Swim England’s Water Polo Chair Resigns Over ‘Governance Failings & Poor Management’


Swim England ‘Governance Failings’ Prompt Resignations

Ian Elliot has resigned from Swim England’s volunteer Water Polo Management Group in protest over “lack of leadership, vision and governance… poor management, delivery and a lack of transparency” at the association.

Eliot’s view echoes many of the criticisms made by Masters in their own dispute with Swim England, which boiled to the surface again of late when three misconduct findings were served on a former Board Chair of Swim England. Argument did not end there, as the three women who had complained about the behaviour of Chris Bostock were unhappy with the way he had apologised to two of them, while the third woman has yet to receive an apology weeks after verdict was handed down.

Criticism of Swim England over its governance and attitude to its stakeholders, now comes from Water Polo chair Elliot, whose resignation follows earlier resignations by all the other committee members. Swim England President, Ian Mckenzie, has had to step in as interim Chair of the Water Polo Management Group.

In an open letter to Swim England CEO Jane Nickerson giving reasons for his resignation, Elliott cites “lack of leadership, vision and governance within Swim England” coupled with “poor management, delivery and a lack of transparency”.

In Elliot’s opinion, Swim England has “denied the Group the opportunity of delivering a meaningful future for the sport”, disregarding its views “directly contrary to the recommendation of the Tunnicliffe Report”. The latter was a review of the sport, which led to the Management Group being set up and which Elliot believed Swim England had accepted.

The resignation coincides with Swim England’s appointment of consultant David Meli “to help grow and develop ‘a great future’ for water polo over the next 12 months” (see statement in full below).

Elliot’s resignation comes just two weeks after the resignation of the Group’s only other two remaining members, Sarah Dunsbee and Eamonn O’Rourke and of Tim Dunsbee, the England and senior men’s coach.

Dunsbee stated that the role had “just become unpleasant and unsatisfying” and that in her view the Group “was undermined by the office staff who make final decisions”, making continuation of her volunteer role untenable.

Chris Dean, another former member of the Group, who resigned back in 2016 over similar concerns, told Swimming World that he believes that the organisation has now lost the consent of the water polo community to act as the sport’s governing body.

Swimming World asked Swim England for response. The association pointed us to the following two statements:

On the resignation:

Neil Booth, Chairperson of the Swim England Sport Operations Committee said: “I would like to recognise the enormous amount of work that Ian has given to the role during his tenure.

“His passion for the sport and commitment to it are clear to anyone who has worked with him. We wish Ian well in his future endeavours and know that he will continue to be a passionate advocate of water polo.”

Swim England would also like to thank Eamonn O’Rourke and Sarah Dunsbee for their efforts and commitment to the Water Polo Management Group as they have also recently stepped down.

Ian Mackenzie, current President of Swim England and member of the Sport Operations Committee will take on the role of interim Chairperson.

Swim England will be announcing its plans for the future governance of water polo imminently.

And on the appointment of a consultant hired to help turn England water polo around:

Swim England has appointed consultant David Meli to help grow and develop ‘a great future’ for water polo over the next 12 months.

David is a former chief executive of England Handball, who has also worked for Sport England, and he is relishing the chance to ‘harness all the exciting elements of this great sport’.

His appointment comes after Ian Mackenzie was named interim chairperson of the Swim England Water Polo Management Group following Ian Elliot’s resignation from the role.

David is a director of All About Sport, a consultancy which carries out governance, participation and performance reviews plus strategic and operational planning across the sports sector.

He said: “I am looking forward to working with the water polo community to put together a comprehensive, sport-wide plan that can seek to harness all of the exciting elements of this great sport.

“It will be important to manage the expectations of all stakeholders to ensure we deliver a realistic and sustainable plan.”

Jane Nickerson, Swim England CEO, said:

“We are intent on supporting water polo to develop and grow and we’re delighted to be working closely with David and using his knowledge and expertise to help us achieve that goal. It is clear that there needs to be a shared vision and plan for water polo that is achievable and can delivered within the resources that are available. There is a significant amount of work to do but this presents a fantastic opportunity to build a great future for water polo in England.”

Delivering change

George Wood, Swim England Sport Development Director, said: “David has an excellent grasp of the challenges faced by volunteer-led sports and knows the funding landscape well.

“He will focus on engaging with stakeholders to understand the current position and this will form the development of a clear action plan that has input from key parties.

“We recognise that a lot of work was covered in this area by the Tunnicliffe Report and David will be reviewing that and building on those recommendations.

“This project, though, is about delivering change that can benefit water polo and David will be supporting the establishment of the governance structure, the development and implementation of the plan and communication of that activity.”

George added the appointment of David provided an opportunity to evaluate the current situation and take definitive steps to move the sport forward.

He added: “There have been challenges over the past years with the ending of Sport England funding and, recently, the resignation of members of the Water Polo Management Group.

“However, there have also been a number of successes, with water polo reinstated on the GCSE PE curriculum following lobbying by Swim England and the introduction of the START programme.

“We have also invested to ensure the continuation of talent programmes.

“The work David will undertake aims to effectively engage players, officials and key stakeholders at all levels of the sport.

“We hope everyone supports us with this vision to help move the sport forward.”

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  1. avatar

    Good luck getting a response from Swim England or Jane Nickerson (suddenly proactive on Twitter twice as many posts in last month as last year) – only post about lovely friendly atmosphere at the AGM – when it comes to dealing with real issues within Water Polo the lack of leadership is palpable – issues raised with Swim England staff of Governance and Child Safeguarding go without a response or any action why would an article!!!

    • avatar

      So SE try and take heat off by bringing in a consultant to look at the future of Water Polo – it’s 4 years since the Tunnicliffe Review that apparently cost 25k – was this review garbage!

      SE your problems are internal and not just limited to Water Polo – Show your stakeholders some respect, stop treating them as muppets, some of the people you employ are……….self first and sport second – loved your tweets about AGM, shindigs and Hall of Fame, do you not realise how that looks when your house is so badly out of order! Get a grip before your house of cards comes tumbling down – someone show some leadership and stand up and be counted! And the rest of the Water Polo world start using your voices!!

  2. avatar
    Andrew little

    I left British waterpolo 10 years ago because I viewed the sport of waterpolo was being side lined by British swimming. One example of my frustration was a team of girls went to the Ukraine to play in the euros and did really well qualifying for the worlds. Swim England refused to support them so they were withdrawn. A team boys team went to a tournament I’m Portugal parents had to supply kit for the team to wear as British Swimmimg would not support the team. It is disgraceful

  3. avatar
    Debbie Smith

    Waterpolo has been treated like the poor relation for many years, even before 2012. There was very little help before we were assigned the Olympics and after we received funding from UK Sport, a few years later the funding was reduced significantly, which had the knock on effect of reducing staff.

    Waterpolo has not been as successful as the other water disciplines, but ever time we were moving forward someone pulled the rug from under us and there were very few people high enough up in British Swimming or Swim England to make enough noise so that Waterpolo had a voice that the Board and others of importance would listen to. If Swimming had been treated as Waterpolo has been, it would be all others the National tv news and the tabloids. It’s about time that Waterpolo was given the same chances and funding as the others disciplines.

    We used to be British Waterpolo and then our name was removed and we became British Swimming and it all went down hill from there.

    Swim England need to open their eyes and ears to the Waterpolo membership as there are some really good ideas out there in the support of our sport

  4. avatar

    When an organisation decides to take responsibility for a Sport, they also take responsibility for absolutely everyone involved. The organisation also takes Leadeship to show commitment for the ones who are actually the most commited: coaches, players, helpers, supporters. They all trust the organisation that their effort and energy being put in day by day is in the right hands and they are being treated fairly – as a minimum. But to be honest it is easy to say: organisation when people on the top can hide. Like they do now. The lack of response is shocking. It is mortifiying, humiliating, completely unaccaptable. You, who keep quiet (other than explaining that you did know about the conflict of interest and that is fine however it is agains Code of Ethics) need to realise that you are for us. You are working for us: coaches, refs, players, kids, parents, volunteers – everyone who is involved in Water Polo. The 6 year old child who went for his first training last night: he is your employer. You have the job because of him. So answer. Take responsibility. Do you love Water Polo? We do! And we expect the same from the ‘organisation’ ie people who represent the Sport ie Us.

  5. avatar

    So SE have money to appoint a consultant to tell us why the last consultant you paid for a vision for water polo was wrong?
    I would rather have seen that money and the money that funded the lavish AGM invested in the entry fee for a Senior LEN competition.
    Consider it a Freedom of Information request: how much did the AGM, and the associated travel and accomodation expenses actually cost SE?
    There is plenty of money available for SE, the issue is where they chose to spend it.

    • avatar
      Sue the Lawyer

      Couldnt agree more. Plenty of money for consultants – have you seen the accounts? – awards ceremonies, dinners, away days and the like, PR spin and the “insight” team. Also plenty on travel and accommodation of officials for meets where the need could actually be met instead by local officials to cut costs. Sadly Swim England isn’t subject to the Freedom of Information Act but it should be, in my view.

      • avatar
        Pit Checkout

        Swim England is however covered by UK Sports code for good governance which includes a need for transparency of financial affairs. Why will Swim England not publish a DIscipline by Discipline P&L. Registration fees and grants received from Water Polo v Money Spent on water polo (inc Consultants fees for strategy rewrites!)???

  6. Julie Clipstone

    Waterpolo has failed in many areas. I have asked for more education in this field and they never reply to emails/phone calls

    • Gareth Twohey

      Julie Clipstone it depends who you are emailing, if its the governing body then good luck (it is the same governing body that runs swimming).

  7. Gareth Twohey

    Swim England dont care about the sport, they go out of their way to block the volunteers that lead the sport from implementing and delivering the change that the sport requires.

  8. avatar
    Colin Hunt

    Sad fact is, that despite the setting up of the pathway which looked to provide a possible way forward for senior squads, despite the fact they weren’t willing to fund a squad which need to work together live together, train together could provide something which was equitable to a sport which started in the UK. The fact is British swimming and sport England have subsequently failed to deliver the money required for a pathway which would’ve worked and has shown to work over consecutive years in the junior levels .. …the fact is it did deliver… the sad fact is despite the funding…which could then deliver over the senior years… except university clubs with their own money… a sad testament of a sport that started In the UK so many year ago .. shame on you… so much for 2012 …

  9. avatar

    I’m so sad to see the battle between SE and the water polo community. If SE wanted to do something about the anger from the community, they should have known hiring a consultant would not be a solution. We need total transparency to tell us what is going on and what is in their mind, all senior personnels who have involved in the process of reaching this non accountable (at least to the community) solution. Well said, Judit; The community including 6 year old player is your stake holder. SE needs to answer to all the questions the community has raised, one by one. Probably David Mili needs to go over all the questions, concerns and feedback from the community, which are all in public and accessible to him. The community is very open and transparent. So should SE be. Open panel discussion from key stake holders including parents, coaches, officials, the resigned committee members and BWPL, who’s been a model showing how to develop water polo could be a icebreaker? (By the way I’m not involved in BWPL.)

  10. avatar
    Chris Stephens

    I was one of the many water polo volunteers who Neil Tunnicliffe consulted in 2014 as part of his SE-commissioned strategic review of the way forward for water polo. I was SE’s East Region water polo manager at the time, and while I had 100% support from the region I certainly couldn’t say the same about “Head office”. The Tunnicliffe Report was an excellent piece of work and very well received by all in the water polo community. Since then our governing body has been content to sit on its hands. It formed the Water Polo Management Group and then failed to support it, resulting in its volunteer members resigning one by one as they grew frustrated with the lack of support and commitment from SE.
    There’s no shortage of knowledge, skill and dedication among this country’s water polo community. We know how to develop youngsters, coach winning teams, build national squads, run top quality competitions, train national and international officials, and everything else our sport requires to grow and flourish. All we ask is effective engagement, leadership, transparency and financial commitment by our governing body. Shouldn’t be too difficult, should it?

  11. avatar

    Anything form Swim England yet 😂

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