Players 'thrown under a bus' and coaches with a 'noose around their neck' - damning report into elite sport in NZ released

Findings from the Sport New Zealand review into athletes' rights and welfare have been released today with major problems a need for change underlined throughout.

Leading sports lawyer Stephen Cottrell spoke to 25 elite athletes from 13 sports for the 125-page report.

"A clear theme arising from this review was that problems can arise when power becomes too concentrated in a Coach or High Performance Manager without sufficient checks and balances in terms of how they will perform their role," Cottrell said.

"It is also not acceptable in a small country like New Zealand that the system waits until there is a chorus of complaints of bad behaviour or sufficiently bad results before interventions are made."

Cottrell also said a there were elements of a "total focus on performance outcomes" which was putting unnecessary pressure on elite athletes.

"An athlete described having an equipment malfunction that led to finishing outside the medals and all funding being cut. The athlete had delivered over a long period of time but those performances were not taken into account. He felt like he had been 'thrown under a bus'."

There were also anecdotes of a coach threatening players with non-selection if they didn't perform and comments such as "you won’t be going to the games" during trainings.

But coaches were also feeling the pressure.

"One interviewee described it in these terms: 'The reality for these sports is that they are judged on short term performance outcomes and if I am an HP coach I effectively have a "noose around my neck" – my sport’s future funding is dependent on my athletes and teams delivering on the expected performance outcomes."

The report goes on to offer advice on changes across national sporting organisations, saying different approaches are needed in leadership, funding and administration.

Both the All Blacks and Black Caps were referenced as elite sporting environments where the system was working with player welfare and rights being addressed consistently and thus creating a harmonic environment which allowed for success to develop.

"New Zealand Rugby believes its relationship with its players is a source of competitive advantage against other nations, many of whom have greater playing numbers and resources than New Zealand.

"So, if the All Blacks are among the best in New Zealand and the All Blacks are focused on getting better, what does that mean for other sports?

"Clearly, other sports do not have the resource rugby has and resource can make a real difference in terms of Elite Athlete welfare. Much can be achieved, however, which is not dependent on resource."

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Sport NZ CEO Peter Miskimmin said the report was a key part of the organisation's review.

"It gives us and others in the system, including NSOs and their athletes, valuable insights and some things to consider both individually and collectively."

High Performance Sport NZ CEO Michael Scott confirmed that Mr Cottrell’s recommendations relating to the organisation would be implemented through the organisation’s High Performance 12 Point Plan.

"Between these projects, and through the collective efforts of all those working in high performance sport in New Zealand, I believe we will create a stronger, more sustainable high performance system."

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