the Salvation Army night shelter. It was not a nice part of town. The motel was best known for renting rooms by the hour. For DFSNZ to use it for a partial medical testing procedure on young New Zealand women was disgusting. Toni’s next test was programmed in the offices of a well-known Wellington doctor; a much better choice.

And finally consider the example of Jane Copland who was drug tested after winning her first medal at the NZ Open Championships. I asked to be sent copies of the paperwork transferring her samples from Dunedin to Australia. I noticed that the sample number sent from Dunedin was different from the sample number received by the laboratory in Sydney. Of course I asked DFSNZ, why? I was told the original paper work was lost between Dunedin and Auckland. Fresh forms were prepared in Auckland for the trip to Sydney. I was told not to worry. The samples were the same. Everything was going to be fine. The right thing to do was to throw the samples away and start again. But, like the Trent Bray case, DFSNZ pushed on; blind to honesty, deaf to justice. Jane’s samples tested negative to any drugs; crisis avoided.

You can probably appreciate why, with that history of the poor treatment of honest athletes, I feel aggrieved at the gutless behavior of Total Sport, DFSNS and Athletics New Zealand in the Keenan case. The rules and fairness didn’t seem to worry them when Trent’s samples baked in the sun, or when they were selecting a location to test Toni or when Jane’s paper work went missing. No problems of justice on those occasions.

But when it’s a dishonest policeman, when kicking a rogue drug cheat out of a race is difficult, suddenly it becomes tough. The rule book is brought out not to protect sport or to prosecute Keenan but to provide something for DFSNZ, Athletics New Zealand and Total Sport to hide behind. You can often tell the calibre of those you deal with, not by what they do on good days but by how they react to adversity. Their response to Keenan’s entry into the marathon was gutless and inexcusable. Allowing him to run put back the cause of drug free sport. Those involved, including Keenan, should be ashamed. Keenan is a policeman. He should know that by running in the marathon he was dodging justice. He was using the rules as callously as some mob boss. In my opinion his behavior reflects badly on him and on the organization that employs him.

The three bodies responsible for protecting the rest of us should not copy Keenan’s disregard for justice.

Welfare, Roulette, Leadership?

Sunday, September 23rd, 2018

 SNZ’s new management plan

Saturday’s NZ Herald published a fascinating article, written by Joel Kulasingham. He reported on an interview with the New Zealand Athletes Federation CEO, Roger Mortimer. The article discussed the difficulties experienced by many athletes transitioning from their sport to “normal” life. The desperate situation of athletes such as Michael Phelps, John Kirwan, Liam Malone and Kevin Locke were discussed. Mortimer concluded by pointing to a lack of leadership in New Zealand sport that multiplied the damage caused by an athlete’s transition out of athletics.

Two paragraphs in the NZ Herald report strike at the heart of the problem and expose the bankruptcy of Miskimmin’s management of his portfolio.

“Their wellbeing is completely haphazard and it’s completely dependent on whether they basically come across someone in their life that will keep them grounded. If that doesn’t happen, then the consequences are drastic.”

The country’s narrow view of sports and its function, as well as its emphasis on medals contributes to the problem, Mortimer says.

“We have a government funded agency in New Zealand that has stated the rule about medals. And we’ve now had the greatest Olympic winner of all time coming out saying that the courage to face life itself far outstrips winning an Olympic gold medal any day of the week.

I agree with Mortimer’s fears. In fact I was sufficiently concerned that, in my most recent book, “Shaping Successful Junior Swimmers” the final two chapters discuss the difficulties of retirement. Here is how the book introduces the subject.

Through this book I have discussed the chronic swimming problem of early teenage drop-out. I have looked at the factors likely to cause drop-out and identified ways of detecting early warnings that drop-out might be about to happen. And finally I have suggested remedial measures that can be taken to avoid the factors that cause young swimmers to leave the sport.

However eventually everyone does retire. Some continue on as master’s swimmers and others hang up their suits and never come under starter’s orders again. At whatever stage a swimmer decides to retire, it is a big event. Any activity that has occupied up to five hours a day, six or seven days a week, for ten years or more, is going to end up leaving a void to be filled. Swimming will have brought marvellous highs, intense satisfaction and amazing fun. Swimming will have also been responsible for some bitter lows, some sadness and heart-break. No activity that has gone on for so long and been so intrusive in the participant’s life can be left with only a shrug and a, “Who cares?” Most swimmers need a coping mechanism in place to ease them through the transition into “civilian” life.

The book then has two chapters written by Jane Copland that discuss various coping mechanisms for transferring into “civilian” life. Jane uses a series of interviews with ex Division One USA University swimmers as the basis of her contribution to the book. It is well worth a read, especially for swimmers nearing the end of their competitive swimming careers.

I was prompted to include the retirement chapters in the book because of something that happened on this blog. Swimwatch has published 1082 stories. By far and away the two most popular stories were both written by Jane. One was titled “How not to be a fat ex swimmer” and the other, “Every swimmers most feared decision knowing when to quit”.

Every day, for six or seven years, three or four people from all around the world appear on the Swimwatch analytics report as having read those two stories. Clearly it is a topic of interest and concern.

Here are the links to those stories.

Of special interest was the conclusion of the Mortimer interview. Here is where he paces the blame for the damage that can result from participation in competitive sport.

“In my opinion, it all comes down to leadership. I think sport in New Zealand has a serious leadership void, and the unfortunate consequence is for many people involved in the system is that they have to pick up the pieces in this area.”

“This is not rocket science. This is about leadership, this is about our vision on how we want to treat people. And these are all issues that have been communicated by a certain amount of people for a very very long time, and they’ve all gone completely ignored.”

“It all comes down to leadership.” “New Zealand has a serious leadership void.” Who could possibly put the problem better? Miskimmin, Cotterill, Johns and Francis – a leadership void – brilliant. Mortimer is right this problem lies squarely at the door of those in charge. Johns admitted as much in the Wellington information meeting. He said swimming needs money to survive. The best place to get money is from Miskimmin. The only way to get money out of Miskimmin is to win medals.

That philosophy guarantees the disgustingly poor treatment of athletes and coaches. Why? Because the wages of Johns and Francis are directly linked to medals. Their income improves if they exploit swimmers and their coaches. They benefit the most from swimmers performing well. It is in their interest to exploit and use no matter what the cost. And they do it repeatedly without shame or sentiment.

If you need proof, just consider the eighteen years spent dragging children away from their homes to swim for the Swimming New Zealand failed swim squad. What was that if it was not a callous disregard for athlete’s welfare? Think about their decision to withhold the report into the accusations made against my coaching. What was that if it was not cruel contempt for justice and members rights?

Time and time again Johns, Cotterill and Francis make decisions based on what’s in it for the organisation. They use swimmers as pawns in a game of financial self-interest. The NZ Herald article highlights that their egotistic management often has serious personal consequences to the athletes. Consequences, that only become obvious when the swimmers retire. By that time the swimmer’s sacrifice has been forgotten. Johns, Francis and Cotterill have moved on to their next generation of SNZ victims.