The Eye Of A Needle

This morning’s training had finished. I was sitting in the Millennium Pool café drinking my customary cup of green tea and sharing a bowl of potato wedges. The table we had chosen was next to the door leading into the holiest of holies; the inner sanctuary of the Tabernacle where God’s presence appears; otherwise known as.the head office of Swimming New Zealand (SNZ).

For some reason today I noticed more activity than usual. Perhaps it is because of Christmas. A constant stream of busy people dashed from office to café and back to office. At least they looked busy. Some were clasping clipboards. They always give the owner a busy look. I remember my mother telling me about a well-known student in the high school where she taught English. His name was Tana Umaga He later went on to captain the All Blacks New Zealand rugby team. Tana was evidently famous for occasionally wandering around the school for an hour with a clipboard during a class he felt the need to skip.

The occupants of the SNZ offices looked as busy as Tana Umaga but we know none of them have a fraction of his sporting knowledge. In fact the male members coming through the door have a remarkably uniform appearance. They seem to cultivate the casual, sporting look. Dark trousers, shoes with too long and too pointed toes. Don’t they know medical science has long warned of the foot problems associated with those shoes?

But it is the shirts that afford membership of the SNZ holy order. Acceptable colours are white, cream, pale blue and pale pink. I’m no great fan of the pale pink. That’s probably a personality flaw of mine rather than any problem with the colour. The shirt neck buttons are undone. No one wears a tie. But the sleeves give away status and provide the ultimate message of casual and busy. Being accepted means rolling each sleeve half-way up the forearm. Busy and casual is the unmistakable sartorial message.

There is one inescapable question every time the SNZ door opens. What on God’s good earth do these people do? I mean I know what Eyad and Daniel Hunter and Emma Godwin do. They swim a lot. I know what Jon Winter and Andy McMillan and Monica Cooper do. Morning and night they manage scores of New Zealand swimmers. But how are their lives improved in any way by all this SNZ activity? What do the gallons of latté actually achieve? SNZ’s shirt sleeves are rolled up but do the arms do anything meaningful? Not that I know of.

Consider Gary Francis. He is coming up to his one year anniversary. Are we any better off for the $100,000 plus spent on his employment? Not if the results of last week’s World SC Championships are a measure of his contribution, we’re not.

The real mystery is, whatever goes on behind the four pillars and the veil of the tabernacle, is costing us a million dollars a year – $900,000 actually but let’s not argue about an odd $100,000 here or there.

Now I have to admit, I am a committed Jacinda Ardern supporter. In difficult times I think she is doing a terrific job of leading New Zealand. The warmth she displays to humanitarian and social causes is exactly what I would hope New Zealand should stand for. She has led us to support climate change legislation, she has doubled our efforts to build more houses, she genuinely cares about child poverty, she gave me an extra $140 a week to heat our house this winter, she pays for me to drive to the North Shore Hospital every week and she has sold our country to the world as a warm and caring place. She has earned my vote in the next election.

But there is one question mark on Jacinda’s otherwise stellar record. Why, oh why does she pay the rolled up sleeves, latté crew at SNZ $900,000 a year? She must know that there are better things to do with a million dollars than give it to the SNZ occupants of Antares Place. What sort of return has the government ever got from the millions given to SNZ? None that I know of. Nurses, teachers, police, firemen, pensioners, doctors and a dozen other occupations need the money more. There is no possible justification for wasting it. I have no doubt the New Zealand Prime Minister is a kind and caring person. But she should avoid being taken to the cleaners. It is time to re-write her cheque; time to make it out to a more worthy cause. She would be doing the country and the sport of swimming a huge favour.

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