Welfare, Roulette, Leadership?

 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.

0 responses. Leave a Reply

  1. Swimwatch


    Be the first to leave a comment!

Comments are closed.