Olympic great Sir Peter Snell says he is not sure the Sparc-led high performance system in New Zealand sport is the right way to go.

Sir Peter, speaking from his home in Texas, said the furore over the axing of canoeing coaches (and New Zealand's most prolific Olympic gold medallists) Ian Ferguson and Paul MacDonald "pressed my buttons" and he was sending them a message of support.

Snell tempered his remarks by emphasising he did not know all the "ins and outs" of the issue dividing canoeing, nor was he completely au fait with all that was happening in New Zealand sport.

"I know there will be things at play that I don't know about but in a way, this [Canoe Racing New Zealand ending their association with Ferguson and MacDonald] reminds me of what happened to our America's Cup team.

"We had a guy there who was on top of the game [Sir Russell Coutts] and won us the Cup. Then they said to him, 'Russell, you just drive the boat and we'll take care of business' and, when he jumped ship, they found it wasn't so easy to steer the boat.

"That's a bit of a stretch, maybe, but I remember the old way in New Zealand sport - like track and field, for example - that the administrators thought they were the most important people; that the sport couldn't exist without them. Nothing could be further from the truth.

"What seems to be happening these days is that there is much more of an emphasis on high performance management - but my belief is that has very little impact on what actually happens."

Snell noted Ferguson and MacDonald had been dumped in favour of a new direction that included more sports science.

"I would say I know as much about sports science as anyone as that is what I came over here to study. I have to say my thinking has changed a bit - it's not all about sports science.

"Look how pathetic the US is at middle distance [track]. They have all the talent, the best sports science and all those university athletes coming through - and they still can't produce a decent middle distance performer; they are screwing it up.

"In the same breath, you can't tell me that high performance management can take the credit for what New Zealand athletes like Valerie Adams and Nick Willis have done."

Rowing was New Zealand's top Sparc-funded sport, with a thriving success rate, but Snell noted the presence of coaches such as Dick Tonks.

"That's the thing that really makes the difference - iconic, driven coaches like Arthur Lydiard. You can't just dial up another coach.

"I hope this sort of thing isn't coming from what seems to be a new element in New Zealand sport which harks back to those old days - people being sticklers for the rules and athletes being told they have to do it this way or that way and, if they don't, it's the highway.

"I hope Sparc aren't being dictatorial... and I hope high performance managers don't think they are most important because they hold the purse strings.

"If people are going round with the Government's money and throwing their weight around and trying to control people in that way, well, I think that is a slippery slope.

"With people like Ian Ferguson, it doesn't matter if he or Paul MacDonald have screwed up - they should be treated with an enormous amount of respect because of what they have achieved."