Swimming: Get rid of negative culture at top, says SNZ critic

By David Leggat

A report, instigated by government funding agency Sparc, has hammered Swimming New Zealand for having a 'negative' and 'dysfunctional' high-performance culture. Photo / Getty Images
A report, instigated by government funding agency Sparc, has hammered Swimming New Zealand for having a 'negative' and 'dysfunctional' high-performance culture. Photo / Getty Images

Swimming has been jolted into action only 13 months out from the London Olympic Games.

A report, instigated by government funding agency Sparc, has hammered Swimming New Zealand for having a "negative" and "dysfunctional" high-performance culture.

The recommendations in the report by former hockey Olympian and New Zealand Sports Foundation chief executive Chris Ineson - all accepted by SNZ's board - include a review of the position of general manager pathways and performance, occupied by the sport's highest-profile person, Jan Cameron.

SNZ chairman Murray Coulter admitted he was surprised by some of the robust language used by Ineson, but had no argument with the thrust of the review.

"I like the recommendations. They make a lot of sense," he said last night.

"Now we've got a clear view of what we need to get on and do, and a direction, which is fantastic."

The report came out of an unsettling internal assessment after the Delhi Commonwealth Games last October.

It revealed deep divisions in, and unhappiness with, the HP programme, and followed a disappointing return of four silver medals and two bronze at that meet.

Some leading swimmers, such as Hayley Palmer, have opted out of the HP programme in favour of overseas coaching.

"That was the catalyst for why we are here," Coulter said. "We've known about it for some time. There were some areas that were warning bells, and we've been working with Sparc to address it ever since."

Ineson's report was partly based on interviews with 86 people from a cross-section of the swimming community. Sixty-nine per cent questioned the need for both Cameron's position and a head coach.

SNZ does not have a head coach, after Australian Mark Regan resigned following the Commonwealth Games.

He is now a head coach at the Millennium Institute on the North Shore, with responsibility for several swimmers heading for the world champs in Shanghai next month.

His relationship with Cameron has been combustible, but SNZ backs his capabilities.

"He's put people on podiums at the Olympics, world championships and [worked with] world record holders. We know he's got fantastic credentials, so we're keen to keep him involved in the programme," Coulter said.

Ninety-one per cent voiced concern about the HP environment; 83 per cent were critical of SNZ's leadership in three areas - the board, chief executive Mike Byrne and Cameron.

Ineson was unimpressed with the structural setup, which left the board out of touch with the HP programme.

The gist of that criticism was that the "dysfunctional environment at the HP centre had been festering for some time, it was 'public knowledge' and little or nothing had been done to rectify it".

Elite swimmers criticised the HP environment, with terms like "mistrust" and "lack of confidence" used.

Ineson's review represents a warning shot across the sport's bows. Sparc forked out $6 million for swimming between 2007-10. A further $825,000 has been spent in the first half of this year. Further funding is contingent on the recommendations in the report being implemented.

In the report SNZ says its projection for London is one medal and five finals with the note that if it is not achieved "it is likely to impact on the level of funding from Sparc".

On Sunday an HP committee, including former Olympic swimmer Alison Fitch, will start reviewing the structure and environment around the elite programme.

INESON REPORT

The key recommendations

* The establishment of a high-performance advisory committee.

* A review of Swimming New Zealand's high-performance structure at the Millennium Institute on the North Shore, including the position of general manager performance and pathways, occupied by high-profile coach Jan Cameron.

* Appointing a head coach, or alternatively an Olympic campaign director, through to next July-August's London Games.

* Ensuring the best high-performance coaches are in place to deliver success in London.

- NZ Herald

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