Nicole Livingstone tells: I couldn't just sit on the sidelines
SO MANY people have asked me why I wanted to be involved with swimming more than I already was _ especially as I was already busy with the Australian Olympic Committee as well.
There is no grand plan of being on boards for the next 20 or 30 years _ it is much simpler than that.
I love the sport and the Olympic movement. They have both been very kind to me and provided me with experiences and opportunities throughout my life and I want to give back to them.
Plus, I wanted to actually put in an effort to make a difference _ not just criticise from the sidelines.
With those words, Nicole Livingstone explains to JESSICA HALLORAN why she has jumped in the deep end in a bid to rescue he sport.
Your president resigned amid allegations of bad behaviour and the major sponsor was lost. How does Swimming Australia recover?
There is no doubt it's been a difficult time, Jess, there's no hiding from that. I'd be lying if I said I hadn't shed a tear. We simply have to pick ourselves up and recover. There is too much at stake to not do so.
There are no easy solutions other than hard work, but we have to do it together, as a team and as an organisation. We will always develop new champions, but I want it to be because of their environment, not in spite of it. We have some amazing athletes who deserve the opportunity to become great Australians. We have to enable them to do so.
Why should the public maintain faith in the sport of swimming?
Our sport has a proud history and we owe all of those coaches and athletes who have come before us to restore the sport to where I know it can be. The swimmers have started to lead the way back with impressive performances in Adelaide recently. We finished with 11 world No.1-ranked times. Despite the recent external appearances I think the signs of bouncing back are strong.
You said you wouldn't be a candidate for the presidency, can you expand on why?
I have a very busy life outside Swimming Australia. I'm new to it, I only put my hand up for the swimming board last October. I am on other boards, such as VicHealth, State Sports Centre Trust, the Victorian Olympic Council and have just started on the AOC executive.
With all of this, along with my work in the media, life is hectic. I have watched with interest the challenges faced by others in the media who are involved with sport, and it's challenging.
Will the sport be looking outside the swimming community for a candidate for the top job?
For me, the bottom line is we need the best person for the position _ full stop. If it means that person is outside the current board, then so be it. However, there could also be some excellent candidates within the sport.
Axed Swimming Australia president Barclay Nettlefold said he was the victim of "character assassination'' - is there any truth to this?
There has been a tremendous amount of work done in the past seven months. Barclay, along with the board, has been driving that. What happened is disappointing because it detracts from all that good work that has been put into place. However, I'm not in a position to speak further on the detail of Barclay's comments post-resignation.
There has been an attempt to culturally overhaul the organisation via the Smith and Bluestone reviews. What effects are you seeing because of these initiatives?
Cultural change is not an easy thing to do, it takes time. But it's so worth committing to and not just with our swimming team, it needs to be addressed across all areas, otherwise it won't be effective or lasting. It's already started in so many areas.
We have great people working with the team to make it better. We have two great new leaders in Mark Anderson and Michael Scott. They are positive men and they both have a personal culture that's caring, and that's a huge step in the right direction. Next priority is the head coach and finding not just the best person but the best fit as well.
We saw a lack of leadership with the Olympic team. How much of that can be traced back to the problems at administrative level?
Wow, you're hitting me with the tough questions! This all happened before I joined the board, so I would only be commenting on what I saw working in London.
What I'll say, though, is that I don't think any leadership problems are irreversible. I want to look forward, not backwards, and focus on what I can do to help make it better.
As a former Olympic swimmer, how do you feel about the negative publicity?
I'm really hurt. And upset. I've been around swimming all my life and while I'm long retired, I still know what's involved and that's what hurts me most. Every morning at 4.30am, swimmers right around our country are getting up and diving in the pool and working their butts off.
They dream of the same things I did when I was a swimmer; swimming as fast as you can, of being good. I want them to be supported and applauded, not have it all overshadowed by controversy. I want them to know they are appreciated.
Who in the team can step up as leaders?
This is such an exciting time for the team. At the camp in Canberra, the team selected their own leadership group. I am proud of them for showing their interest in the change.
The girls are Bronte Barratt, Cate Campbell, Sally Foster and Mel Gorman, and for the guys Brenton Rickard, Matt Abood, Tom Fraser-Holmes and Rhys Mainstone. Along with Michael Scott and coaches Michael Bohl and Rohan Taylor.
For the swimmers, it's an experience they'll be able to carry with them for the rest of their lives.
We didn't win individual gold in London, so how will we perform at the Barcelona world titles?
Argh, I get a bit frustrated with this. Trust me, they are trying. You can't stop anyone else from swimming fast _ they need to just focus on being as fast as they can and as competitive as they can. We left Adelaide with 11 No.1 world-ranked times, great depth in the relays _ the women's 4x100 and 4x200 free in particular.
We wait to see what the US produces at their trials. Mind you, this is all on paper; what we want to see is our swimmers being fearless and racing the race.
Who do you see as our best chances for medals?
There ares quite a few: Christian Sprenger, he has put his head down since silver in London; Cate Campbell and James Magnussen in the 100m freestyle, Alicia Coutts in the 200IM and 100m butterfly, she won silvers at the last worlds. Of course, the girls in the backstroke _ Em Seebohm and Bindy Hocking _ and I'm super excited for Jordan Harrison after a huge PB in the 1500m.
I'm looking forward to seeing them all enjoying being part of the team. They are some of my fondest memories and my teammates are still some of my very best friends. That's the way it should be.
What is your message for parents who might be concerned about the events of the past 12 months?
I know parents are often the unsung heroes; they are there at ungodly hours smelling the chlorine, playing taxi, chef and whatever else needs doing. I am embarking on that myself now; yes, I am proud to say, I am now a swimming parent, too. I'm not sure how my mum and dad managed it, to be honest.
Swimming is first and foremost a life skill. But it's something I want my kids to do because I still firmly believe in the environment that they are in. It's teaching them many skills that will stay with them for life, both in and out of the pool. We have so many brilliant teachers and coaches out there steering our kids.
Geoff Huegill said the London team ruined the legacy provided by swimmers of your generation. What do you say to that?
I disagree. The legacy of our sport is so much bigger than one person, one team, one performance or one meet. We have some great talent coming through _ as important for me, though, is that we are producing great people as well as great swimmers.
We all need to understand what is expected of us and the responsibility that comes with being part of it.
How would describe the state of Swimming Australia now?
My message would be stick with us. We are rebuilding both in and out of the pool. I'm very positive about our future.