COMMENT: The release of the Heron Report last Monday marked a turning point for high performance sport in New Zealand.
Most of the media attention was focused on poor behaviour, and understandably so. High performance sport is intense and comes with significant pressure, but there is absolutely no place for bullying.
Performance matters. So do people.
In response to the Heron Report, High Performance Sport New Zealand has drawn a line in the sand. There is absolutely no doubt we need to strike a better balance between winning on the world stage and the welfare of athletes, coaches and others working within the high performance system.
I believe athlete welfare can become New Zealand's competitive advantage - that athletes who are listened to, engaged with and operating in a positive environment can through this reach their potential.
There is, however, no quick fix. Nor do I believe it would be for HPSNZ to decide what one would be.
Instead we need to collaborate with sports, their athletes and coaches, and others such the New Zealand Olympic Committee, Paralympics NZ and the NZ Athletes Federation.
So where do we start?
Most of Michael Heron QC's recommendations, as they related to HPSNZ, will be addressed through what we call our 13 Point Plan - a project recently initiated by HPSNZ to evolve and strengthen New Zealand's high performance system.
Three of our 13 workstreams address the recommendations of Heron's report: Athlete welfare (including an athlete voice mechanism), a review of our strategy and investment model (how and on what terms we invest in athletes and sports on behalf of the Government), and a re-examination of our pinnacle event debrief process.
Each of these workstreams, and all others within the plan, will have project teams and terms of reference in place before the end of 2018.
Each project team will include HPSNZ staff together with representatives from partner organisations such as sports, the New Zealand Olympic Committee, Paralympics NZ and the NZ Athletes Federation.
This approach will take time, but it will also give us the type of response we need. Fit-for-purpose and right for New Zealand.
We also need to move at a speed that makes sense for sports.
Take funding. Most of our high performance investment is already set through to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games. There would be serious implications for sports and athletes if we were to effect change before then.
What we can - and will - do is review our funding model through the collaborative working group model of our 13 Point Plan. Any new way forward will then be announced ahead of Tokyo and take effect at the start of the Paris Olympic and Paralympic cycle.
Outside of the 13 Point Plan, HPSNZ and Sport NZ will work together on a reassessment of the business capability support we provide to sporting bodies. The cycling review, like the review conducted by NZ Football, showed a lack of organisational capability, particularly in human resources. That's something we can help sports to address.
HPSNZ and Sport NZ will also evaluate and, where required, update our policies and procedures in relation to four key areas identified by Heron: Athlete safeguarding, privacy, issue and risk escalation, and coach-athlete relationships. These will be policies that can also be implemented by sports.
I believe continuous improvement is critically important. I also think it's important to remember that our high performance system is still very young. While Darcy Hadfield won our first Olympic medal in 1920 (bronze in the men's single sculls), it was only in 2011 that HPSNZ was established as an organisation to lead the system.
Since then there has been tremendous success. New Zealand won 13 medals at the 2012 London Olympics. Four years later in Rio it was 18 - our best ever Olympic result. We've also had two straight Paralympics atop the per capital medal table.
The system is not broken. There has been much success and a lot to be proud of. That said, the system must evolve and mature.
The time for that is now.
We expect athletes to get better each year. Athletes can expect the same of HPSNZ, and of the system we lead.