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Will another Swim England consultant report deliver a ‘great future’ for water polo, or is it just a pointless & expensive smoke screen – you decide! -

David Meli, CEO of England Handball until June 2019

Last week saw the appointment of consultant Mr David Meli by Swim England with promises of a ‘great future’ for water polo. Behind the headlines, Mr Meli probably does have some idea of the difficulties ahead as he was providing consultancy services for Swim England in relation to its AASE program before he was appointed to his new role in water polo, but even he might be in for a shock when he discovers quite how toxic the relationship is between many in the water polo community and Swim England

So, let’s examine what we know, and don’t know, about Mr Meli’s appointment and his new role.

The appointment process

Ian Elliot, the previous Chair of Swim England’s Water Polo Management Group has advised us that Mr Meli’s appointment was not approved, or even known about, by Ian Elliot, before Ian resigned as volunteer Chair on Sunday 13th October, announced by Swim England on Monday 14th October.

Fairly surprising then that Swim England was able to announce Mr Meli’s appointment online, complete with a range of supportive quotes from Jane Nickerson, Swim England CEO, and George Wood, Swim England’s Sport Development Director, and from Mr Meli himself, just after noon on the following day, Tuesday 15th October.

We therefore have 2 possible scenarios, either

1. Swim England did all the necessary procurement work including finding additional monies to pay for a consultant, agreed and obtained sign-off for an internal budget for the new appointment, placed the new consultancy role with clear Terms of Reference out to competitive tender to ensure value for money, received a detailed proposal from Mr Meli, considered the options and approached Mr Meli regarding the new role, interviewed him and others, considered and confirmed his appointment as preferred consultant, negotiated and agreed outline terms, drafted a detailed contract for Mr Meli’s consultant appointment, including Mr Meli’s payment terms and terms of reference for his new plan for water polo, and Mr Meli was able to agree all these matters and come up with a good quote for Swim England’s announcement…in less than a day


2. Swim England had been hatching this plan for some considerable time, possibly for a number of months, while the Water Polo Management Group was in post, and during which time Ian Elliot and the other members of the WPMG were kept completely in the dark as to Swim England’s plan for water polo, in essence completely ignoring the governance structure of its own organisation.

So, the first of a series of questions for the newly open and transparent CEO of Swim England, Jane Nickerson is:

1          When did Swim England first approach Mr Meli regarding a consultant appointment to develop a ‘great future’ for water polo?

2          Were plans to appoint a consultant regarding water polo already in train inside Swim England while members of the Water Polo Management Group were still in post?

3          When was the consultancy agreement in relation to the proposed water polo plan between Swim England and Mr Meli or his consultancy company in relation to the proposed water polo plan signed off by Swim England?

4          Why were Ian Elliot and the other members of the Water Polo Management Group not consulted about the initiative?

Mr Meli’s appointment and water polo finances

Water Polo is very significantly affected by the dismal failure of Swim England’s application to Sport England on behalf of water polo 3 years ago, with Sport England only granting a 2 year £100,000 parachute payment to the sport which ended in March 2019. And yet, Swim England has now budgeted sufficient money to fund a 12 month consultancy fee.

The water polo community has a right to know what is being spent on its behalf and on what activity, and we propose to ask the following questions of the CEO of Swim England, Jane Nickerson,

5          Please confirm the steps taken to ensure that value for money was obtained in respect of the consultancy agreement to provide a plan for water polo, including when and where the consultancy opportunity was advertised, how many expressions of interest were received by Swim England, what further consideration was given to each, and what criteria were used in relation to the selection of Mr Meli.

6          How many other consultants were interviewed in respect of a water polo plan?

7          Please confirm if, and when, the Swim England Board confirmed the appointment and budget for the appointment of a consultant for water polo, and where this is documented within the Board meeting notes. Otherwise please advise of the staff members, and/or volunteers, who authorised the appointment of Mr Meli.

8          Please advise of the contractual duration of the consultancy agreement in relation to the water polo plan.

9          What is the level of spend which has been allocated to the consultancy appointment in relation to the water polo plan?

The purpose of Mr Meli’s appointment

According to the Swim England press release dated 15 Oct 2019 Mr Meli will be putting together, ‘a comprehensive, sport-wide plan’. He will be, ‘supporting the establishment of the governance structure, the development and implementation of the plan, and communication’.

And yet, just under 5 years ago Swim England (then the ASA) paid approx. £25,000 to a different consultant for almost precisely the same review of the sport.

Ian Elliot, volunteer Chair of the Water Polo Management Group until Oct 2019

The volunteer Water Polo Management Group led by Ian Elliot, a Group which had extensive water polo and business expertise, was appointed and approved by both Swim England and British Swimming (see link to previous article) and then drafted and presented a detailed strategic and operational plan to Swim England and the water polo community in Nov 2015.

Click here to read the 2015 WPMG Strategic plan for water polo in full.

Although there has been little detail and no published Terms of Reference for the appointment of Mr Meli, it seems Mr Meli has been instructed to replicate functions which have already been discharged in full, and further he appears to have no significant water polo-specific experience or expertise.

We would like to make it clear that the personal integrity of Mr Meli is not in question, but the absence of transparency in relation to his appointment raises the following questions for Swim England:

10        What sports-specific experience or expertise does Mr Meli possess?

11        Is Mr Meli’s appointment simply a smoke screen to distract from the water polo community from the poor management and failed governance of the sport by Swim England?

Which brings us to the most important question that needs to be asked, and it’s one for the members of the water polo community to consider and answer:

Does the community believe that the current model of direct governance of the sport by Swim England is fit for purpose, or are there better ways of governing the sport in England?

Based on our social media feedback, we know that there is an increasing number of the water polo community who believe that the time is now right for water polo to decide its own future…

7 responses to “Will another Swim England consultant report deliver a ‘great future’ for water polo, or is it just a pointless & expensive smoke screen – you decide!”

  1. Peter Clayton says:

    Having been involved in Waterpolo ‍♂️ for 30 plus years at all levels, the only time the sport was served slightly was when David Reeves was in charge and Mike Glover was chair of the committee. Along came Sparkes with British Swimming snd the governance became even more Toxic. Jane Nickerson was one of his Rottweiler protectors. The game goes on and on. The game will only be served by becoming a federation on its own, but the game suffers from to much disrespect of each other.

  2. anonymous says:

    Thank you for addressing this.

    Just one more piece of information. SE conducted a survey/interviews by a consultant early in August. I wonder this was done by the same consultant. SE never reported back to us what they found. I wonder Ian was given any result from the survey.

    I’m going to write to our MP to draw some attention to the crisis of Water Polo community. If lots of people do the same across the country, our concern might reach Minister of Sport.

  3. Chris says:

    Swim England are letting all aquatic athletes down. Water polo is the whipping boy being a team sport they do not want. Time to break free

  4. Christine Whittaker says:

    Suggest that you preface these questions with, “consider this request under the Freedom of Information Act.”

  5. Sue Arrowsmith says:

    There are a lot of questions being asked about Swim England spend more broadly. This question needs to be asked in a more general context as: what is Swim England’s procurement policy and how does the process followed here fit within that? Or is the organisation so unprofessional that it actually does not have a proper procurement policy at all?

  6. Mark D says:

    Is there any reason why Mr Meli cannot be invited/encouraged/impelled to look at implications of Water Polo going fully independent of SE? Might as well get something useful out of him – even if report may be somewhat nuanced.

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