Weekend of Turmoil Leaves British Swimming Rudderless

When British Swimming would have hoped to be celebrating what was an encouraging showing from a young team at the European Short Course Championships, it instead found itself mired in difficulty with the sudden departure of National Performance Director Michael Scott. Following a performance that failed to meet expectations at the London Olympics, there was always speculation about Scott’s position, despite his new four year contract signed just before the Games, but there were no immediate signs he would walk away.

Many eyebrows were raised when it was announced he would lead the review into the London showing, but ostensibly it is that review which has curtailed Scott’s time at the helm of British Swimming, recommending as it did that he should be based full time in the UK in order to continue as NPD. That was a commitment he couldn’t make, inevitably precipitating his resignation and leaving British swimming with no NPD, no head coach and no agreed plan for the 2013 season.

But while the issue of residency may ultimately have been the one that severed the relationship, it’s clear that things were not all rosy in the upper echelons of the world class programme. Before the Games several ITC coaches remarked that head coach Dennis Pursley had become increasingly sidelined, with many coaches seeing him as an irrelevance and dealing directly with Scott.

Meanwhile post games the desire of many to see a later set of one-off trials, widely expected to be one of the recommendations of the recent review, has led to tension over funding as reported by Swimnews.com. It is understood that this centred around who would be expected to fund a second national meet to be held in March, in the current trials slot, with Scott pushing for this to be funded by British Swimming and the governing body insisting it come out of the elite budget.

Crunch talks were reportedly held between Scott and British Swimming Chief Executive David Sparkes at in Chartres, but it appears these could not resolve the impasse, leading to the announcement of Scott’s resignation. It’s not clear if he could have stayed on with the review recommendation hanging over him, but the review has not yet been approved by the British Swimming Board. They meet to consider it in early December, although it seems unlikely they will do anything other than rubber stamp it.

It’s at this time that the decision for a later trials meet will likely be confirmed. However for now Britain’s coaches are in limbo when trying to plan their programmes for the end of this year and start of next. The British Swimming calendar still shows a trials meet in April and no formal acknowledgement of the proposed change has been forthcoming, despite it being one of the worst-kept secrets in swimming. That means training camps cannot be confirmed, training blocks cannot be inked in with any certainty and swimmers simply don’t know what they need to do and when in order to make the team for the World Championships in Barcelona. There is a widespread belief that 2013 is too soon to implement such a radical change given the lateness of the decision.

As to who will lead the team to those championships, that remains unclear. There are many who think an interim appointment will be made to take the squad through Barcelona, with a permanent appointment to follow, but what’s clear is that there is a groundswell of opinion favouring a British appointment. Politically many will want to see an appointment from outside the current British Swimming system, leaving those in the ITC’s out of the reckoning and leaning towards the likes of Bill Furniss, the clear favourite, or even Jon Rudd. It’s not clear if they would be willing to be sufficiently hands off to fill the NPD role, but few would argue with either as head coach, in particular Furniss, whose credentials are second to none.

Whoever is appointed, however, it’s imperative that British Swimming moves quickly to fill the vacuum that has been created and makes those decisions needed to confirm next year’s programme. Time is already short for 2013.