Connect with Us:  

Who Has The Say On Performance?

Jan 11, 2013  - Craig Lord

Steve Foley, the Australian who served as diving performance director for Britain for 10 years until 2009, has fired a diplomatic broadside at his former boss, British Swimming chief executive David Sparkes in the row over Olympic 10m bronze medallist Tom Daley's involvement in a celebrity diving TV show.

The British version of the television programme Splash!, in which Daley judges the dives of celebrities he has helped teach to dive, attracted  a large audience but was panned by critics after its debut last week. Sparkes added to Daley's woes by suggesting that he was not working hard enough as a diver and would have been better to leave the TV show until after his days off the elite boards were done. His comments in the media prompted Daley's mother, Debbie, to lambast Sparkes with a 1500-word response in an open letter published by a newspaper.

Worth noting: Daley took part in the TV show alongside his coach Andy Banks, while British Swimming was to be found actively promoting the show and Daley's involvement on Twitter yesterday. Daley and team are now due to meet Sparkes to thrash things out, just as Rebecca Adlington and others from the leadership group of athletes are set to meet the CEO this month to work on improving communication between blazers and coal-face.

The issue raised familiar questions: should the CEO comment on issues of performance? Or should that task be the responsibility of experts paid large sums to handle all things performance related? Should a CEO talk to the media before the athlete? Should the CEO talk to the media before the coach? Those questions are central to understanding why several senior figures from overseas and within Britain have left key roles in swimming and other aquatic sports in the past 12 years. 

China and "boot-camp" preparation were thrown into a long-running debate by Sparkes and Daley's mother. Good then to remind ourselves that the man who beat the Chinese and Daley off the 10m board was American David Boudia.

Sparkes' treatment of Daley stands in stark contrast to events in the USA, where the same Celebrity Splash diving show stars Boudia and features Foley, director of diving for the USA - with the blessing of the federation, USA Swimming, in the wake of the most successful US campaign in diving since its last gold back in 1992.

Foley, who referred to the British controversy as "silly" but would not comment beyond that, preferring to focus on the positive experience he enjoys in the US, tells me: "Simply put, it is the Performance Director's role to work with the coach and athlete to plan their season and any down time whilst the CEO should be looking at ways to capitalize on this marvelous opportunity for the sport.

"The High Performance Director met David and his coach to discuss the annual training and competition plan for 2013. The appearances on the show have been calculated into his year and we see this as a great  opportunity to promote, David, USA Diving and the sport."

With a nod to Debbie Daley's reference to the demotivation that Daley has struggled with in the wake of London 2012 and the level of commitment required since before her son became a teenager, Foley added: "I also believe that this will assist David with prolonging his career and not suffering burn-out. This is the best period in his 4-year training and competition cycle for him to do these sort of activities."

In a comment that will chill the bones of British Swimming and its £85m of public money over 12 years to London 2012, Foley noted that USA Swimming receives no government funding and must work for every dollar it can get. TV shows are a huge bonus. Foley noted: "These decisions are made by the High performance Director in consultation with the athlete, coach and where applicable, their management. Our CEO has not only endorsed this, but is looking at ways we can promote  and take advantage of this incredible opportunity to sell our sport and institution. After all, Diving is lucky to get any TV time more than once  or twice per 4 years so what a fabulous opportunity to maybe capitalize with this show."

He added: "Our CEO is also supportive of me being part of the show so we have representation on the show and the  opportunity to sell USA Diving, especially as we rely on sponsorship since  USA get's no government funding."

A version of this article and a related editorial appear in The Times newspaper today.