Archive for the ‘ Training ’ Category

MEDALS V WELFARE

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.

THERE IS A LESSON HERE

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.  

BRING IN ANOTHER EXPERT

Wednesday, May 18th, 2022

Gee, you read some rubbish on the internet. For example, this has just appeared.   “Cycling NZ is a grubby organisation. Swimming NZ is no different – it’s just another member of the same family. Cycling NZ has lost its CEO, Swimming NZ will lose its in the next two years.”

Swimming New Zealand (SNZ) is not a “grubby organisation”. It may have been a few years ago with previous leaders. But through design or lack of money it has changed for the better. The atmosphere is night and day different. The dark, grubby hole SNZ entered on the 28 July 2012 is behind the sport. Today clubs and domestic coaches have been restored to their rightful importance. SNZ is controlling the environment in which we operate – not doing the operating for us. Gone are the succession of foreign administrators and SNZ coaches that told us how bad we were. Swimmers, coaches and administrators are happier controlling their own destiny. As night follows day good results are on their way. Just watch the Mare Nostrum and World Championship results. They may not be perfect but they will be another step forward. No, SNZ is far, far away from being a “grubby organisation”.

And then this, “Swimming NZ will lose its (CEO) in the next two years.” How does anyone know that? I have been a member of SNZ since 1952. That’s 70 years. There have been a couple of breaks in that time, when I was coaching in the UK and the USA. And sure, the CEO has changed several times in those 70 years. So, I guess Steve Johns will eventually move on as well. Nothing wrong with that. In fact, when he considers he’s done what he can, the right thing to do is to move on. It’s a decision for Johns – and Johns alone to make. And when he does, it will not reflect badly on him or the organisation. In fact, if he forced himself to stay – that would be bad. When the time is right, resignations and replacements are vital to a healthy organisation.

And now back to the Cycling New Zealand (CNZ) report.

All these reports focus on the sport involved. Whether it is canoeing, cycling, rowing, gymnastics or swimming the reports target the performance of individuals. He or she didn’t do this. He or she let us down. The issue that is always avoided is that “he or she” were operating in a centralised structure, pre-destined to fail.

Over and over again it happened in Swimming New Zealand (SNZ). The solution was always the same. Get a better coach. Get a better CEO – and all would be well. Inevitably the next foreigner would be imported until he or she would also fail, not because they were not good enough but because the Miskimmin/Castle structure made success impossible.

In 8 years, between 2012 and 2020, Swimming repeated this coaching revolving door cycle 10 times. That’s an average of 9.5 months per national coach. And people wondered why swimming couldn’t win anything.

Even Olivia Podmore’s parents have fallen for the same sleight of hand. In a recent interview Olivia’s mother told Stuff reporter Dana Johannsen:

“The team environment is much stronger with the arrival of a new coaching staff. “The new coach is really great and Livi would have responded so well to him. She would have thrived. It makes me sad to hear that because that is all she wanted – to be given a chance to thrive.”

The problem with that argument is that while Olivia may have thrived in the new coaching environment some other athlete could well and justifiably hate the way things have changed. The centralised structure is to blame. It is impossible for one coach to be all things to cycling’s 5000 members. Just as swimming found it impossible for one coach to please 5000 swimming members. Diversification is the only option. Then athletes have their own wide choice of clubs and coaches.

USA Swimming has operated a diversified structure since it began in 1888. After 134 years it’s hard to argue that hasn’t worked.

Incidentally in 2015 Sport New Zealand’s website said this about Cycling New Zealand (CNZ).

“CNZ is now also reaping the benefits of its new home in Cambridge. The synergies offered by this new facility are helping move the whole business forward. Sport NZ and High Performance Sport New Zealand continue to support and invest in the capability development of CNZ at governance and operational levels, as well as Cycling’s development and high performance work.”   

Six years later Olivia Podmore was dead. So much for Sport New Zealand’s “support” at “governance and operational levels as well as Cycling’s high performance work”. Surely that admission of participation in the management of CNZ must count as Sport New Zealand accepting its responsibility for Olivia Podmore’s death.

And finally, I got the following email today from a South Island reader who knows a fair bit about swimming, canoeing and cycling. Here is an edited version of what she said.

“I liked your column today. About 5 years ago I came to the same conclusion. We have a dictatorship by Sport NZ which is impossible to change because most clubs are apathetic or key people think they will get higher honours (so keep their heads down and act like good Germans during WWII) so getting a two thirds majority for constitutional change is impossible or even rolling the board is impossible because Sport NZ control 3 of the 7 directorships.

Canoeing restructured in the period just before Swimming NZ. Sport NZ took full control in 2010 but what it did in 2004-8 showed how they operate. Sport NZ in 2003-4 agreed to pay for a parttime administrator leading up to the Athens Games which they did. Then Sport NZ told Canoeing to keep the administrator on. The Canoeing Board asked Sport NZ who is going to pay her as Canoeing did not have the money. Miskimming categorically told Canoeing that Sport NZ would – 6 months later Canoeing had received nothing, 9 months later Canoeing was broke and let the administrator go.

In 2007 Sport NZ began to panic as Olympic medals were on the line. Sport NZ said they had just the person for the job as long as Canoeing restructured. Canoeing agreed, as the gun was pointed at its head. Sport NZ brought on Richard DeGroen, ex cricket and an accountant. He was great and soon realised Canoeing was broke and Sport NZ were arseholes. Richard was a sportsman at heart and an honest good bugger. Richard eventually told Sport NZ they knew nothing about sport in NZ and resigned.

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice you have chosen the side of the oppressor” Desmond Tutu.

This quote sums up our sports administrators and politicians who just want to get the money and appear in the limelight.”

So there you have it. The same pattern as Swimming New Zealand. The largess, the threats and then the forced restructure. That is how Miskimmin grew his empire into the beast that killed Olivia Podmore – and is eating New Zealand sport into a world of malfeasance.

THE HOVERING SPECTRE

Tuesday, May 17th, 2022

I see that Alexa Cook has reported on a National Party conference in Paraparaumu. According to her report, “the National Party is firing more shots at the Government over its spending ahead of the Budget being released on May 19.”

National brought out its big guns for the occasion. Luxon and the hovering spectre of Willis were both there. The report declares that “Willis delivered blows to the Finance Minister.”

In one of those blows Willis said, “Debt is now at 36 percent of GDP and is continuing to rise,” I have no idea where Willis gets her figures from. The best I can find is from the International Monetary Fund: World Economic Outlook Database – a pretty reliable source. This tells me that New Zealand’s 2022 debt to GDP is in fact 28.07% – who to believe, a pampered ex-Marsden posh school stereotype or the International Monetary Fund? Let me think for two seconds.

Her specious claim, of course, provides no context. She fails to mention that New Zealand has the 160th lowest ratio of debt to GDP in the world. Labour under Finance Minister, Grant Robertson, has put New Zealand into a far better position than countries like Japan (237%), the United States (106%), France (99%), Canada (88%), the UK (85%), Finland (60%), China (55%) and Switzerland (39%).

Missing that international context is a typical right wing political lie. A lie by omission, perhaps but a lie, nevertheless. I suspect Willis has trouble lying straight in bed. I have written before that Willis learned her bad behaviour at Marsden School and bit by bit examples of her schoolyard treachery are beginning to appear. Her description of the level of New Zealand’s debt sounds terrible until you understand that most of the world have double, treble or more, debt than we have.

And then Luxon is reported to have said, “We’ll abolish the Māori Health Authority.” That policy is straight, old-fashioned racism. It promotes attitudes that have no place in New Zealand. He has shown himself to be racist. Māori health statistics are a disgrace. A Ministry to address the problem is entirely appropriate – unless you happen to be a white National Party flunky or privileged Luxon and Willis set on wresting power from Jacinda at any cost.   

Do not trust the National gang. Whether it is promoting an $18,000 tax cut for himself, pitching for the early death of Māori or exaggerating to a point of deceit, New Zealand’s debt, Luxon and Willis will do anything for power. These two are no Keith Holyoake, no Jack Marshall, no Bill English not even a Simon Bridges. They were honourable men.  

Always remember Luxon spent 5 years working in Chicago. We can only hope the anti-black politics of that city are not being imported into New Zealand. Also remember that Loxon has a history of helping kill black people. While he was CEO of Air New Zealand, its contracting business unit, Gas Turbines, was assisting the  Saudi royal family’s naval vessels, blockade essential supplies like water, food and medical assistance from Yemen. Luxon did business with the people that killed, beheaded and dismembered journalist, Jamal Khashoggi. Luxon’s business helped starve to death Yemen’s black people.

The UN estimates that the conflict in Yemen caused over 377,000 deaths, with 60% of them the result of hunger, lack of healthcare and unsafe water – all the destitution Luxon’s company helped the Saudi’s deliver.

Luxon claimed to “have no recollection of it” and that “it might’ve post-dated my time.” If you believe that, I have a new bridge outside Ashburton to sell you. And if it is true, how incompetent is a CEO who does not know when his company is up to its eyeballs helping the Saudi navy deprive Yemen of food, water and medical supplies. Either Luxon lies or is incompetent or possibly both.

A country deserves the politicians it votes for. I do not think New Zealand has done anything to deserve a Luxon or his hovering spectre.   

WHAT THE INVESTIGATION MISSED

Sunday, May 15th, 2022

Sport New Zealand’s investigation into the structure of sport has been a stunning waste of time and money. Oh, it has suited the Castle gang perfectly. Attention has been focused on incompetents at Cycling New Zealand (CNZ). Sport New Zealand’s corruption has escaped scrutiny, yet again.

I know there will be readers saying, “There goes Wright again, using words like corruption to describe the wonderful people at Sport New Zealand. Look at all the money they hand out. They do not deserve a word like corrupt.”

Please, just give me a chance to tell you why. Because the structure of sport is founded on autocratic rule. Sport in New Zealand is not democratic – nothing like democratic. And in our society that is corrupt.

The previous CEO of Sport New Zealand, Peter Miskimmin, changed the Swimming New Zealand (SNZ) constitution. That happened at a Special General Meeting (SGM) held on 28 July 2012. To say it was a brutal blood bath would be an understatement.

The meeting began with an announcement that no media attendance would be allowed. These affairs were not for public scrutiny. If dark deeds were to be done, they would be done in secret.

A Miskimmin disciple called, Chris Moller then addressed the Meeting. He congratulated those able to see the future of the sport. That future turned out to be a decade of unparalleled misery and failure to perform.

Moller then called for the Auckland Board and its Chief Executive, who had opposed changing the constitution, to stand down. Members got the message. Do what you are told or get out. Dissent would be treated harshly in the new SNZ. The message of Tiananmen Square was not lost on Sport New Zealand.

And behind it all lay the unspoken spectre of accept a new constitution or say goodbye to future funding. Taxpayer’s money was used to extend Sport New Zealand’s power. The SGM chose the money and changed the constitution.

What’s so wrong with that, you might ask? Well, the new constitution changed swimming from a democracy, where the members elected their leaders, to an autocracy where effectively the CEO of Sport New Zealand appointed those who would rule the sport. The way Miskimmin did that was to alter the constitution. Three members of the governing Board would be elected and three would be appointed by Miskimmin. In the event of a tied Board vote the Chairman would have a second deciding vote – and the Chairman would also be decided by Miskimmin. SNZ became part of a Sport New Zealand autocracy.

Flushed with his success in swimming, Miskimmin went around New Zealand imposing the same constitutional dictatorship on Rowing, Canoeing, Cycling, Gymnastics and a dozen other sports. New Zealand sport became a huge, centralised Sport New Zealand dictatorship. Miskimmin had, and now Raelene Castle has, absolute, constitutional power to rule.

When the same thing happened in Putin’s Russia, or the Marco’s Philippines, or in Hong Kong we rushed to call Putin, Marcos and Xi, corrupt. They constitutionally changed their countries from democracies to dictatorships. Why then should Miskimmin and Castle escape the same label, when they have done the same thing to New Zealand sport.

Being a centralised dictatorship has allowed Miskimmin and Castle to impose their immorality and standards on the sports they rule. My argument has always been, the culture they allowed to fester, effectively killed Olivia Podmore – not the CNZ coach, or the CNZ CEO, but the culture, norms and money sanctioned by the supreme leaders, Miskimmin and Castle.

In swimming we still have a Board of six members, three appointed and three elected. The three appointed members are Andrew Kelleher, Margaret McKee and Donna Bridgeman. And it is time for them to go. If they want to sit on the SNZ Board let them stand for election like any other self-respecting New Zealander. If democracy is good enough to run the country, it’s good enough to run swimming. We do not need or want Sport New Zealand lackies telling us what to do – especially when they are associated with a culture that killed one of our best sportswomen.

It is off the subject, but Margaret McKee would be on the SNZ Board even if it was democratic. Talented and able, I’m surprised she agreed to participate in Miskimmin’s autocratic sham. She knows better than that.

The rot in New Zealand sport will not be fixed by the current worthless report. Why? Because the investigation chickened out of addressing the root cause of the problem. Democracy has been abandoned in the name of Sport New Zealand power. Like most similar regimes “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. After the Folau mess, I certainly would not trust Castle with my daughter’s swimming career. Aimee Fisher, Jessie Smith, Lauren Boyle and Glenn Snyders obviously came to the same conclusion. They left Sport New Zealand’s dangerously corrupt world and went off to do their own thing. Olivia Podmore realised the same thing but left it too late to get out. But is it likely Heron and Leberman would address that issue? Of course not. Not when the “Dear Leader” was paying their wages.

The next Swimwatch post will address a second fundamental issue ignored by this pathetically weak Heron/Leberman effort. Heron has tried to reform cycling twice without success. I thought university degrees specialised in developing analytical skills. In my opinion missing sports lack of democratic institutions is not the best advertisement for their Victoria and Massey University education.

PS – I see Dana Johannsen reports today that sports administrator, Kereyn Smith has been appointed, “transformational director” at CNZ, with High Performance Sport NZ to pick up the tab for Smith’s salary.

I have huge respect for Kereyn Smith. She is straight and honest. Her ego does not get in the way of making good decisions. But her new job is a lost cause. It is not CNZ that needs “transforming”. It was not SNZ that needed “transforming”. Sport New Zealand is the problem, and it is paying Smith’s wages.

When Kereyn Smith transforms New Zealand sport into a democracy again, where Boards are elected by the members and Castle is stripped of direct power then her appointment will have merit. She is the person to do it – but will she? Until then, Kereyn Smith has only been appointed by Castle to protect Castle. Another “look what I’ve done” sleight of hand.