There are occasions when plans work out the way they should. Everything fits into place. Sadly, when that happens, too many others want a slice of the action. And many who took part and deserve credit want to overindulge and turn their success into a personal flag tour along Queen Street – a process that usually involves a demand for more money. Then there are the journalists, Facebook experts and commentators desperate to polish their resume – obsessed with rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous. Here is what one of these Sucker Fish had to say.

“Straight after the race David Clareburt messaged me from Birmingham ” 3rd….. bloody rapt for him.”  

And then this ingratiating rubbish.

“Lewis Clareburt needs 50m lane space. Every day. Swimming NZ should be funding this and ensuring Clareburt’s coach is sufficiently remunerated and supported. If they can’t do this, or can’t be bothered getting a paying sponsor, then simply make some staff redundant cos swimmers and coaches are more important than staff working for a national federation.

Swimming NZ has 24 staff. I`d say that they don’t even need 18 – at one point a few years ago they only had 13. Give the money paid to extra staff to Clareburt, his coach Gary Hollywood, and coaches like Lars Humer and Mitch Nairn to support performing swimmers like Erika Fairweather and Andrew Jeffcoat (and Eve Thomas and Cameron Gray for that matter).”

We have witnessed a fair bit of that “hogging the limelight” since New Zealand swimming did well in Birmingham. Lewis Clareburt’s coach, Gary Hollywood was first up, best dressed, as usual. I want a 50m lane permanently dedicated to Lewis’ training. I want a budget of several million dollars to prepare Lewis for the Paris Olympic Games.

New Zealand has to be careful with these demands for preferential treatment. For twenty-five years we lived through a period of privilege and largesse. It did not work then, and it won’t work now. Sure, there should be some benefits for the job all eight swimmers did in Birmingham. But remember these eight are not the final word in New Zealand’s swimming talent. There are others. Swimming New Zealand (SNZ) has responsibility to them as well.

“Full many a gem of purest ray serene,

The dark unfathom’d caves of ocean bear:

Full many a flow’r is born to blush unseen,

And waste its sweetness on the desert air.”

A few years ago, SNZ undertook to decentralise its high-performance programme. Responsibility for the country’s fastest swimmers would rest with coaches, clubs and regions. If Birmingham was the test, the SNZ policy decision was a good one. SNZ’s job is to plan, organise and administer the sport. We ran into trouble when Jan Cameron decided SNZ should do Hollywood’s job.

And Hollywood needs to keep his nose out of SNZ’s business. We can do without Jan Cameron in reverse. Tongue, Johns and Francis are better at policy and administration than Hollywood. His job is to stand on the pool deck guiding his swimmers to swim faster. If he needs more pool space and more money, work it out with his club or region – not SNZ. If someone needs to talk to SNZ that’s the Chairman of the Wellington Region’s job – not Gary Hollywood. Hollywood’s efforts to set SNZ policy will take swimming back to a very dark place.

Of course, the critics are too stupid to understand the importance of maintaining a distinction between policy management and poolside coaching. In their rush to ingratiate themselves with the newly anointed, “Birmingham Eight” they will parrot Hollywood’s demands without a thought for the reactionary consequences. And so, the last ones to trust in a situation like this are Facebook experts. They are the weakest link.

A few years ago, someone in SNZ produced a memo that discussed the importance of the separation of powers. Tongue, Johns and Francis should restrict themselves to policy and administration. Just as important though – Hollywood and others must not interfere in areas that SNZ does better. Hollywood’s job is to coach. It would do the sport well if he focused on that task.

So be careful SNZ, do not be pushed about by Sport New Zealand and do not be pushed by, the enemy from within, coaches, with ideas above their station. Operational tasks are the responsibility of coaches. The decentralised policy SNZ chose three years ago is working better than any of us expected. Do not be distracted by coaches who have no idea how lucky they are or by Sport New Zealand’s obsession for power.

And finally, SNZ and Hollywood need to keep their feet on the ground. The Commonwealth Games’ results are good – a huge step forward. Those involved including SNZ can be truly proud of their progress.


The Commonwealth Games are not the Olympics. In fact, of the top 10 Olympic medal winning nations only 2 (Australia and the UK) swim at the Commonwealth Games. The 8 top ten nations who do not swim at the Commonwealth Games have won 62% of all the Olympic swimming gold medals. Of the 57 nations that have won Olympic medals 11 (19%) swim at the Commonwealth Games. The sport has a big task ahead converting Commonwealth performances into Olympic success. Swimming will achieve this best by holding firm to the decentralised policy followed for three years – and not by pandering to the Raelene Castle mob or a coach with an inflated opinion of his or her own importance. It is inappropriate to celebrate an ascent of Everest when you have only reached base camp two.

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