Moving Forward

Lack of Confidence


Since I wrote this artice (I always sit on articles for a few days before posting so I can tone them down from the original rant!) there has been a huge increase in the momentum behind a push for change in the relationship between the Performance Deartment and the outside world. The Marathon Committee are posting a questionnaire online that I urge you to take a look at and complete( )and the motion of no confidence in the IP that I talk about at the end of this post has already been posted. Probably even more significant though is that staff from the PD are actively looking to discuss a way forward from a situation that everyone is realizing is not optimal for our sport. Both parties realize they have limitations and there is a general optimism that this time there really could be change for the better. So below is the post I wrote a few days ago. 


I have written many posts relating to what I see as the failings of the GB Canoeing structure to make the most of the vast financial resources it has. £20m+ per cycle, it seems, is not enough to build a base of sufficient quality to supply our top end teams with a stream of up and coming talent.


Worse than that though, in the recent past they have failed to get our top talent to the events at all. 


There has been a lot of discussion on social media about the rights and wrongs of certain selection decisions. Opinions vary but the upshot is that some of the best juniors we have had for years have been excluded from competing at this years World Championships. The situation was not one that arose as a last minute surprise, the potential flaw in the selection criteria was raised as long ago as November. A clause that could possibly exclude our best paddlers had been written. The athletes concerned stated their case very early, they expressed their wish to compete at an event that would mean they were not available for the nominated selection event. The boys in question are the only 3 world-class junior men we have, they are head and shoulders above the other juniors and indeed above most of our seniors (which says more about the state of our senior team probably!)


The athlete’s wish to compete in the other event was not considered to be as important as the selection policy document, and so a stand off was the result. The Performance Department, it seems, feels that paying your child £3000 per year entitles them to overrule your child’s personal goals, motivations and ambitions. It basically entitles them to dictate to your child how they should spend their sporting career, not for the good of the child, but for the benefit of the system. The reality is you can’t even buy a Romanian orphan for £3k, let alone a freethinking motivated athlete!!


The athletes and their club coaches made the decision that they believed right for the athlete. A decision based on their long term knowledge of the athlete , a decision based around their best interests . The coaches, and the parents  themselves, it seems, have no right to decide the future of the athlete they have nurtured from the beginning, once inside the system, and having signed the contract it seems you hand over your life to the service of the Performance department.


The conflict could have been avoided had the PD, in the months between November and July reworded the selection document, or had they chosen to use the extenuating circumstances clause that already exists in the selection document, both of which would have been possible. Instead they chose to have a pissing contest between themselves and the children involved. The upshot is that the children, who have to spend the next 10 years or more of their canoeing career in the system, are already distrustful and wary of an organization that does not have their best interests at heart. It is almost a rerun of the poor treatment of Paul Wycherley that has seen him walk away from the sport. These boys may feel equally like turning their back on the system after this poorly managed episode.


The women's K4 situation is another contentious issue. Forming a women's K4 is a no brainer. There is only one chance to qualify and that is at the World Championships this year. Essentially the top 7 European Nations will earn a place in Rio and once qualified the athletes can race both K1 and K2 if we don’t qualify those boats. There is no doubt we have the talent in our team to qualify. However that assumes we are organized enough to do it. We have had 3 years now since London 2012, in that time we have seen the women's coach change 3 times, from Miklos Simon who was in charge in London (as a last minute call up to pick up the pieces of previous poor decisions), to Paul Darby- Dowman, a novice coach, who was removed just as he was beginning to make progress and now Rob Sleeth who had, in the previous year, taken our men's team from being B Finalists to being C finalists! In that same 3 years we failed to concentrate on the K4 yet still persuaded ourselves we were on track. The upshot was that at the only contested event this season (we were too professional to attend all the available events) it transpired that our K4 was not even close to qualifying standard. With 8 weeks to go we needed a miracle, so naturally we turned to the coach who was deemed not to be good enough for the last 3 years, Miklos Simon, to try to muster up some magic. A ridiculously short time frame now meant decisions had to be made hastily, meaning selections were always going to be controversial. A K4 was selected that was subsequently given a right royal kicking by the rejects!! The selection itself can be argued over but the incompetence that led to it being made in the last 6 weeks before the most important race of the year is unforgivable.


During the course of the season we have seen athletes selected who have not even attended regattas, soon we will begin to see the new crop of talent ID athletes favored in selection decisions just as they were through the previous Olympic cycle, club athletes will again be overlooked to justify the vast amount of money spent. History will repeat itself until we can create change.


The final issue I would like to bring up, though there are many others we could discuss, is that after some 18 years of full funding with a staff off 100 plus “experts” in their field, making gains, challenging best, aspiring to be the number one canoeing nation etc etc. We are still not producing enough men of enough quality not only to qualify for the games but not even to put a boat forward to contest the qualifying event itself. Since the Performance department has been in control we have not managed to produce 4 men to even get close to Olympic qualification. We have had the athletes, I think 8th place in the A Final is the best we have done in 2010, yet we still managed to destroy that boat with poor coaching decisions and even poorer man management. We have still yet to contest a qualification event despite being one of the richest teams in the entire canoeing world. The last K4 we took to an Olympic Games was in 1988! Considering a K4 makes up over half of a potential 1000m team this can only be deemed a failure of the system. From Tokyo onwards, as it stands, there will only be one space in the team for 200m paddlers and 7 for 1000m. To not be concentrating on 1000m paddlers is shorterm thinking.


Management are hoping against hope that they can squeeze the last bit of life from their current cash cows, the Men's 200m team. The slim chance of medals in Rio is what they are clinging to. After Rio they will leave, and behind them will be no 200m paddlers at the level required, very few 1000m paddlers ,other than the juniors they have just upset , and a divided women's team that has lost all faith in coaching decisions along with their trust in the system.


With all this in mind I would like to call on all the clubs who still have some fight left in them, all the coaches who still believe that looking after their athletes is the best way of getting results, and all the parents who want their children to have a positive experience and leave the sport happier than when they arrived to back a vote of no confidence in the International Panel. The IP are responsible for selection decisions, the direction of the Performance Department and for the results of the team as a whole.


The vote of no confidence will be on the agenda of the Sprint Racing Committee ACM in September. The reality is that it will make no difference. The Performance Department are now answerable to no one except the British Canoeing Board, and they are led currently by John Anderson himself. So in essence John Anderson and his system are only answerable to John Anderson. What we can do however, if we believe things could be better, is at least register our disapproval of the current situation.
At the meeting itself each club will have one vote, you can use your vote to either keep things as they are or to suggest that now may be a good time to reassess how our sport is run. The task is to decide whether the sport is for those who are employed by it or for those who actually compete in it. I am not suggesting everything the PD does is wrong, but I am suggesting there are things the clubs can do better than the system. We should be helped to do those things, not hindered. The PD can then get on with doing what they do best which is fine tuning the quality athletes the clubs have given them.


I am tired of writing articles, now is the right time to actually do something concrete! I urge all clubs to at least sit down and have the discussion. This is not a witch hunt or a call for mass resignations, as I said even a win on the vote would not necessarily have any impact. It is just a way in which you as a club with the interests of your paddlers at heart can register your concern and show that you are part of the process. You have an opportunity to have a say. If you say nothing then nothing can change. 

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