Plumb: NZ team swims against tide of change

SIMON PLUMB
Last updated 05:00 21/08/2014

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OPINION: No more chances. Over the next four days New Zealand swimming has one last roll of the dice.

After years of poor performances and millions of dollars in public funding, this week's Pan-Pacific Championships are shaping up to be the last chance saloon for some inside Swimming New Zealand's high-performance squad.

With almost $9 million of taxpayer money over the last four years alone, it's time to look beyond Lauren Boyle and Sophie Pascoe - whose deserved and consistent successes, and media-friendly faces, have been used to paper over the cracks beneath.

While the likes of hockey and triathlon must now face up to serious funding and performance issues two years out from an Olympic Games, the Crown must also be preparing to ask the same questions of Swimming New Zealand.

Following another full, frank and taxpayer-funded assessment of the national swimming body's administration, and a total clear out, the athletes can no longer hide from the same microscope treatment.

The Commonwealth Games in Glasgow have just left an all-too familiar wake. Boyle and Pascoe aside, it was another meet of major disappointment for Kiwi swimming - often, inexplicably, with times slower in the main event than athletes produced back in national trails, and, despite their best-resourced buildup ever, including altitude training in Spain which taxpayer dollars went in to.

It was the exact same story two years ago at the London 2012 Olympics. But despite it all, there's been more staff added to the coaching books and no culling of the squad. Such a situation is no longer viable and nor is it fair on the athletes who are succeeding - and are basically dragging a bloated and failing programme behind them.

The Pan-Pacs therefore offer a golden opportunity for New Zealand swimmers to post solid performances and most of all, prove a point - not necessarily winning against the likes of the Americans and Australians, but personal best times would at least be a reasonable start.

Swimming New Zealand's newly-revamped website details 24 athletes in national high-performance centres - and that doesn't count 2010 Commonwealth Games silver medallist Gareth Kean, who is on an indefinite break from the sport.

For the funding and resource required to maintain so many athletes, how can such consistently meek returns continue to be viable? And how fair is it on Boyle and Pascoe who are succeeding?

In comparison, Triathlon New Zealand, who have already cut their cloth significantly following a disappointing Olympic campaign in London two years ago, has just four athletes in their top level "podium" programme and an additional nine in development.

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Triathlon has also shifted itself to absorb the penchant of Crown entities, High Performance Sport New Zealand and Sport New Zealand, for a centralised model.

Meanwhile, at Swimming New Zealand, high-performance athletes are based between Auckland and Wellington - and therefore, so are the coaches and other additional resource.

In a brutally tough economic climate, many corporate businesses have felt the blade of cutbacks. Maybe now, in the interest of and serving, without compromise, what talent it does have, it's time Swimming New Zealand did some streamlining of its own.

- Stuff

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