Swimming: Shake-up on cards for SNZ

By Andrew Alderson

Mike Byrne. Photo / APN
Mike Byrne. Photo / APN

Sparc could restructure Swimming New Zealand and remove key staff after the review of the sport is published later this month.

Former hockey Olympian Chris Ineson and his business consultancy Driving Forces have conducted an investigation into the sport's wellbeing following reports of disharmony at an athlete and administrative level.

The Herald on Sunday understands top SNZ staff could face further scrutiny once Ineson's review is released. No names have yet been made public but, among others, the review is likely to focus on the positions of SNZ chief executive Mike Byrne and performance and pathways general manager Jan Cameron.

Ineson interviewed coaches, athletes and officials involved in the day-to-day running of swimming as well as past athletes. He declined to comment on the pending report but is believed to have demanded solutions rather than just the airing of problems during the consultation process.

The key question is, what happens then? SNZ, through their board, will have the option to implement Ineson's recommendations voluntarily.

If no action is taken, Sparc have the power to withhold public funding from July.

Swimming sources say those recommendations are likely to involve changes at the top of SNZ.

SNZ were set to receive $1.65 million this year in the lead-up to the London Olympics. If that funding is cut prematurely, estimates suggest SNZ could survive three months before regional cash reserves would be tapped into. If that happened, one source said, "all hell would break loose in the provinces".

Byrne says he was satisfied with the review and remains committed to making the SNZ environment "the best". He says he is unaware of any disharmony.

"I like to think I have a reasonable amount of contact with athletes and an open-door policy to talk," he said. "That makes it difficult when I read stories saying the opposite. That is why the review is welcome. It has created an opportunity to clear the air.

"You have got to wonder the circumstances behind why these anonymous people react the way they do. Are they people at the forefront of our high performance policy or just disenchanted individuals who can't understand what I think are pretty thorough policies?"

One such policy is that athletes who say anything negative about SNZ will be in breach of their contracts.

"It's a nonsense to suggest those athletes would automatically not get selected in the team as a result," Byrne said. "The fact is there is no subjectiveness. If you do the right time, you're in."

Sparc wouldn't comment on their course of action until the review was released. The national sports funding body could implement what one source described as "a knife to the throat or an arm around-the-shoulder approach".

If they go for the former option, it seems logical there would be a restructure and redundancies of some top positions with a caretaker boss appointed to oversee the build-up to London. Alternatively, Sparc could maintain the status quo so swimmers already in the programme do not have their Olympic preparations disrupted further.

The sport's profile has not been helped with news coach Mark Regan was not selected to go to the world championships. Regan was originally hired as head coach but his position was scaled back after the Commonwealth Games.

Regan, who is believed to have had difficulty flexing any muscle at management level, was subsequently included in the squad a week after the story broke. It made sense, given he is the coach of two of the country's best swimmers - freestyler Lauren Boyle and breaststroker Glenn Snyders.

A dramatic shake-up of SNZ remains realistic, even less than 15 months out from the Olympics. With the world championships coming in July only three individual athletes - Lauren Boyle (400m and 800m freestyle), Melissa Ingram (200m backstroke) and Daniel Bell (100m backstroke) produced Olympic A qualifying times at the national championships.

- Herald on Sunday

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