Thursday, 10 January 2013

British Swimming CEO David Sparkes, the Cat with 9 Lives, does it again

David Sparkes, arguably the least popular man in British Swimming, just can't help himself. Not only does he continue to disappoint a generation of swimmers, he's now turned his hand to taking shots at Britain's best diver.

After Tom Daley launched his new diving reality TV show Splash!, which outside of the Olympics, is diving's highest profile showcase ever in this country, Sparkes had the following to say about one of Britain's most popular athletes:

"Tom is an incredibly talented young man but he's yet to achieve his full potential and it's only going to get harder to achieve that Olympic gold medal as he gets older... You can rest assured the next Chinese diving superstar will not have such distractions from training."

Well Mr Sparkes... you didn't just upset the hundreds of thousands of Tom Daley fans, you upset his mum. This was Mrs. Daley's response to Sparkes' comments (published in the Daily Mail). One word, Zing!

Dear Mr Sparkes,

We last spoke at Loughborough in June 2011 after you asked for Tom to do a favour for you and open a sports park at Loughborough. I don't believe that you spoke much to Tom directly in 2012, other than to briefly congratulate him on his medal. Since the media is your preferred method of communication, I thought that I should do the same. 

As Tom's mum, I take a lot of pride in the way he handles himself. I am sure that he will make  mistakes along the way, but to date he is doing a lot right. I find it incredible that you want to criticise him so publicly, when he does so much for your organisation and for sport in the UK - and worse, you do it by giving your opinion without any thought. You did not speak to Tom - or his agent - first. Is this a good way for a CEO to operate?

As far as I'm aware, Tom was one of the few major success stories for British Swimming this summer... and possibly one of the athletes that helped you retain your job. Others say that your performance was the worst of any CEO in British sport. Surely you should be thanking Tom and showing your support and gratitude? 

His target was to achieve a medal and he delivered, becoming the first British individual diver in 52 years to get an Olympic medal. Not only this, but immediately after the Games, when most athletes were enjoying themselves, Tom went back to intense training for five weeks to prepare for the Junior World Championships. Since you didn't speak with Tom during this period, let me shed some light on how he coped. 

For an individual who is normally so motivated, going back to intense training after the climax of the Games was a real struggle: I'm sure he won't mind me saying he lacked drive and motivation. Andy Banks, his coach, expressed concern that this was being reflected in his training.  

Everyone else was taking long holidays, partying, celebrating exams, while Tom had to get straight back to diving. You must remember what you did the summer you were 18 years old?  We even discussed with Andy the option of him backing out of the competition. I was concerned Tom would crumble as the impact of the previous 24 months finally came on top of him. 

Perhaps you need to be reminded that not only was Tom taking on the pressures of the biggest sporting event in his life, not to mention a home Games, but during this period he also lost his biggest supporter, his dad. 
My bond with my son has always been strong but Rob was Tom's rock, friend and role model; he would be spitting mad if he had read your media attacks on him over the past 12 months and would have given you a franker view than mine. 
However, Tom didn't want to back out. While the competition had no real incentive for him, Tom had made the commitment to his performance director Alexei Evangulov and to British Diving and - despite me trying to convince him otherwise - he got his head down and ploughed on. He said he'd take a break after, so what was five more weeks of training? 

Any mum will know that for an 18-year-old to make this decision requires a lot of self-discipline. Tom was being offered opportunities left, right and centre to appear at exciting award ceremonies, red-carpet events, five-star holidays, not to mention the fact he hadn't 'hung out' with his friends for the past four months.   

So off to Australia he went alone (none of his direct coaching team went, which highlights the  importance of this competition) and he came away with not just one, but two gold medals  - one in an event he doesn't normally compete in. I was so proud of him. A great way to end the year. Now it was about time for my son to have some fun and let his hair down.  He had done his job. He had also played a key role in funding your organisation. So can you not see why I'm so angry with your lack of support? 

Your comments in February 2012 were a big enough blow: Tom was five months away from the biggest competition in his life where he should have as much support as possible and you spoke out to him via the media after Alexei had let emotion take over at a press conference and after Tom's team had met your team to discuss the real issues.

As it turned out, one of the issues then was that there was a lack of funding for a masseur for Tom, which Alexei wanted... so Tom - not British Swimming - funded this. From memory it cost Tom £3,000. We said nothing at the time. 
The other issue was a trip to Sydney Zoo organised by British Swimming where he was swamped by fans. Alexei hated this. However, British Swimming - not Tom - organised the visit. So to now see your remarks three-and-a-half years before the next Olympics makes me so angry.

Tom has always worked his hardest when it comes to his training. Diving has always taken priority.  We have all worked closely with Tom's coaching team (Andy and Alexei) plus Tom's agents to create a plan that ensures he has the best path for success. 

Do you communicate with anyone, David? Perhaps you should try to talk to Tom? Of course the headlines make you look important and help protect you should Tom not deliver any medals. Wouldn't it be better to work with one of your most important athletes rather than against him? 

Had you been kept up to date you would know that we all agreed to keep Tom's commercial days to a minimum and ensured no training was missed in the two years prior to the Games unless approved by everybody. 
The irony is that while all Tom's sponsors respected this and used no days in the months leading up to the Games, the only request that was not originally approved came from British Swimming. Funny how things change when it suits British Swimming! 

It's also baffling that you openly criticise Tom when you yourself have called in special favours for Tom to make appearances (such as that eight-hour trip to Loughborough in 2011 when I last saw you).   

Tom trained in December, also attending an intensive training camp the week before Christmas, and continues to train this month. Splash! is now one weekend day of his time. His coach and mentor is also part of the show. If you were worried, why did you not speak to Andy? If you had actually watched Splash! you would have seen him as a judge. 
The Chinese comparisons really annoy me - and I know that they annoy Tom. He was not born in  Beijing. He was born in Plymouth. I saw a documentary a few years  ago which showed the Chinese boot-camp style of training in sport. This is not Tom. He would not  function if his life was just diving. 

He is very bright, works incredibly hard and over the last 10 years has given up so much to focus on his 2012 Olympic goal. I know that he will do the same for 2016. However, Tom is never going to lead a lifestyle similar to a Chinese diver. 
I am sure that he will always be the best he can be in his sport. Splash! is an appropriate show for Tom. Yes, it can improve following the first show. However, a lot of grandparents, mums, teenagers and kids loved it.
As you did not watch the show, I can tell you that it is a diving show and it promotes a key sport that is under your leadership.

You told Tom's agent on Monday that it would do nothing to help the sport in the UK. How ironic to see that your marketing department has today promoted watching Splash! on Twitter to British Swimming's followers. So you are worried about Tom's performances? Well, I am worried about yours.
A leader should  motivate his team, not make them think: 'Why do I bother?' Did you speak out to protect your UK Sport funding and be seen to do the right thing for them? Well, if UK Sport want to demotivate the key person in a sport, carry on David. Good work. 

While you may want Tom to do more training, I would like you to do leadership, media and motivation courses. Tom may benefit from some UK Sport funding but he has to fund his own life from sponsorship and media work. When the Splash! opportunity came to us, it was a completely appropriate one for him and we also believed that it would help our sport long term - there is not a lot of diving or swimming for that matter on television, David. That is meant to be your job. 

Tom, though, is just giving some advice and encouragement - and having some fun. I am glad that he is doing Splash! even though I don't like to read negative reviews of the show. Those opinions, though, I can handle. Yours I would like you to manage given your role within the sport and the impact that it is having on my son.

Yours sincerely, 

Debbie Daley

1 comment:

  1. We need more mums like Toms! I am sad to see that my point about respecting that the swimmers (and divers!) need to at least try to make a return on investment did not sink in to the CEO of British Swimming. He should be the happiest of all about the Splash-show! You can't buy publicity like that! And in stead he demeans it. We had a similar experience three years ago when Lotte Friis was the first swimmer ever to be invited to compete in "Dancing with the stars". Everybody thought "WHAT A CHANCE FOR SWIMMING EXPOSURE" ... but the national coach openly critizied it in the media. The above shows that not only Scandinavian countries have a long way to go... sigh... /Ricki Clausen