24 Nov 2022

Top athletes want change to the NZ sporting system

2:23 pm on 24 November 2022
New Zealand rowing legend Mahe Drysdale.

Mahe Drysdale Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Rowing great Mahe Drysdale is spearheading an employment case that could have major implications for the New Zealand sports system.

Drysdale is leading the newly formed athlete union - the Athletes Cooperative - which has lodged a case against High Performance Sport New Zealand with the Employment Relations Authority.

Athletes from two of the country's most successful Olympic sports have launched landmark employment proceedings against High Performance Sport NZ.

The group includes more than 60 rowers and cyclists, who want better rights for athletes, improved well-being and financial stability.

Their attempt to enter collective bargaining with High Performance Sport NZ failed and the issue has now been taken higher.

It is understood the athletes want to be considered employees rather than contractors.

In a statement HPSNZ chief executive Raelene Castle said: "Athlete voice and well-being continues to be a priority for High Performance Sport New Zealand. However, given the confidential nature of this issue, we won't comment further to respect the integrity of the process."

Drysdale said ever since the 2016 Olympics he and other athletes had wanted a change in key areas.

"We want a better environment for athletes, we want to be respected and we want to be a part of designing the system that delivers the results in New Zealand and unfortunately at the moment that is not the case.

"We are told what, how and why we are doing things and so this is our opportunity to try and negotiate co-designing a system that we're all happy with."

Picture by Will Palmer/SWpix.com - 29/07/2022 - Birmingham 2022, Commonwealth Games, Track and Para Track Cycling - Lee Valley Velopark, London - Men's 4000m Team Pursuit - Finals - New Zealand win Gold, Aaron GATE, Jordan KERBY, Tom SEXTON and Campbell STEWART

NZ cyclists Photo: SWPix / www.photoport.nz

Drysdale said the group felt athletes should have a say in how government funding was spent.

High Performance Sport New Zealand formed an Athletes Leaders Network last month to provide a voice for athletes, but Drysdale felt the athletes' voice needed to be independent.

"Our members felt that (the Athletes Leaders Network) is not what they wanted to be represented by so we're now taking our own route.

"Without independence you can't actually achieve what you want because you're always hamstrung if you're reliant on the funding from the government.

"If you're against what they want you're always liable of having that funding cut."

While HPSNZ provided funding to get the Athlete Leaders' Network operational, it said it would be independent and they would have no say in how it was run.

HPSNZ said it was entirely run and operated by the athletes.

The Employment Relations Authority hearing is scheduled for February.