Scott Newman manages a stable of elite athletes, including Olympic bronze medalists Eliza McCartney and Tom Walsh. The former Athletics New Zealand boss says Australia is now looking to New Zealand's example for a winning formula.


What was your biggest challenge in seven years as chief executive of Athletics New Zealand?

I came at a time when the organisation was widely criticised by its membership. There were significant questions over what value it could provide and what direction it was heading. The club model survives on volunteers and I learned pretty early on that change would have to be generational. Building relationships and trust at the club and regional levels was crucial. Athletics, like a lot of sports, was very traditional and bound by strict rules. We had to change the organisation at a structural level to allow greater flexibility and make the sport more accessible.

2. How has athletics progressed in New Zealand in recent years?


With our population size, we could expect to create a superstar once every 10 years. To win four Olympic medals in athletics is absolutely incredible. Australia picked up only two and I think they're looking to us to see what we've been doing right. What's changed is we now have the structures in place to capture and develop our talent. Can we win four again? It's hard to know, the Olympics is so tough but I believe our potential is greater than it's ever been.

3. How did you come to be involved in sports management?

It grew out of a frustration with a lack of information as a young athlete. I won three national titles in triple jump and medals in the 110m hurdles. My coach at Wanganui Collegiate suggested I get involved. I started on the local athletics club committee, became regional secretary and went on to manage the national secondary school sports association.

4. You now manage a stable of seven elite athletes, including Eliza McCartney, how did that happen?

I started as a mentor for Jacko Gill, the young shot-putter. He'd thrown further than any other athlete his age in the history of the world. Athletics New Zealand's high performance director, Scott Goodman, asked me to help him make the transition to full-time senior athlete. All of the young people I manage have great family and sporting support. My job's removing all the clutter so they can get on with being athletes. I manage things like sponsorships, media interviews, public speaking and charity work.

5. Do you find it easier to negotiate sponsorship deals for some athletes than others?

There's a vast gap between those athletes able to attract commercial support and those who can't. Some are in the higher-profile, traditional sports. Second-tier sports will only have a decent profile in certain periods. Some athletes have an X-factor that is really down to personality and likeability. You can't manufacture an athlete's brand - it's who they are and how they interact with people. Eliza's reaction at the Olympics was so authentic. It's just how she really is. You can advise athletes on things they need to think twice about but you can't really change a person.

6. How do you decide which sponsorship deals to accept?

It comes down to who the athlete is and what they stand for. It can't be just about the money. Often the commercial opportunities come to us through an agency or marketing department looking for a person that fits their profile. The number of approaches we had for Eliza after the Olympics was extraordinary - I've lost count. I advise athletes to limit their sponsor numbers because there are obligations to meet and their supporters need to take priority. Eliza's key sponsors are Nike for her footwear and apparel; Anchor; and Beef and Lamb New Zealand, which sit comfortably with her focus on health and wellbeing. She's now doing work for Blueberries NZ purely because she loves blueberries and she's just done the Air New Zealand safety video.

7. What advice do you give athletes on social media?

Eliza manages it herself and does very well. She posts infrequently but tries to keep them meaningful. After the Olympics her numbers leapt from a few thousand followers to 51,000 on Instagram and 35,000 on Facebook globally. It comes down to personal choice for all my young athletes. Social media's part of their world but we talk about the need to be mindful about how they use it.

8. Does New Zealand spend enough on developing its up and coming athletes?

Development is a really tough challenge worldwide and no one's consistently solved it. You've obviously got to support your top athletes because they create the profile for the sport, which drives participation and commercial support but that can drain resources. There's often great support at community level but unless the pathway's really strong from secondary school to world-class juniors, it becomes tough to keep people. It's a balancing act. New Zealand does reasonably well per capita.

9. You're currently filling in as interim chief executive of Swimming New Zealand, which just lost $400,000 or one-third of its budget from High Performance Sport NZ. How did that happen?

The board is seeking further explanation for the decision. There hasn't been a swimming medal for 20 years and we know that counts against us. HPSNZ's funding criteria are past performance, quality of high-performance programmes and future potential. I can't criticise the incredibly tough decisions they make, trying to get some parity across the sports. Most Olympic disciplines rely on high-performance funding - athletics, swimming, cycling, equestrian, yachting, rugby sevens - even rugby league and cricket. The investment HPSNZ has made over the past five to 10 years has made a massive difference to what our top athletes can do now. They receive enough support to simply focus on their careers. The investment model will obviously get tweaked over time.

10. Has New Zealand swimming gone downhill in recent times?

No, the number of New Zealand swimmers at Top 50 level is greater than ever. Olympics medals aside, our performances are better than any other four-year period. Lauren Boyle picked up three World Cup medals, we had a World Junior Champ and a World Youth Champ. But swimming's had an enormous amount of change in the past four years. To develop talent properly you need consistency over multiple years with good coaches and support structures.

11. Could New Zealand get more medals if we shared out our high-performance dollar differently?

It's very hard to buy a medal because the rest of the world's trying to do that too. You can focus on sports where you have a greater chance of winning but you also have to keep the net broad enough to capture the outliers. The fact our Rio medals in shooting and slalom canoeing came from sports without heavy investment has been a lesson.

12. Most New Zealand sports are vying for the same high-performance funding. Does it get competitive?

Relationships among the sports are actually very strong and united. At chief executive level we come together regularly and discuss things. We've all got the same challenges. The New Zealand sports system has matured incredibly over the past 10 years.