Archive for January, 2019

Altered Plea

Thursday, January 31st, 2019

This is the third Swimwatch article on the subject of Steve Johns’ “insanity” comment. For readers who may have missed what Steve said here is the report from the NZ Herald.

“But we haven’t been getting the results we’d hoped we would, and certainly from a High Performance Sport perspective what they had hoped and expected we would be getting.

“So to continue with the centralised model and expect to get different results is the definition of insanity.”

I accept that three articles on a subject this simple is probably too many. For that I apologise. However, I may have done Steve an injustice. And that needs to be put right. You see in my first two articles I was convinced Steve was having a crack at his Board bosses. The way I read it, I thought Johns’ comment was saying Bruce Cotterill and the Board were guilty because they supported the insane cause of centralised training. It was the cause of centralised training that was insane. Worse than that Bruce and others accepted $30 million from the New Zealand taxpayer and wasted it on the insane cause called the “centralised model”.  It seemed to me that Steve was directing the blame for the failures of swimming away from himself and towards those who pursued an insane policy.

In Steve’s words the assumption of guilt would have been fair enough. After all Steve said that any Chairman and Board who would “continue with the centralised model and expect to get different results is the definition of insanity.” That is exactly what Bruce Cotterill and his five mates on the Board have done. For twenty years and at a cost of $30 million the current Board and many before them continued with the insane centralised model and expected to get a different result. Bruce and the Board were as guilty as hell. It was time to lock them up and throw away the key.

That is what I thought Steve was saying. I’m sure you agree it is a fair enough interpretation of the NZ Herald report especially when it happens to match my view of this case. I think Bruce and various Boards are guilty of wasting 20 years and $30 million chasing an insane policy. I think the Boards are guilty of professional negligence. In any public company I would hold them guilty of dereliction of their duty of care. I would happily turn the key in the lock and throw it out the window. I thought Steve and I were buddies in arms. I was puzzled how Steve got away with publically proclaiming the guilt of his bosses but reluctantly I admired him for doing it. Steely Steve seemed to have got this one right.

But now I’m not so sure. I think I may have read Steve’s comment incorrectly. I don’t think he sees things the way I do at all. And that is the reason for writing this third article.

I think what Steve is saying is not that Bruce and the Board are guilty of pursuing an insane policy. I think what he is saying is that it is not the policy that is insane it is those who promoted the policy. Steve and the Board are innocent because they are insane. Steve is pleading insanity to escape censure and establish innocence.

“Not guilty by reason of insanity” is one of the most recognisable legal phrases in the world; so recognisable that I should have picked Steve’s defense straight away. What Steve now seems to be saying is that Bruce and the Board are innocent because they are mentally incapable of being legally responsible for their actions.

Section 23 of the Crimes Act 1963 outlines the insanity defense. It says, “No person shall be convicted of an offence by reason of an act done or omitted
by him when laboring under natural imbecility or disease of the mind to such
an extent as to render him incapable of understanding the nature and quality of the act or omission; or of knowing that the act or omission was morally wrong, having regard to the commonly accepted standards of right and wrong.”

Steve has identified the perfect defense. Of course when 20 years and $30 million dollars are wasted like this those responsible could quite reasonably be considered “incapable of understanding the nature and quality of the act or omission; or of knowing that the act or omission was morally wrong, having regard to the commonly accepted standards of right and wrong.”

It is not difficult to believe that had Bruce and his Board had their full faculties they would have put a stop to the waste. Had they read anything on Swimwatch they would have been aware of the problem. Steve is right. Insanity of those who promoted the centralised policy is the only possible explanation; the only logical reason. The act describes insanity as “laboring under natural imbecility or disease of the mind”. I think that is what Steve is arguing in his quote and he may well be right.

I guess the sad feature of Steve’s defense is that if we accept the conclusion of “not guilty by reason of insanity” then Bruce and his Board will escape without a conviction. If Steve is saying it is not the act of wasting 20 years and $30 million that is insane; if he is saying the people who committed the waste are insane then, not guilty is the only conclusion.

Of course I don’t like that. I think those responsible for the waste of time, money and two generations of New Zealand’s best swimmers need to be hung up by their finger nails on an Antares Place lamppost. But it seems Steve has outsmarted me again. His public proclamation of innocence by reason of insanity could see the guilty walk free.

Steve Johns Bare Naked

Wednesday, January 30th, 2019





I have made a sign to go on the Swimming New Zealand (SNZ) door between their office and the Millennium Pool, Wholefood Café. The idea came to me yesterday when I found the Steve Johns’ insanity quote. As a reminder, here is what Steve Johns said.

“But we haven’t been getting the results we’d hoped we would, and certainly from a High Performance Sport perspective what they had hoped and expected we would be getting.

“So to continue with the centralised model and expect to get different results is the definition of insanity.”

I’m not sure what academic training in mental disorders Steve Johns has to diagnose insanity. However he does work in the asylum. I assume he sees the disorder “up close and personal”. Or perhaps he is not using the word in a medical sense. He may find that the common usage of “insanity” is sufficient to describe what goes on behind the asylum’s closed doors.

Goodness knows the condition he is talking about has gone on for 20 years and has cost supporters of the asylum $30 million. Stop and consider that for a moment – 20 years and $30 million. A mental condition that has lasted that long certainly merits being described as “insanity”.

The internet says the condition that Steve Johns tells us has inflicted itself on Bruce Cotterill and the other members of the asylum is:

Insanity describes a spectrum of individual and group behaviors that are characterised by certain abnormal mental or behavioral patterns In contemporary usage, the term insanity is an informal term denoting “mental instability”. In medicine, the general term is used to include the presence either of delusions or of hallucinations or both in a patient.

Does this fit SNZ? Steve Johns works in the asylum and tells us it does. HHHhHHHHHe should know. But let’s take the definition one line at a time.

Individual and group behaviors – Both those categories work in the asylum. In fact the asylum website tells me there are 15 patients plus 6 seriously ill inmates, called the Board who, I am told, are on a solitary confinement waiting list. Given the amount we ever hear from them, they may already have started their solitary.

Abnormal mental or behavioral patterns – Steve Johns is right. Insanity is a problem. Of course I agree with him. No one needs a medical degree to understand that what goes on in the asylum is not normal. Normal people don’t lie to their sponsors and their supporters. The pathological lying present in this asylum, I’m told, is called pseudologia fantastica. Normal people don’t break the law by hiding an individual’s private information. I’m told that is a form of schizophrenia.

Delusions or hallucinations – Here we have the proof Steve Johns must have been referring to when he described the behavior of SNZ as insanity. Johns has nailed the problem perfectly. When the inmates of the asylum, especially the six in solitary confinement, pursued a doctrine called “centralized training” for twenty years, at a cost of $30 million, for nothing in return the diagnosis of “delusional hallucinations” seems perfect to me. What made it so much worse was the sick irony that two generations of New Zealand’s best swimmers were forced to go along with the delusion. Inmates of the asylum told the country’s most talented swimmers that victory was about to be theirs. And the swimmers, through embarrassment or fear, I don’t know which, played along with the hallucination. The emperor had no clothes but no one dared say. Steve Johns and Bruce Cotterill were naked in the asylum and no one said a word.

Sadly the condition was diagnosed by one lonely voice – Swimwatch. The asylum inmates had their condition described. They knew about the futility of it all. They were told it was all for nothing. But still they spent and spent in their quest for victories that were never going to happen. It was delusional. They were having hallucinations. They were drunks begging for another whiskey. They were lung cancer patients smoking a packet a day. And that is why Steve Johns calls the inmates of the asylum insane. And all the time he’s calling them insane he’s failed to notice he and that Bruce have no clothes.

But be careful of the inmates in the Antares Place Asylum. They can be dangerous. Yesterday, as I walked past the door between the café and the Antares Place insane asylum I heard the inmates chanting “Thirteen, thirteen, thirteen–” Steve and Bruce could clearly be heard leading the chorus. I was so fascinated I walked to the door and puts my eye to the keyhole and Gary Francis poked me in the eye with his finger and the inmates started chanting “Fourteen, fourteen, fourteen–”


The Benefit Of Diversity

Wednesday, January 30th, 2019

Swimming New Zealand’s Business Guide

Our previous Swimwatch post discussed the value of diversity. Although it may be a little dull it is worthwhile discussing the subject in more detail. This is true because diversity explains why American swimming does so well at the Olympic Games and New Zealand does so badly. In fact since the Atlanta Olympic Games in 1996 New Zealand swimming has done worse than badly – the sport has done nothing. Two decades for no return is not good enough.

Why has this happened? Why has New Zealand won no swimming medals in the 5 Olympic Games since 1996 while the United States has won 156 medals? When you get beaten 156-0 it is time to start looking closely at the reasons. The excuse that America is bigger than New Zealand does not explain a difference of 156-0. If that was the case China and India would be well ahead of the United States. They have bigger populations. Not only that, if population was such an advantage, the United States would dominate all sports. And they don’t. For example in the same five Olympic Games the United States won only 9 of the 165 track medals available for events between 800 meters and the marathon. New Zealand won 2. The majority of medals were won by Kenya and Ethiopia; countries far smaller than the United States.

There is a big difference between being beaten 9-2 by the USA and 156-0. Clearly there is more to it than population. But what?

Gary Francis, Bruce Cotterill and Steve Johns have deviously suggested that poor New Zealand coaching is to blame. Of course they never come out and say it as bluntly as that. None of them are brave enough to be that honest. Instead they put New Zealand coaches down by promoting the need for coaching education. For example on the 25 August 2018 Gary Francis was reported in the NZ Herald as saying, “We are very confident by 2024 of having really strong coaches who know what they need to deliver.” In other words, according to Francis, New Zealand coaches in 2019 are not strong and don’t know what they need to deliver. These snide, underhand insults are disgusting; especially when they are a lie; especially when Cotterill, Francis and Johns are far more to blame for the 156-0 hiding than the standard of New Zealand coaches.

In fact Johns came close to admitting as much in the same NZ Herald report when he said this.

“But we haven’t been getting the results we’d hoped we would, and certainly from a High Performance Sport perspective what they had hoped and expected we would be getting.

“So to continue with the centralised model and expect to get different results is the definition of insanity.”

I am delighted Johns has called his Board’s decisions insane. That’s the closest he has got to the truth since he arrived on the swimming scene. I’m not sure Chairman Cotterill will appreciate CEO Johns calling him insane, but the sentiment is probably true.

And so, if it is not population or coaches, what has caused the 156-0 loss to the United States. In a word – diversity. Through five Olympic Games Swimming New Zealand (SNZ) spent about $30 million on centralised training. Jan Cameron and the SNZ Board insisted that their centralised program was about to stun the swimming world. For 20 years Swimwatch told SNZ their centralised programme would fail. But they knew best. Johns is right, Cortterill and his Board were insane. The loss is of such a magnitude that none of them should still be there.

But what was it about SNZ’s centralised program that made it so inferior to the Americans? Diversity is the answer. The problem with a centralised program, in world class sport, is that it diminishes the lifeblood of elite sport. It reduces competition. For example:

  1. Domestic completion was reduced by having all New Zealand’s best swimmers coached by one SNZ coach on the North Shore of Auckland.
  2. Coaching competition was reduced by denying New Zealand’s best swimmers access to a variety of training programs. It was insane to believe that the same sprint or distance based programme would suit every good swimmer. But that’s what Cotterill’s Board spent $30 million and 20 years trying to prove.
  3. Good regional coaches were starved of the country’s best swimmers and denied the education that goes along with coaching national champions.

I think I have made it clear before on Swimwatch that in many areas of life I am pretty far left of centre. Jacinda Ardern can count on my vote. I believe socialism has a vital role to play in supporting weak members of our society – the young, need to be educated for free, including university. The sick need to be cured in a socialist comprehensive system of healthcare. The elderly need access to universal superannuation and state provided accommodation.

But elite competitive swimmers are not weak members of society. Far from it. For elite swimmers the full force of pure capitalism produces the best results. For 20 years Cotterill tried to run a socialist elite swimming programme. For a far right autocrat like Cotterill I am amazed he couldn’t see the debilitating effect socialism was having on his sport. But he didn’t and that has hurt swimming badly. Just look at the results. The Americans would never make the New Zealand socialist mistake. In USA Swimming it is diversified capitalist competition all the way – swimmer against swimmer, club against club, high school against high school, coach against coach and region against region. By the time Rhi Jeffrey swam in the Olympic Games for the United States she was a tough, hardened capitalist competitor. That is why she won.

The problem New Zealand swimming still has is that the program Cotterill, Johns and Francis have introduced to replace centralised training does little to change the socialist nature of their decisions. All those collective camps and the folly of the Francis lists are straight out of Das Kapital. A week ago I watched a SNZ camp in progress. Believe me it did nothing to address our 156-0 losing record. Vladimir Lenin would be delighted with the way Cotterill and his mates are running SNZ – and that is insane. Just ask the Americans.

Money Or Your Life

Monday, January 28th, 2019

What is it about human beings? There seems to be a world-wide compulsion to take sides. Choose between Christianity and Islam. One is good and the other is irreparably bad. Choose between capitalism and socialism. Choose the wrong one and I am going to hate you forever. Choose between Labour (Democrats) or National (Republicans). You had better not make a different choice from mine. Donald Trump is bad not because he is Republican. He is bad because he is little more than a mob boss. It is easy to name many good Republicans. Donald Trump is not one of them. The compulsion to pick between two competing sides is a human compulsion that has been the root cause of war and conflict forever.

Picking between two sides is at its worst in the United States. The whole country is a cauldron of boiling choice animosity. War with Venezuela is the likely result of a John Bolton created choice. The animosity between Democrats and Republicans is hugely destructive.

Right now American swimming is debating whether teenage swimmers should swim and train in their high school team or in their club team. Swim Swam have conducted a poll to determine which side has the most popular support. Here is the link to the Swim Swam article debating the merits of club or high school swimming.

In the seven years I coached in the United States the merits of high school and club swimming were a constant topic of debate. I was a club coach but refused to enter the club/high school fray. The damage of debating the issue was my principal concern. Why? Because the most cursory study of American swimming cannot help but reach the conclusion that the diversity of swimming in the United States is its strength. Swimming in America is founded on the principle of diversity. If you want to swim a sprint program you can train with Dave Salo or any number of a hundred similar programs. If you want distance type preparation you can swim for Mark Schubert or dozens of others like him. It has long been proven that both Salo and Schubert programs work. The choice is not between right and wrong. It’s personal preference.

The same principle applies in New Zealand. Paul Kent at the MAG’s swim team offers a specialist sprint based program – similar to Salo. I prefer a distance based program – similar to Schubert. That does not mean Paul is wrong and I am right and we should fight to the death to prove the point. It simply means we both specialise in different ways of successfully solving the same problem. The diversity represented by that example is desperately important to the success of a healthy sport.

It is also the principle behind my twenty year fight with Swimming New Zealand (SNZ) over their centralised training regime.  For twenty years SNZ’s programme was based on the principle that SNZ would import, from overseas, the world’s best coach and all New Zealand’s elite swimmers should be coached by that person. The dictatorship of centralised training destroyed diversity. In the process it also destroyed New Zealand swimming. Why – because diversity, the right to choose, is fundamental to the success of an individual sport.

Take Lauren Boyle for example. She was dog whistled into the SNZ centralised program. The coach was David Lyles. Quite obviously Lauren could not stand the environment and wasted six months of her swimming life finding a way out. The problem was Lauren should never have been put in the “Lyles-or-no-one” position. She should have always had the freedom of coaching choice on the same financial conditions. Any coach in the world, paid for exactly as she was in Auckland, should have been available to the swimmer. In my opinion SNZ damaged Lauren Boyle’s career in order to defend the monopoly of SNZ’s self-interest.

For years Bruce Cotterill and his Board members were too stupid to realise they were killing the goose of diversity that laid the golden egg called competition. Self-interest forced them to make New Zealand swimmers choose. Swimmers were either for the centralised program and were accepted into the holiest of holies or they were not and were cast into outer darkness. You may think I am exaggerating, but consider this when you think of those who run SNZ.

At the Manchester Commonwealth Games three swimmers trained in their home programs – Toni Jeffs, Liz van Wellie and Jon Winter. Jan Cameron was the team coach and was also the leader of the SNZ centralised training movement. At the Commonwealth Games Jan would call team meetings and exclude the three swimmers who trained outside the SNZ program. Liz, Jon and Toni were denied their rights as New Zealanders because Jan Cameron, an Australian, and SNZ did not like their domestic coaches. That was sick. SNZ will forever stand condemned for not apologising to Toni, Liz and Jon for that insult. Ironically the three best performers at the Manchester Games were Toni, Liz and Jon. Toni and Liz were the only two swimmers to win a medal. An apology is long overdue.

And so America and New Zealand when you consider these either/or choices, pause for a moment and consider choice number three – perhaps both work best. Is the principle of diversity promoted, not by choosing between two competing ideologies, but by encouraging both to prosper? Is American swimming better by having successful high school and club programs rather that choosing one or the other? I prefer American club swimming, but more than that I demand both.

In New Zealand it is true I have pushed for the abolition of SNZ’s centralised program in favour of diversified club based coaching. I can hear some say that position hardly represents choosing both. But there is a reason for that. If I thought for a minute that SNZ could honestly run a training program that competed fairly, on a level playing field with club programs then I would support both. But they do not compete fairly. Financially they reward themselves and screw the clubs. In that environment there is only one choice – the clubs win.

Cool Counties

Sunday, January 27th, 2019

Two New Zealand swim meets are my favourites; the Hawke’s Bay Poverty Bay Championships in the Gisborne Olympic Pool and the Counties Age Group Championships held in the Papatoetoe Centennial Pool. I have just spent the weekend at the Counties Meet. Why is it a favourite?  Why is it better than anything put on by the Auckland or Wellington Regions or Swimming New Zealand?

Well the location helps; the picnic atmosphere of grassy banks, sun umbrellas, canvas camp chairs, bar-b-ques and big shady trees. It is simply a nice place to be. The meet is run efficiently without being officious. Results are posted on time and medals are made available quickly after the event. Best of all the two bosses of Counties Swimming, Geoff and Jeannie Sibun, actually welcome me to the meet. They seem to be happy to see me and my swimmers back for another year. That’s more than can be said for a few other places around New Zealand.

Actually I’d like to dwell on the contribution of the Sibuns. For a hundred years it is the Southland, Otago, Canterbury, Nelson, Wellington, Manawatu, HBPB, Taranaki, Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Counties, Auckland and Northland Sibuns who have made New Zealand swimming. When there was a meet to be organized the Sibuns did it. When there was money to be raised the Sibuns arranged a sausage sizzle or applied for approval to run a raffle. When there was a prize-giving to be planned the Sibuns sent out the invitations and hired the hall. When the Annual Meeting was due the Sibuns prepared the accounts and wrote the minutes. Best of all the Sibuns did it for the love of the sport.

The Sibuns built New Zealand swimming. And they built it without a flash Antares Place office, without one hundred thousand dollar salaries, without corporate SUV motorcars and without “executive spreadsheets” to plan their “corporate strategy” “going forward”. What annoys me more than you can imagine is the feeling that the occupants of Antares Place are living their bloated lifestyle on a hundred years of Sibun toil. What upsets me even more is to go to a Counties meet and watch the Sibuns at work and know that Antares Place offers nothing but ridicule for their effort.

You don’t believe me? Let me tell you about Brian Palmer when he was Executive Director of Swimming Auckland. One evening, after I’d spent the day at the Counties Championships, Brian called. When he heard I’d been at the meet, in his most condescending, self-important voice, he said, “Oh and what’s life like in the provinces?” And that’s pretty typical of the Antares Place “pink socks and white shoes” set. Certainly I have as much admiration for all the New Zealand’s Sibuns as I have disgust for the Johns and Francis crew.

Besides, I know what the Regional Sibuns do. I can see it in the meets, in the fundraising and in the grass roots administration. What happens in Antares Place – I have no idea. I’d put a dollar on the fact that if Antares Place disappeared none of us would notice the difference. A couple of Sibuns could do whatever it is Antares Place do better and at a million dollars a year less cost.

I especially enjoy the traditions preserved at the Counties Meet. Things like the march-past of competitors before the meet begins. This year it was particularly colourful. A team from Tonga saw to that. Not every meet will benefit from these traditions. At West Wave a team march past would look as fake as all can be. The putrid atmosphere at West Wave contaminates everything that’s healthy and good. At Counties however these things are all excellent. Why – because they are not fake. They are genuine and sincere. They make for a great day out.

This year I was pleased to see that the Counties appeal is spreading. In previous years teams from Counties and Waikato have made up the bulk of the competition. This year, in addition to the Tongan team and the normal Waikato teams, there was a healthy number of swimmers from Auckland’s United club. The word is getting out. Good things are happening in Counties.

Here, for example, are half a dozen things that Counties does better than Auckland – things that make all the difference in the world.

  1. In the open grass spaces around the pool young swimmers can play and enjoy the time between races. Who knew, for example, how well HPK swim caps can perform as Frisbees or that two old tyres make perfect bowling balls.
  2. The officials are miles more friendlily.
  3. The food provided to officials is better – also by miles.
  4. The music is better. Spectators and swimmers even sing along – Poi E, Sweet Caroline, Waltzing Matilda, the Beatles.
  5. Buying a cup of coffee takes about half an hour less time. Oh, and the coffee is better
  6. Swimmers, spectators, coaches and officials can get in and out of the same bloody door.

So how did Eyad get on? Not as well as in the Anthony Mosse meet last weekend is the answer. I think we are going to have to do some work on his long course swimming. The transition from short to long course seems to be causing him a problem. Next weekend Eyad will travel to the far north to take part in the Bream Bay meet. There are some good swimmers coming out of Northland these days. Let’s hope they turn up and give Eyad a swim for his money.

In the meantime here are Eyad’s Counties results.

Event Personal Best Time Last Weekend Place
100 Free 54.10 58.38 5
50 Fly 26.25 27.66 1
50 Free 24.47 25.42 1
200 Free 2:06.23 2:10.21 5
50 Breast 32.71 34.02 3