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Rowing: Peacemaker Waddell?

Rob Waddell could act as peace-broker. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Rob Waddell could act as peace-broker. Photo / Brett Phibbs

New Zealand Olympic Committee chef de mission Rob Waddell has offered to help "if required and relevant" in the protracted stand-off between Rowing New Zealand and estranged coach Dick Tonks.

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A resolution for the affected athletes, including London Games gold medallist Mahe Drysdale, is expected in the coming days as the negotiating parties return from holiday.

Drysdale's desire to get Tonks as a coach, and the world championship women's double as training partners, seems likely in preparation for the Rio Olympics.

Tonks was excommunicated from the programme when discovered coaching Chinese athletes on Lake Karapiro without consulting the governing body.

Drysdale, New Zealand Athletes Federation representatives Roger Mortimer and Heath Mills, and Rowing New Zealand chief executive Simon Peterson and high performance manager Alan Cotter sat around a table before Christmas attempting to find common ground.

The information is conveyed via Mortimer and Drysdale back to Tonks.

Drysdale and a likely women's double sculls combination of either Zoe Stevenson, Eve Macfarlane or Fiona Bourke are expected to be coached by Tonks. The former Rowing New Zealand coach would be paid as an independent contractor outside the high performance programme.

Waddell strikes as a perfect candidate to broker peace.

On the back of two world championships, he was coached by Tonks to win Olympic gold at Sydney in 2000, so knows the man's idiosyncracies as well as any athlete. As chef de mission, it is also in his interests to provide the best working environment for Kiwi athletes.

Waddell was also a participant in one of the greatest duels on New Zealand water when challenging for the Beijing Olympic single sculls berth against Drysdale in 2008.

When approached by the Herald on Sunday, Waddell responded: "This obviously is an employment issue within Rowing New Zealand and we appreciate they are going through a process. We have been in contact with both parties and have offered to assist if required and relevant to [the] NZOC.

" ... it is a sensitive process and we are wanting to see a positive outcome for the athletes."

His last sentence cuts to the crux of the issue. Athlete wellbeing must take priority. Rowing New Zealand will need to yield on principles which dictate they are a centralised programme with no room for outsiders. Flexibility must be added to a recipe which has delivered 68 Olympic or world championship medals since the Athens Games in 2004.

Before Christmas, Peterson confirmed Tonks was not working in the programme.

"Our non-negotiable is having an employee [Tonks] coaching Chinese and New Zealand crews simultaneously. But we're driven to work for our athletes, including an Olympic champion."

The likelihood is the two crews would disembark from the Karapiro high performance centre on their training rows and have Tonks join them in his training boat launched from a jetty further down the lake.

Rules of engagement also need to be established as to how Tonks liaises with his charges overseas in the Olympic build-up.

The unwanted alternative would be the allocation of a new coach. However, four others in the programme - Noel Donaldson, Calvin Ferguson, Gary Hay and Dave Thompson - coached crews to medals at the 2015 world champs.

- Herald on Sunday

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