Archive for May, 2022


Friday, May 27th, 2022

This post is the final in a Swimwatch series that addresses three changes required to eliminate failed Sport NZ policies.

1. Reject the policy of centralised training.

2. Restore each sport’s democratic institutions.

3. Increase and modify the financial support paid to athletes.

This post will discuss – Increasing and modifying the financial support paid to athletes.

Sports that have accepted centralised training, that have agreed to have Sport NZ appointees on their Boards and that welcome Sport NZ’s management direction receive a huge percentage of their funding from the “state”. Canoe Racing NZ relies on Raelene Castle for 87% of its income.

The important question is how much of this money is paid to the athletes? Paid to athletes in a way that they can spend it, paying their rent, or buying a car, or ordering scrambled eggs on hash browns at the Wholefood Café. Not much is the answer. For example, in 2021 Swimming New Zealand’s total income was $3,599,420. Of this $2,454,469 (68%) was spent on administration, $910,414 (25%) was spent on national swimming events, $97,551 (3%) was profit and only $136,986 (4%) was paid to the swimmers. Another way of putting that is that 96% of swimming’s income went to everything apart from the swimmers.

In saying that, I am not having a crack at Swimming NZ. That pattern of spending has become the norm in New Zealand sport. That’s the way things are done in Castle’s empire. And it must stop. Athletes are little more than children working in coal mines in 18th century England or blacks picking cotton in America’s southern states. The recent report into the Gloriavale Community in New Zealand said young people working for nothing should have been paid as employees. The report’s authors should have investigated a larger and equally coercive Gloriavale – Castle’s Sport NZ. A handout of 4% is woefully inadequate. Athletes can’t feed themselves, heat their bed-sits and get to training on that pittance.

Money problems cause depression and yet Castle seems content to recruit slave labour and demand athletes act like “professionals”. The paradox is beyond belief. So, what needs to be done to change the financial abuse of athletes? Set out below are three recommendations that should have been included in the recent cycling report.

Athletes recruited into a national training program, no matter where they live or who their coach is, must immediately be paid the legislated minimum wage of $16.96 an hour for 40 hours a week – $678.40. After six months this must automatically increase to $21.20 per hour, $848.00 per week. These are the minimum wages paid to “normal” workers. Why should athletes be treated worse? They work a bloody sight harder than most of us in “normal” jobs. There is plenty of money. All we require is a new distribution.

Athletes must be employees, not self-employed contractors. And as employees, athletes need to be protected by the mass of legislation that protects and controls employment. For example, here are key Acts that Sport NZ currently ignores but must recognize if it is to join the ranks of civilized commerce.

  • The Employment Relations Act 2020 – Provides a legal backdrop for relationships between athletes, sports and unions.
  • Holidays Act 2003 – Provides minimum rights to annual leave, sick leave and bereavement leave.
  • Minimum Wage Act 1983 – Provides for a minimum wage.
  • Parental Leave and Employment Protection Act 1987 – Provides for the right to paid and unpaid parental leave.
  • Equal Pay Act 1972 – Prohibits gender discrimination in the pay rate of athletes.
  • Protected Disclosures Act 2000 – Protects athletes who disclose information about wrongdoing committed by their NSO. 
  • Trade Unions Act 1908 – Protects the formation of Trade Unions.
  • Tax Administration Act 1994 – Lays out the rules for PAYE. 
  • KiwiSaver Act 2006 – Contains the rules of the scheme.

In other words, athletes paid an income by a NSO must employ the athlete and comply with the legislation applicable to employers. Athletes are entitled to be paid a living wage, have children, save for their retirement, have PAYE deducted, be represented by a trade union, have paid holidays and be paid equally irrespective of their gender. Sounds obvious – but it’s not what’s happening now. If Castle wants to be a boss, she should observe bosses’ rules and not act like some 2022 slave master.

Athletes need an active trade union. The Castle gang have lived off the toil of athletes for far too long. They are not going to relinquish their privileges without a fight.

The current NZ Athletes Federation led by Rob Nichol is not up to the task. If it was, they would not have allowed the current mess to fester for quarter of a century. No, Nichol is too cosy, cosy with rugby, cricket and netball to do the job needed in general sport. What is needed is a new Union to cover athletes in sports run as subsidiaries of Sport NZ – swimming, athletics, canoe racing, cycling, rowing, tennis, sailing, surf lifesaving, surfing, squash, triathlon and others that I have missed.

The new union, needs to be led by a tough, old fashioned trade unionist – an Arthur Scargill, remember him? He took on Margret Thatcher in the British coal miner’s strike. The guy who said, “What you need is direct action. The sooner people understand that the sooner we’ll begin to change things.” The best example in New Zealand of a guy who would sort out Castle, is Roger Middlemass. Nichol is a cream sponge compared to Roger. Roger led the Meat Worker’s Union for years and is as sharp as a tack and as tough as an old boot. More than up to the task of putting Castle in her place. Capable of taking the New Zealand team out on strike a week before the Olympic Games if he thought it would save an athlete’s life.

I delt with Roger in the meat industry. I liked the guy. He is what sport and those who participate need, a union organiser capable of:

  • Improving wages and working conditions for athletes.
  • Replacing managerial unilateral actions by mutually agreed actions.

To achieve these objectives, a trade union would perform the following functions relating to athletes, sport and society.


Provide safeguards against unfair management practices related to athletes.

Ensure healthy and safe working conditions.

Enhance pay associated with work performance.

Ensure a better standard of living by assisting sports provide social services – health, housing, education, recreation and widening the scope of social security.

Encourage athletes’ participation in the management of sport.

Raise the status of athletes in sport and in society.

Provide counselling to members


Lay down work rules, quantitatively and qualitatively, in consultation with coaches.

Help sports maintain discipline and redress grievances.

Improve communication between management and athletes.

Impress upon sport the need for a reformative, and not punitive, approach towards athletes.

Pressure sports to adopt fair practices for athletes.


Help athletes of unorganized sports to organize.

Ensure government policies are consistent with the goals of sport.

That’s the specification. Now we need Roger Middlemass.


Wednesday, May 25th, 2022

This post is the second in a Swimwatch series that addresses three changes required to eliminate failed Sport NZ policies.

  1. Reject the policy of centralised training.
  2. Restore each sport’s democratic institutions.
  3. Increase and modify the financial support paid to athletes.

The post will discuss – Restoring each sport’s democratic institutions.

The most important change that must occur in sport is restoring each sport’s democratic institutions. Miskimmin made controlling the Board a condition for sports wanting to receive “his” money. And he had a good reason. If Sport NZ controlled the Board everything else would fall into place. Miskimmin could employ athletes as slave labour. He could impose centralised training. Anything else he wanted was simple. Just order his appointees and it would be done. And that is exactly what happened.

Miskimmin did away with tiresome democracy. In its place he put a personal autocracy with him – and now Castle – in charge. It is not without reason that this critical change is not mentioned in the recent cycling report. Castle knows that if she retains control of the Board nothing else matters – nothing changes. Reports can recommend the employment of psychologists and experts in women’s affairs and transformational directors, but once the current hoo-ha dies down, once Olivia Podmore’s death fades, once winter has passed, as long as Castle controls the Board, her power and her diseased influence will remain. That is why Castle sat smugly through the presentation of the cycling report. The feature that gave her power, had escaped untouched. And that is why changing the Boards of sport is fundamental to reform. This is what needs to be done.

  1. A new constitution needs to be written in which the Board and a non-voting President are elected annually by the membership – NOT by the delegates at an AGM but by the full membership. For example, Swimming NZ usually divides its membership into the following categories – competitive swimmers, club swimmers, officials, life members and administrators. Everyone who pays a membership fee, gets a vote. In 2021 approximately 4500 Swimming NZ members would be eligible to vote.
  2. Members 16 and over would vote on their own behalf. The parent of members under 16 would vote on behalf of those members. A family could have as many votes as it has members in the sport.     
  3. Each year ballot papers would be emailed or posted to every member. Voting would be by mail or email or in person at the sport’s head office.
  4. The Board would have six members who each year would elect a chairman.
  5. The tenure of each Board member would be for two years when the member must stand again for election. There would be no limit on the number of times a Board member could stand for re-election.
  6. The new Board would assume its position at the conclusion of each AGM.
  7. If the Board decided outside expertise was required, up to two and only two additional Board members with full voting rights could be appointed. Only the Board could make an outside expert appointment.
  8. Without exception Sport NZ could not recommend, nominate or appoint an outside member to the Board. No employee or member of Sport NZ could stand for election or be appointed to the Board of any sport.
  9. Employees of the sport (the CEO, for example) could be elected to the Board or brought onto the Board as an outside expert.

So, there you have it – a democratic Board. The only anti-democratic feature is the exclusion of anyone involved in Sport NZ. There are two reasons for that. One, for twenty years Sport NZ has shown itself to be unfit to govern. Two, because the relationship between Sport NZ’s financial interest and good management is broken beyond repair – often referred to as money v welfare.   

So, why is democracy important?

  • Protection

Sports need Boards that are acutely responsive to the membership. When, and only when, power comes from the people (the members) will that be the case. Significantly, in a democracy, rules come from the people not the state, in the form of Sport NZ. For example, who said Aimee Fisher could not go to the Olympic Games unless she was a member of canoeing’s centralised program? Sport NZ said it. In a democracy Aimee Fisher would have been on the aeroplane to Tokyo.

  • Reduce Exploitation

A democratic constitution ensures that no single body such as Sport NZ can assume supreme power. It challenges the Board to represent all members so that everyone receives an equal opportunity to pursue their dreams. In my view, Olivia Podmore would be alive if cycling had been at all democratic.

  • Performance

Democracy grants the freedom to look for different clubs, coaches, training methods and places to live. The choice remains with the athlete. That is why diversified democracies (for example USA swimming) usually perform better in sport.

  • Avoids Centralised Power

Voters can control their destiny by changing the entire Board every year. There is no centralised power (Sport NZ) that can dictate what a sport can or cannot do.

  • Less Conflict

Democracy allows each member to pursue their dreams, working to mould the sport in a vision that meets their expectations. There is more loyalty in a democracy. What Sport NZ tried to dictate, democratic sports achieve by choice.

  • Consensus

The democratic process encourages the Board to combine the different needs of competing groups into a coherent policy that protects the needs of everyone. The interests of each segment of the sport can receive the protection they need while providing a higher level of accountability for the Board’s decisions.

This post is titled, “The Greatest of These”. And that is because of all the reforms needed in sport this change really is the most important. While we live in a Sport NZ autocracy every reform is merely a band aid on a broken leg. The surgery required to repair the break will only be found in a hospital called democracy.


Monday, May 23rd, 2022

The final Swimwatch post on the report into Cycling New Zealand (CNZ) recommended three steps that would reduce the welfare crisis afflicting sport in New Zealand and would also improve our international results. The three steps were:

  1. Reject the policy of centralised training.
  2. Increase and modify the financial support paid to athletes.
  3. Restore each sport’s democratic institutions.

The next three Swimwatch posts will look at each step and explain the reason for the recommendation. Today’s post will address the policy of centralised training.  

Reject the policy of centralised training.

Four words explain the reason for rejecting the policy of centralised training – it does not work. I have no idea what made Peter Miskimmin think he could impose a policy on New Zealand that the Soviets tried and failed to make work. But that is what Miskimmin did. An athlete welfare crisis, culminating in the death of Olivia Podmore, is its most obvious achievement.

Remember too when the Australians tried to enforce centralisation through their Canberra Institute of Sport. Pretty soon they found that was a disaster and reverted to the decentralised training that had served them well in the past.

And finally in the best example of all, look at what happened to swimming in New Zealand. Jan Cameron and Peter Miskimmin forced swimming to adopt a centralised policy. A pool was built, coaches were hired, and swimmers were lured from their homes to the “state” training centre. International success was sold as the inevitable prize.

For 20 years Swimming New Zealand tried to make centralised training work. Sport NZ handed Swimming New Zealand $31,547,603, so there was plenty of taxpayer’s money. And the result was no Olympic medals and a competitive membership decline of over 30%. $31.5 million for nothing.  

Do not blame Swimming New Zealand for the wasted $31.5 million. Like the Soviet Union, like Australia, Swimming New Zealand were sent on a fool’s errand. Miskimmin should be, but won’t be, held accountable for wasting $31.5 million and the death of a fine cyclist. In my opinion, his centralised policy caused both.         

And so, I think we have established that centralised training does not work. The next question is – why? There are many answers. Here are two of the more important:

1. In individual sport it is impossible for one coach to coach all the country’s best swimmers or athletes. In all coach/athlete relationships, personality and methods are important.

For example, Arch Jelley and Arthur Lydiard employ a similar coaching philosophy. But they have very different personalities. My wife, Alison would have lasted about five minutes with Arthur but got on supremely well with Arch. That wasn’t anyone’s fault. But it is one reason centralised training does not work. Athletes must have the freedom to select a coach they get along with.  

Similarly, methods can be different. Dave Salo in Los Angeles has been successful with a sprint-based training programme. Mark Schubert has had equal success with distance-based training. Paul Kent at Waitakere is a Dave Salo type coach. Duncan Laing was a New Zealand Mark Schubert. Both work, neither is right or wrong. But certainly, athletes find they respond to and improve using one or the other.

Forcing an athlete who prefers sprint training to accept a Jelley/Lydiard program is doomed from the start. Forcing an athlete who prefers a distance program to accept Kent’s sprint program is equally doomed. Again, both work, neither is right or wrong. But certainly, athletes find they respond to and improve using one or the other.

2. Centralised training cannot accommodate that flexibility, cannot provide a program that suits every good swimmer. Forcing the athlete to fit into a Miskimmin bureaucratic mould distorts the athlete/coach relationship. The athlete’s coach and his or her methods, must accommodate the athlete’s preferences. It is NOT the athletes’ responsibility to accommodate an environment imposed on them by Miskimmin, Castle or some NSO.  

And yet for 20 years and at a cost of $31.5 million that is what Sport NZ, Swimming New Zealand and Miskimmin tried to do. Remember when Lauren Boyle left the Swimming New Zealand centralised program because the coach and the training she was being given were not right for her. The very nature of centralised training and its failure to accommodate the athlete but to compel the athlete to accept “state” imposed training, inevitably causes stress, failure and in cycling – death. Whoever invented New Zealand’s centralised training structure clearly had no idea of the importance of athlete choice.  

Centralised training means athletes are dragged away from their homes, their mates, their own beds and forced to live in the exorbitantly high rental areas of Auckland’s North Shore or Cambridge. A rent-free family home is replaced by an expensive, pokey bed-sit. Mum’s dinner at night becomes McDonald’s on the way home from training.

A coach who has known me all my swimming life, who knows my mum and dad, who knows my boyfriend or girlfriend is replaced by someone I don’t know and clearly sees me as a pawn in his or her ambition to earn more of Sport NZ’s money. A familiar welcome from my home coach and training mates is replaced by, am I wearing the right label, are the elites laughing at my old Datsun, have I understood my new psychologist, does my new life-coach understand I will inherit 1000 acres of Marlborough vineyards one day, why does my new physiotherapist say my back needs straightening when I feel just fine and why does that woman from Sport NZ always ask about how I feel “as a woman” when I’ve never thought about that before? Centralised training is just asking for trouble.     

Remember the very good Wairarapa breaststroke swimmer who was dragged away from her Greytown home to swim in the centralised program. For all the reasons I have mentioned the move failed. They said she wasn’t tough enough. That was never true.

Remember the fantastic backstroke swimmer from Poverty Bay that came to Auckland, broke a New Zealand record (13 years ago in 1.00.22), got a medal in the Pan Pacific Games and went back to Poverty Bay. I don’t blame her a bit. I know where I’d rather live.

Remember the North Island breaststroke swimmer that came to the centralised programme, only to be assaulted by her Auckland billet.

How an “Olivia Podmore” event never happened in swimming is sheer good luck. The centralised training system lends itself to welfare problems. From a sport point of view – it does not work.    


Saturday, May 21st, 2022

In this final post on the recent report into Cycling New Zealand (CNZ) I will address the question of medals and money V athlete welfare. This argument has been made many times in relation to New Zealand sport. The allegation is that because Sport NZ links Olympic medal success to the amount of their funding, New Zealand sports push athletes over the edge. Supporters of this view link the death of Olivia Podmore to the obsession for medals and money. Her welfare was sacrificed so that others could live like kings on the taxpayer’s dime.

For example, TV1 News recently reported that, The relentless pursuit for medals in high performance sports in New Zealand could be a big contributor to the issues appearing around athlete welfare. High performance sports in New Zealand ‘consumed’ by medal expectations, leading to issues in athlete welfare – that’s the opinion of NZ Athletes Federation chairman Rob Nichol”.  

There is a certain amount of truth to that argument. Sport NZ do link medals to money in an obvious and rather “back-street-loan-shark” sort of way. There is no loyalty when Sport NZ looks bad. Between 2014 and 2021 Swimming New Zealand (SNZ) won nothing at the Olympic Games and competitive membership dropped by 28% from 6359 in 2014 to 4553 in 2021.

Sport NZ’s funding reflected the sport’s barren performance. In 2014 Sport NZ paid SNZ for the centralised training program, $2,207,375. By 2021 that funding had fallen off a cliff to $829,500 – a drop of 62%. When the tough get going Sport NZ is out of there.

Bad coaches and administrators are affected by the spectre of reduced funding and make bad decisions – like the CNZ payment of bribes and the “illegal” swapping of riders at the Olympic Games. Like SNZ’s decision to appoint and then abandon Gary Hurring and Donna Bouzaid. Like the National Coach verbally abusing 15-year-old Jane Copland in a Sydney Hotel. Like the way Alan Thompson has been treated by Canoe Racing NZ.

However, Sport NZ’s bad behaviour is no excuse for these examples of treachery. Sport NZ could offer coaches like Laing, Jelley, Lydiard, Tonks, Thompson, Hurring or me any amount of their money and it would not alter our training or behaviour one millimetre. Good coaching cannot be bought or sold by Sport NZ’s money. Our loyalty to our athletes far exceeds the contents of Castle’s cheque book.

Bad decisions made to secure Sport NZ’s money are made by weak, bad people – not because of the link Sport NZ makes between Olympic medals and funding. Just because Sport NZ tries to buy medals and people does not mean coaches and administrators must become as bad as those who set the honey trap. The right thing to do by those that we coach is the right thing to do irrespective of the loan sharks working for Sport NZ. The problem at CNZ was those receiving the cash became as bad as those handing it out.

There is a solution. It comes in three steps. All of which have been promoted by this blog on several occasions.

  1. One: reject the policy of centralised training. Return to a decentralised model that allows athletes to choose their location and their coach. In the past I have called this – “to sleep in their own bed at night.” Do not make Sport NZ’s financial support dependant on being attached to a centralised facility and coach. In the two years since swimming has changed back to a decentralised structure the benefits have been huge – in terms of both performance and welfare. We have an example of a sport that has done the right thing – and it’s working brilliantly.
  2. Two: increase the financial support paid to athletes to the minimum wage based on a collective contract and an independent athlete’s union.  
  3. Three: restore each sport’s democratic institutions. Clip Castle’s autocratic wings. All Board members should be democratically elected. That change puts a ring fence around the athlete of people responsible to the membership for their position on the Board. The conflict of interest between appointed members whose current loyalty is compromised by their allegiance to Sport NZ disappears. Athletes are protected by bringing democracy back to NSOs. Castle is returned to her job of handing out money – period. The function of running New Zealand sport is removed from Sport NZ and returned to the membership. If a sport needs imported expertise the selection should be done by a democratic Board NOT the Castle clan. Step three is of vital importance. Do it now. Only when Sport NZ show a tangible readiness to reduce their direct power, will I believe there is a willingness to change the environment that killed Olivia Podmore.  

Implement these three steps and the current emphasis on having sport’s psychologists on call 24/7 will reduce dramatically. TV1 News told me last week that Eliza McCartney has a team of eleven people guiding her training. No wonder the athlete is struggling. All eleven of her experts will find a “lamp post to pee on”. How McCartney has done as well as she has is a wonder to me.

The purpose of the reforms suggested here is to reduce the need for all that stress management spending. A happy athlete does not need it. Peter Snell had Lydiard alone. Loader had Laing alone. Walker had Jelley alone. Marise Chamberlain, Lorraine Moller, Anne Audain, Yvette Williams and my wife, Alison seemed to be able to win championships and break national records without eleven hangers on. A happy, independent athlete who has the freedom to choose their own help, to make their own decisions – wins. Medals, welfare and money can coexist.


Thursday, May 19th, 2022

Two events occurred today that appear to have nothing in common. First, Mark Reason wrote an article for the news website, Stuff, in which he tore into the decision to appoint Brendon McCullum as coach of the England cricket test team. And second Eyad left Auckland on an Emirates 777-300 ER to swim in the Mare Nostrum series and the Budapest World Championships.

To appreciate the link between those events, let’s first consider each separately. Reason’s article is mean and nasty. He rips into McCullum’s record as a “short-form” coach. He pours scorn over the English decision to make the appointment. He highlights McCullum’s lack of experience in coaching test cricket. And, because McCullum is going to coach England against New Zealand, Reason plays the betrayal card. Strangely enough Reason ignores the fact that England’s captain, Ben Stokes, is also a New Zealander. How come he escaped the treason label?

It is Russell Coutts all over again. None of it deserves to be treated as serious sporting opinion. It is mean, nasty, noxious, vulgar and wrong. Whether it reflects the character of its author I do not know. But wherever the text came from, it does nothing to advance sport. Everything that sport should not be, everything players should avoid is highlighted by the content of this piece. It is full of literary head-high tackles, eye gouging, scrotum grasping and racial slurs. It is disgusting. I am nauseated Stuff decided to publish the rubbish. I’d have asked Reason to pack his cardboard carton and leave the building.

Like the Brad Butterworth and Russell Coutts’ case, we are talking about international sport. People play and coach for different countries. I’ve coached representatives of five countries, New Zealand, the UK, the Virgin Islands, the USA and Saudi Arabia. That does not make me any less proud of being a New Zealander. Coaching is my job.

Joseph coaches Australia. Crowley coaches Italy. Schmidt coached Ireland. Gatland coached Wales and the Lions. Deans coached Australia. Henry also coached Wales. Lam is coaching Bristol. Tonks is coaching rowing in Canada. Grace coached cycling in New Zealand, France and the UK. Lydiard coached in New Zealand, Mexico and Finland. Jelley helped New Zealand and American mile champions. If Reason is going to jump all over New Zealanders who have coached other nationalities, the list is going to be a long one.

And I tell you what, every one of those coaches has or had more New Zealand blood pumping through their veins than Mark Reason. Do not accuse us of betrayal. Reason is a whinging pom and it shows.

And then there is Eyad leaving for the Mare Nostrum series and the swimming World Championships. It is his first trip to Europe. As I write this post he has taken off from Auckland Airport and is currently heading north west up the coast of Northland at 28,000ft and at 774kms an hour. It is important he adopts a professional sportsman’s attitude. He cannot be part of any “gee-whiz, I’m excited to be on an airplane”. He is a professional athlete with a job of work to do.

His degree of professionalism will determine his attitude to events that occur and to how well he swims. Small-minded pettiness and primary school excitement have no place in the world of professional sport. For someone not all that experienced in international sport I am impressed with how quickly Eyad has adapted to his new role – calm and understated, as he should be.

Which brings me back to the link between these two events. Quite simply one shows how those involved in sport should not behave and the other is an example of how things should be done. I have a fair idea which camp Brendon McCullum is in.  

Because of the popularity of his employer Mark Reason has a loud voice. Unlike Eyad some athletes read Reason’s small-minded bigotry and take it on board as the way to behave. To that extent Reason makes New Zealand success at international sport ever more difficult. He promotes a bad attitude. Perhaps the MCC sent Reason to the other side of the world to make Brendon MCullum’s new job that little bit easier.

In the meantime, I will keep you up to date with Eyad’s swimming as he competes in Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Canet en Roussillon and Budapest.