The health of New Zealand’s high performance sport programme has continued its downward spiral via fallout from the Cycling New Zealand review conducted by Michael Heron QC.
The latest turn involves allegations that Olympic triathlete gold medallist and High Performance Sport New Zealand employee Hamish Carter passed on confidential documents from the Rio Games campaign debrief where cycling finished with one silver medal and failed to meet their expectations.
The Heron report details that the leak of information to the media came from a person who had access to former CNZ track sprint coach Anthony Peden’s house. That information, in turn, had been provided to the coach in error by a HPSNZ staff member.
Peden had received identifiable documentation of athletes’ reviews via HPSNZ. These were meant to be conducted in confidence with HPSNZ employees Carter, Eddie Kohlhase and Paul Smith, and collated anonymously.
Sources told the Herald that Carter was the source of the leak, with one stating it was done “naively”.
Carter could not be contacted for comment tonight.
Earlier, during the media conference after the Heron Report’s release, HPSNZ chief executive Michael Scott said the breach was “the area of the report that concerns me the most”.
“Confidentiality is fundamental to having a trustful relationship with our athletes.”
Heron added he had a detailed explanation from the person concerned.
“I’ve interviewed that person, I’ve recorded details of that explanation.
“No one else made that mistake.”
Heron’s investigation highlighted “bullying”, “an absence of accountability” and “suboptimal leadership” as reasons for shortcomings within the sport.
Underlying that is a conclusion the high performance system requires scrutiny as to whether it protects the welfare of athletes, coaches and staff.
The taxpayer will invest $4.4 million in CNZ via HPSNZ this year.
Minister for Sport and Recreation Grant Robertson was disturbed by the findings.
“I will be working with High Performance Sport New Zealand (HPSNZ) to ensure the lessons of the report are acted on,” he said.
“We need athlete welfare to be central to the success of our high performance programmes. It needs to be seen as a key ingredient of excellence, rather than a nice-to-have.”
Peden came in for significant criticism in the report. Heron was satisfied the coach had behaved in a manner prohibited by the CNZ code of conduct and was involved in an undisclosed, and therefore inappropriate, relationship with a female athlete in the programme.
Heron specified that one incident on July 17, 2016, involving a night out in Bordeaux before the Rio Olympics, stood out among many of the more than 70 interviewees.
At approximately 2.30am, after alarms had been raised and a search party had been organised, a coach and athlete returned to the team hotel intoxicated. A witness claimed to see “an intimate moment between them”. The female athlete was described as vomiting for the rest of the night.
Former high performance director Mark Elliott flew to Bordeaux to conduct an investigation. He determined a written warning was appropriate, together with formal medical and professional support for Peden.
The team manager at the time expressed her concern to Elliott that if the incident were to go “unacted on” it would continue to be a risk to the team.
Heron concluded the incident created disharmony throughout the team, and that sent a ripple effect through until the Games.
Peden, through his lawyer Lisa Hansen, sent a response to the report, tabled as Appendix E. He labelled it “grossly inaccurate in many respects, and based on unreliable and inaccurate evidence”.
That statement said the findings were “unsurprising given that the evidence obtained and relied on is predominantly second and third hand, and includes conjecture, perception, conjecture-on-conjecture, anecdote, hearsay, gossip and rumour”.
The letter said Peden declined to critique the many errors in the report.
Heron concluded there was a lack of accountability and leadership throughout the CNZ operation and a reluctance to raise issues, which led to a lack of reliable evidence.
High Performance Sport New Zealand also got a serve for their lack of action, despite sufficient knowledge of the issues at hand.
Heron concluded that they knew enough of the situation to have assisted before the news broke in May.
The report made 11 recommendations, including the need to address the welfare of athletes, coaches and staff through a safeguarding policy.