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A Quick and Free Review of the Australian Swimming Team

There is no doubt that the Australian swimming team performed poorly as compared with a number of previous Olympic campaigns. Those events we were expected to win, we either got painstakingly close, or our swimmers fell in a heap. Similarly, some of those swimmers that did not face a burden of expectation broke through to medal, at times in events you would’ve been excused to think we never had any hope in.

Our performances in the pool, which usually get us off to a strong start in the medal tally and up there with the best countries just didn’t happen. This has sparked a much publicised review by former Olympic champion swimmer Susie O’Neill and experienced swimming coach Bill Sweetenham.

The idea of a review of the sporting performance of our swimmers is not new. As Head Coach Leigh Nugent has pointed out, the swim team is always subject to a performance review after every major meet and well, the Olympics is up there with the major aquatic events that exist.

There should be absolutely no doubt that each individual swimmer and their respective coaches trained to exactly the same level they ordinarily would. This means intense and event targeted training for the whole time each swimmer remained with their local club’s before heading overseas for the pre-Olympics swimming camp and then London.

Tapering too would not have proved an issue and would have been closely supervised by the elite coaches travelling with the Australian swimming team in the weeks before London 2012. It is just too ridiculous a proposition to think that such high-level experts would have got the tapering of any of the athletes wrong.

Last night the ABC’s program 7.30 weighed into the debate with a report on the discord between the swimmers, their families and Swimming Australia. The story reviewed a shocking level of disdain for the athletes in one of our most successful sports at the Olympic level.

Daniel Kowalski, a former swimmer who now represents the Australian Swimmers’ Association said that just before the London Olympics commenced, while some Australian swimmers were in training together overseas, pay arrangements were changed. The pay scale was changed to a “high-performance model”.

In this model all of our swimmers were to be paid a small base rate with a significant performance bonus, if, and only if they received gold, silver or bronze from their respective events. The performance pay would net gold medal winners $35,000 and those who made the final but came in last $4000 for each event. But if you swam in a race and didn’t progress into the final, no dough.

Ordinarily, performance pay is a brilliant concept, providing that it doesn’t detract from a base wage. Much more importantly, bonuses for strong performances are an excellent idea providing you don’t do as Swimming Australia did and foist it upon athletes so near to a major competition, especially the highest of events.

Now, you might be wondering how this would impact on performance? The answer is quite simple. If you are worrying at the last minute before you’re expected to perform strongly in your chosen profession about how much money you might be taking home and it could affect how much money you have to pay bills, you’re not going to be thinking of your race so much.

There’s also another not so insignificant factor which may have impacted on our performances. That is the incredibly poor decision of the swimming team to not take a psychologist with them to the pre-games training camp and then into the Olympic village. There was nobody there that swimmers could trust, especially in light of Swimming Australia’s decision on pay, to air their concerns and emotions. This means there was nobody in London with the squad that would have been able to respond in a properly trained and professional manner to the worries that might distract the attention of athletes.

Another factor that cannot be discounted and which could have been more significant than any other factor in the sub-par performance of our swimming team is the performance of other countries. It’s not as if we didn’t contribute significant funds to our Olympians, we did. The strong performance of swimmers from other nations was probably unexpected. It should have been figured into the equation as a real possibility given the changing state of our swimming team, with past champions suffering from injury and others who were set to retire after London.

It’s clear that the cultural issues within the peak swimming body which undoubtedly flowed through to the swimming team were a major distraction for our swimmers. The significance of this was accelerated by the inability of members of the team to access professional psychological help while overseas.

There was certainly no problem with the workload of our athletes before the Olympics and the tapering while overseas clearly would not have been an issue either.

It is also undoubtedly a strong possibility that our swimmers were also outperformed in their events.

Clearly there are a number of things to work on before the next major international competition, the FINA World Championships in Barcelona next year, most within the control of the governing body for swimming in Australia. Some brutal honesty and soul searching is required during the upcoming review.

Where To Next For a Cricket Team on a Inconsistent Streak and Low Ebb?

Overnight the Australian cricket team again went down to the English cricket team in the final match of the best of five one day series over in England where one match was a wash-out. The Australians, in suffering this defeat after a rain shortened match have now experienced their worst ever head-to-head one day series defeat, a terrible statistic for a country that could once put down the English cricket side with ease, be it in one day internationals (ODI) or test match cricket.

Australia lost this series to the England side while sitting at the top of the ODI world rankings with the team we fell to so comprehensively being placed fourth on the list of one day cricketing nations.

Australia did, as far as scores go and balls remaining go close in every single match of the four that were played.

We lost the first match by 15 runs after a full 50 overs after England scored what is these days a quite strong 272 with Australia batting out the full 50 overs in reply only to end up on 257 for the loss 0f 9 wickets.

In the 2nd match Australia scored a decent 251 runs off 50 overs, but England eclipsed that with 26 balls to spare.

The third match was abandoned without any play.

In the fourth Australia started very poorly but managed to reach a total of 200 in the end, giving Australia’s quite strong bowling line-up a decent target to bowl at after what could have easily been a much more devastating collapse of our batting line-up. Again we went close, with England only managing to reach the target of 201 with 13 balls in hand, a surprisingly close match given the poor target.

Then last night, in the final match of the ODI series, in a rain delayed match, Australia scored in 32 overs a reasonably respectable score of 145, reduced to 138 under the Duckworth-Lewis system. With 29 overs of batting because of rain, England reached the 138 run target with 11 balls to spare.

So Australia was close yes, it wasn’t exactly a comprehensive series whitewash in that respect, the team did manage to exert some form of control and did s0 with at times decent batting and reasonably solid bowling displays which just did not result in wickets.

The point is that we were very inconsistent and to lose every match, regardless of how close the team got should have never happened to a team that sees itself at the top of the world rankings and wants to continue to cement that place of dominance atop the world of cricket.

Australia in losing the series were overall too inconsistent with the bat, with the top order performing quite ordinarily and leaving it to the lower order for the most part to at least attempt to post a respectable total.

The Aussies also, over the entire four  matches that were played, regardless of how close were were able to get through reasonably economic bowling, only managed to take 14 wickets over the series, that’s an average of just 3.5 wickets per match.

All this is not at all to reflect badly on the northern hemisphere side, they capitalised on the poor and inconsistent form of the Australian team managing to take advantage of our poor batting efforts in particular and break through for wickets and they also made the runs, even if it wasn’t through particularly vibrant and widespread shot-making. They at the  least ground out each win.

So Australia will now need to sit down together as a team with management and discuss just what went wrong and how this can be remedied so that we can manage to stay ahead of the pack who are now biting at our heels hungry and well within reach of taking us off the mantle. A team review of the series has already been foreshadowed.

The positive purpose of a tour like the one just passed is that it allows us to identify deficiencies before the major Ashes series which ranks so high above just about any other form of the game outside of the World Cup for one day cricket. We certainly identified those deficiencies.

Firstly, we need to get back to batting basics. Our core batting line-up did not contribute the sorts of runs they have been well and truly capable of in the past.

We cannot say as a nation that we have a dearth of batting talent and that our domestic competition in all forms of the game is second rate, it is not. At times you could say we have too much talent and that makes selecting the best person for each position and then identifying a shadow player or two for each all the more difficult.

What our batsmen need to do is to get back into the nets before the summer and to work on the basic techniques in order to be able to withstand the strongest of bowling lineups that other cricketing nations can hurl at us.

Our batsmen above all else could learn to be more consistent with our top order all more than capable, some world-beating, some in the early stages of an international career, but all who have shown an ability to play with flair and aggression which was badly missed in England.

Our bowlers, while they did quite well, restricting England to a highest score during the series of 272 need to do more than be economical, particularly when our batters fail as they did during the four matches, though they cannot be consistently called upon to save a poor batting effort. Taking under 4 wickets a match is well below sub-par and cannot be tolerated. Some time in the nets bowling at wickets might be just the medicine needed for some of our bowlers who need to be more aggressive than at present.

The team perhaps also in light of the injuries received to our bowlers may need to look at a rotation system where we rely, particularly in the one day matches, on one or two key wicket-taking bowlers and then rotate the rest throughout matches. We can then let the others focus on longer game match fitness in our domestic competition so that they are test match ready.

It should disturb the cricketing fraternity greatly that we didn’t win a single match against the English and a period of looking inwardly at our game plan, players and structure of the team and the management of that time are all a vital part of a mix needed to ensure that we again find ourselves consistent enough to win matches and series’.

‘Cut and Run’? No We Should Not

Overnight the Australian Defence Force (ADF) suffered three deaths and 7 wounded soldiers in an attack by a soldier in the Afghan National Army (ANA) uniform. The incident has inevitably revived the question: Should we ‘cut and run’ from our commitments in Afghanistan, or is there something else that we can do?There have now been 32 Australian soldiers killed in combat and training operations since our commitment began. We grieve them all for the loss to their families and friends and to the nation.

Should we pull all our troops out of combat, training and reconstruction roles in Afghanistan in the wake of an incident like this? I tend to agree with the position of the Gillard Government, the ADF and the Tony Abbott led Coalition when they say, no we should not contemplate a precipitate withdrawal from our responsibilities to train, reconstruct and make the war-torn nation safer.

An immediate withdrawal of all troops in an instantaneous and collective manner would result in Afghanistan becoming far more de-stabilised and result in a likely mass return of the Taliban to areas of the nation where they have largely been eradicated from.

Indeed, there is a valid argument that a longer combat, training and reconstruction role is essential for the long-term, at leas relative stability of Afghanistan. This ongoing role is essential for the future stability of Afghanistan politically and economically.

If there is one major thing that this incident tells us, it is that Afghanistan is not necessarily more or less dangerous than it has been previously. What this dreadful event, the second similar incident involving Australian forces, may tell us is that better vetting of ANA and other security force’s candidates is required.

This approach calls for more intelligence resources and time to conduct background checks, not less time with talk of deadlines of a specific withdrawal timetable. Furthermore it calls for more time and effort put into the training, combat and reconstruction roles.

The Government and other governments contemplating such circumstances will find it incredibly difficult to justify in a political environment where there have been casualties and voters are becoming war weary. The current global economic doldrums will also put immense pressure on political will. However, the point remains, that what is required is not necessarily an escalation in troop numbers or operations, but chiefly, in relation to this attack, a simple revision of vetting processes for Afghan security forces which can be worked on, in unison with the Afghan Government.

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