Any doubts over Sparc's influence on sport in New Zealand and the lack of power of sport's governing bodies can be illustrated by the fallout from a recent Swimming New Zealand (SNZ) board meeting.
Swimming in New Zealand has fallen on tough times. Besieged recently by internal squabbling at an administrative and coaching level, the country's elite have not had a meaningful medal at an Olympic Games or world championships in 15 years. The scathing Ineson Report earlier this year led to argument, debate and eventually another review on the status of the sport.
The first draft of the latest review is due in April with the recommendations supposedly non-negotiable. That, combined with the elite team's Olympic performance, will determine whether swimming has a future as one of Sparc's targeted sports.
Sparc has generally claimed sports need the independence to work out their own problems despite offering a $6.6 million taxpayer investment in SNZ over this Olympic cycle.
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However, Sparc chief executive Peter Miskimmin indicated that approach was wearing thin in August when he told the Herald on Sunday: "We have been concerned but have two independent directors on the SNZ board in Nelson Cull and Kerry McDonald. Clearly we want to see sound governance and leadership again. We had heard people felt a sense of disquiet but hopefully having two directors there is protecting the government investment."
The first meeting of the SNZ board in the wake of the October 30 annual general meeting showed how much McDonald and Cull are prepared to weigh in and raises questions about the board's autonomy.
Sparc has no voting rights but further dissatisfaction with SNZ's leadership showed they still have muscle. It came when new SNZ chairman Ross Butler, who was not present at the most recent board meeting because he was away in Singapore, narrowly avoid being voted out as an appointed director.
The SNZ board consists of six directors elected at the AGM. They can appoint two further directors - commonly referred to as independents - to the board. Butler and Jane Wrightson put forward their names for further terms on the board as independents until next year's AGM. Their re-appointments were rejected by a 4:3 vote.
At that point McDonald and Cull joined the three who voted for the return of Butler and Wrightson and exited the meeting. It left the board incapable of continuing without the requisite quorum of 60 per cent. Cull is alleged to have returned later. He told the remaining four board members they needed to change their vote or the Sparc advisors would leave and the sport would be reduced to further dysfunctional depths. The Sparc advisors were apparently concerned consequences of the previous vote could result in further media criticism of the sport. Consequently three of those who voted against the return of Butler and Wrightson reverted their decision; one board member remained against. The decision to repeal the initial vote underlines how much influence Sparc has over swimming's sovereignty. McDonald and Cull have a brief to maintain the status quo where possible. This precedent suggests they have the power to continue doing it. Sparc's involvement in the latest review of the sport - including paying for it - guarantees the sport $1.65 million high performance investment in Olympic year. The caveat is any recommendations from this latest review must be accepted. The review includes an eight-person working committee who report to a four-person steering committee which includes Butler.
The shame of such squabbling is that the country's high performance swimmers have made reasonable progress since reaching four finals at the world championships. The group has an altitude camp at Flagstaff, Arizona in December as part of a more cohesive strategy to try to break their medal drought at London.