Rich Foster President of USWP water polo not only volunteered to answer a set of questions by me, but he suggested it. What a welcome Tsunami of fresh air for water polo. Hopefully this is an omen of things to come with USWP. Wouldn't that be great for this to continue? Then the term, "USWP openness", would no longer be an oxymoron? It would also be great for the water polo community because then we could sing, "Happy days are here again." This, of course, is assuming there was once a point in time that there were happy days between the water polo community and the USWP.
In discussing the ground rules for the question and answer session by email, Rich wrote, "I will answer any question you pose. I know I don't have to say this, but don't be hesitant to ask hard questions." I think it is both gutsy and courageous for an USWP leader to ask me to ask him some tough questions. Consequently, I pulled no punches in creating the questions for this welcomed interview, and I believe the same can be said for Rich Foster in writing his answers. I might add that in forming my questions I pulled a Joe Cocker because, "I had a little help from my friends." Here are the results of our written exchange concerning the baker's dozen of hard questions I asked, and the straight forward answers Rich gave.
Doc's Question 1: We have a fairly good idea what the USOC and FINA are trying to do. What is US Water Polo doing to help retain Water Polo as an Olympic Sport?
RF's Response: I can speak from experience that the issue of setting on and staying on the Olympic program is very complicated. In the 80's and 90's USA Water Polo was the leader in the effort to have women's water polo added as an Olympic sport. It was difficult, because there was no road map and everyone had a different idea as to which approach was better. In the end, we focused our lobbying efforts with FINA. Mustapha Larfaoui, its President, and Cornel Marculescu, its Director were key people in getting it on the program. I think they were convinced by the passion for inclusion from diverse areas of the world. Australia, Canada and Holland joined with the United States to be key proponents of women's water polo at a time when few thought it could happen. These four countries banded together, created some excitement and drew many other countries to the movement. FINA noticed and pushed hard with the IOC to get us in.
But now we must keep Men's and Women's water polo on the program. The Olympics is a business. The IOC will be looking at the attractiveness of each sport on the program. Factors under consideration are the popularity of the sport worldwide, fan interest at the Olympics and the history of the sport.
FINA is still the key and we are working closely with FINA to keep both Women's and Men's Water Polo on the program. I was recently placed on a FINA committee that has been discussing ideas to promote our sport world wide. The United States has been the biggest supporter of the World League, which helps promote the sport in Europe, South America and Europe. There are plans to add teams from Asia. The World League is strong evidence to the IOC on the strength of our sport. World League semifinals for the Women's and Men's division will be in New York this summer. It is important that our fans support this event.
We are also trying to support water polo in our continent. This is important, because it strengthens the world wide appeal of the sport. We have hosted international referee, coach and player clinics. We have collaborated with Latin American countries to help strengthen their programs. We recently met with the Mexican Federation and have agreed to help them identify water polo players of Mexican descent living in the States who may be able to strengthen their National Team.
The best thing we can do, however, is to continue to field strong National Teams. Right now, the sport is very strong in Europe and we are the only non-European country on the men's side with a good chance to medal. On the women's side, Australia and Canada are strong, but we need more teams from outside of Europe to be competitive. Strong U.S. teams will help keep our sport on the program.
Having the Olympics in Athens was very good for water polo. The venue was full every day. More water polo tickets were sold than for swimming. I was there, and I can assure everyone, that water polo at the Olympics was very exciting. It should be. We have a great sport and people enjoy watching it. Water polo is the oldest team sport in the Olympics. Rest assured that USA Water Polo is working hard to keep it that way.
Doc's Question 2: Both the USWP and the American Water Polo (AWP) are trying in their own ways to help water polo in this country. Do you think that USWP and the AWP can combine resources to help advance the growth of the sport at the age group level.
RF's Response: This is a difficult question. As you know, I was upset when two of our employees left to form a rival organization. We are a minor sport and I don't think that splitting into two factions is particularly healthy. The name "American Water Polo" is also confusing to the general public. The name implies that they are the national organization for the sport and USA Water Polo is the single National Governing Body chartered by Federal law.
Having said that, we are always open to creative ideas and opportunities. Dan Sharidan is a very bright and innovative guy. When AWP was first formed, I made a serious proposal to Dan to work together, but he declined. I think he was excited about his new venture and the timing wasn't right. I would certainly be interested in further discussions. This is a big country and working together in a positive manner would help to advance water polo, especially at the age group level.
Doc's Response: There was and is no rival organization formed by these two ex-employees. The AWP was formed by these two individuals to be a water polo organization which caters more to the grass root players, parents, spectators, and referees - people that would not necessarily be involved with a National Team. They had and have no intention then or now of starting or running a rival organization - helping water polo is one of their greatest passions. If you were to cut the arms of these two people we are discussing then they would bleed nothing but "water polo concern". Finally, I wonder, was that proposal made to Dan before or after the USWP threaten to sue the AWP?
Doc's Question 3: We know in the next four years there are going to be a lot of problems to solve in our sport. What do you feel is the biggest problem facing USWP this quadrennial?
RF's Response: We simply need to grow our numbers in every sector of the country. We need more coaches; they are the persons who are so important in attracting more athletes to our sport. Mike Lewis is in charge of coaching development. He has had some great ideas and we are really pleased with his performance. I'd suggest you schedule a separate interview with Mike. To increase our numbers, we also need to continuously review and improve our product. By that I mean our events and membership services. Athletes and coaches who are happy with our product will bring in more members.
Doc's Question 4: The Iron Curtain between the East and West was not very healthy for the world and a perceived USWP Iron Curtain between the USWP leaders and members is not healthy for the USWP either. How much USWP business do you really think should be completed in closed meetings or closed conference calls?
RF's Response: As a general rule, the only time we have closed meetings is when we discuss personnel issues. At the annual meetings, virtually all meetings are open to anyone who wants to attend. The exception is the Hall of Fame committee. It needs to be able to discuss nominees in private.
As for the conference calls, I assume you are referring to the monthly Executive Committee conference calls. These calls are limited to the Executive Committee members and key staff members. We also try to include persons directly affected by the issues we discuss. Many times, I've been asked by members to participate in a call and I have never said no. Minutes of these conference calls are posted on our Website. Until you raised this question, I hadn't received any comment or complaint about these calls. From a practical standpoint, I don't think it makes much sense to allow open access to these calls. Conference calls are difficult to begin with. The background noise with ten people participating is bad enough. Also, I don't think it would be productive to have other people making comments; it would be very difficult to control. If you have any suggestions, I'll listen.
Doc's Question 5: Look at what hiding financial transactions from the public and stock holders has done to the reputation of large corporations in this country. Why are the USWP financial reports and annual meeting minutes not more readily available to the members and why are they not posted on your web site?
RF's Response: All of our minutes are put up on the website as soon as they are approved. Our financial reports are distributed at the annual meeting. Still, I think your idea of posting the financial information on the website is a good one and something we should have done before now. Tom Seitz, our Executive Director, and Alan Cima, our treasurer, are working on this now. As soon as auditor's report for 2004 is received we will post it on the website. In addition, Alan Cima is summarizing our 2005 budget for posting on the website as we speak. We are late on the 2005 budget because the USOC hasn't finalized its 2005 allocation to us.
Doc's Question 6: You have said the members on the Water Polo Planet web site have been overly critical of USWP and its leaders. Would you explain what you mean by that statement?
RF's Response: First, let me say that I am a fan of the Water Polo Planet website. Also, after a couple decades of being in a leadership position with USWP, I am used to constructive and unconstructive criticisms leveled against me. I hope those criticisms keep coming, especially the constructive variety, because it helps me to better understand the problems and address them.
Second, in general, I don't think the site is "overly critical" and I shouldn't have used that phrase. There are times though, that I think the site has gone too far. For example, many of your points in the "Seven Deadly Sins" article are based on some misperceptions about USA Water Polo. I won't belabor the point, but as one example, the article implies that USA Water Polo leaders are lying to the membership. This is a huge and serious claim, but no specifics are offered. While I have had disagreements with other members, and could have been mistaken about an issue or fact, I have not lied to anyone. To throw some constructive criticism back at you, the article is a bit reckless in that it implies that USWP is engaged in some serious misconduct. I think the article could have been much better if you had contacted me prior to its release to discuss the issues in it. I'm not suggesting that USWP should have had any editorial control; I'm just suggesting that some of the misperceptions could have been answered before you posted it and, as a result, it could have been a better, more accurate article.
In the end, however, I like to think of such editorials as coming from the "loyal opposition" and appreciate the thought you put into it. I think you and the others who manage the site believe in water polo and your hearts are clearly in the right place.
Doc's Follow-up Question: First, the Seven Deadly Sin's article was not just about the USWP. It was about Sports Federations in general, and the FINA, the USWP, and the NCAA in particular. Should I have called the Presidents of all Sports Federations and ask them what they thought as well?
RF's Response: I think the average reader would think the article is directed towards USWP. There are at least five direct or indirect references to USWP and the red colored line directly underneath the title of the article indicates that the article is intended for USWP. Moreover, the article is on a water polo website. I seriously doubt that any of the other Sports Federations thinks the article was intended for them. Still, the article makes some very good points. I don't mind if USWP is the target of the article. Mistakes are made by management when stakeholders don't voice their complaints and ideas. I find the Water Polo planet website to be a great source of creativity for our sport, even though no Californian is involved in the management of it (just kidding about the Californian).
Doc's Response: Why has every other article I have written on the web site that is strictly about the USWP had its initials or name in the title and not this one? This article was as much about FINA and the NCAA as it was about the USWP. If a Sports Federation leader thinks everything he or she reads about water polo is about his or her organization. Then he or she might be arrogant - this comment is better explained in the "...Seven Deadly Sins..." article!
Doc's Follow-up Question: Second, when Terence Ma told the coaches players, parents, referees, and sports vendors that the rules stated that teams could not use their own caps in the National Championships, was that or was that not a lie?
RF's Response: I spoke with Tere after the incident was brought to my attention. I believe he simply misconstrued our obligations to Speedo, who is one of our major sponsors, and acted on incorrect information. In Tere's defense, the decision was not made in a vacuum. He consulted with USWP staff prior to the decision and made an announcement at the coaches' meeting about the caps to be used in the tournament. No coach initially raised any objection, including those sponsored by TruWest. Several teams did not bring caps because the decision had been announced several weeks before the event by staff. The first complaint was raised in the middle of the competition and Tere felt uncomfortable changing this decision mid-way through the tournament. Accordingly, I don't think it is fair to accuse Tere of lying, especially in view of all the circumstances. At worst an incorrect decision was made based on incorrect underlying facts told to him.
I also think that there was previous animosity between Tere and Gary Westwell. They have had run-ins in the past over Gary's attempt to market TruWest products at our events when his company is not a USWP sponsor. I think this mutual animosity generated some illogical decisions by both of them.
Having said that, this incident has been totally blown out of proportion. Your message board is being dominated about an incorrect decision concerning what caps had to be worn at two events. Do you really think that this is a capital case? There is a rule in law that the penalty has to fit the crime. I had a very good conversation with Gil Westwell, whom I believe owns the company. Gil told me that our announcement on our website- that an incorrect decision was made- was fine with him. As I mentioned, I also told Gil that I would personally send a letter to any of the clubs he sponsors. I found Gil's response to be very professional and reasonable. This issue should be closed.
Gary filed a Board of Review complaint against Tere. I removed myself from playing any role because it was a complaint against a fellow officer and friend and I did not want the appearance of a conflict. Tom Seitz submitted the complaint to our outside counsel and the Executive Counsel. The Executive Council determined that there was no basis for the complaint. Gary's option is to now appeal to the USOC. He is free to do this and we will, of course, abide by any decision the USOC might make if Gary chooses that route.
Doc's Response: A rule is a rule is a rule, and a rule by any other name would still be a rule. When players break rules in a game or members violate a rule they are punished, then why shouldn't USWP Officers and/or Staff be punished when they break the rules. What is good for the membership is good for the Officers and Staff!
Doc's Question 7: There is also a perception of many members that there is very poor communication among the USWP leadership and the USWP members. Why hasn't there been an open exchange, until now, of information among USWP leaders and USWP members to dispel this perception? (This is a very good start.)
RF's Response: First, I'd like to thank you for doing this question and answer session. Any time you want to direct more questions my way, or to any other USWP official or staff person, please do so.
Second, we are not perfect. We try to communicate through our magazine and website. We also have open forums at the Annual Meeting. This past meeting we had a lengthy and productive forum on our website and message board. There were numerous criticisms to which we are trying to respond. One of the criticisms was deleting the ability to post anonymous messages, which we have already corrected.
When Tom Seitz was selected as our Executive Director, we sent him across the country to meet with leaders from each Zone and to learn of their concerns. We probably need more of this. I suspect that some sectors of USWP think there is a high level of communication and others would grade us much lower. The fact that you raised this issue means we have to investigate this and come up with better solutions. We'll do that. Again, we'd be receptive to any suggestions.
Doc's Question 8: When a USWP Officer is blatantly guilty of misconduct don't you believe that the officer should be reprimanded in public similar to what happened to you and the USOC?
RF's Response: I'll address my own misconduct first. Actually, it wasn't the USOC, it was FINA. I went "ballistic" over the refereeing at a World League game. I was totally out of line. Unfortunately, I am one of those persons with a wide range of emotions. I was extremely upset with the international referees and I let my emotions get the best of me. I apologized to everyone involved, including in private meetings with the referees. The reprimand actually wasn't a public one; it was conveyed to me privately. However, because the misconduct was in public, I thought I owed the USWP membership a public apology. I volunteered to have the misconduct and my apology disclosed publicly on the USWP website. Believe me, this was painful, but far less difficult than having to deal with my wife, who was furious with me. The point is that all of the leaders in USWP need to be accountable, especially me.
On a larger scale, of course officials guilty of misconduct should be reprimanded. If any member is aware of any misconduct by an officer or other leader, we want to know about it and will take appropriate measures. If the misconduct is not so serious, the reprimand can be private. If it is serious, then it should be public. I am not aware of blatant misconduct by any USA Water Polo official. There was a complaint about an official making an incorrect decision last year as to what caps had to be worn at our National Championships. I would hardly call this blatant misconduct. I volunteered to the company that was negatively affected to write a letter to anyone they designated and to post a message on our website correcting the situation. The owner thanked me, but one of the employees continues to post venomous messages on your message board. That is his right, of course, but he has gone overboard and it is now gotten to the point where it might affect his company's business. He has attacked me personally, but I've known him for twenty years and have done a lot of business with his company. I'll let my overall good experience with that company overshadow this recent conduct.
Doc's Follow-up Question: You are correct when you implied that one person caused this incident over which caps can be worn at a National Championship, but you have the wrong person. It was not the vendor but it was Terence Ma that caused this incident. Yes, the USWP wrote an apology on their web site, but, to my knowledge and the knowledge of the people on our Message Board, Terence Ma has never made a formal apology to the people he wronged. Why hasn't the USWP asked Terence Ma to make a formal apology?
RF's Response: I've never suggested that the vendor (TruWest) caused the incident. If you imply that from my answer, then let me make it very clear that the vendor was not at fault. I do believe, however, that the vendor has blown this minor incident out of proportion. The Federation has made a statement that an incorrect decision was made and apologized for any inconvenience this caused. This should be the end of it. As I stated above, the owner of the company told me he was satisfied. Moreover, the Federation's apology was appropriate. The decision was not made solely by Tere; the decision was influenced by incorrect information given to him. There have been some slanderous statements made about Tere on your website. Those persons who posted those comments should consider an apology to Tere. Again, let's move on.
Doc's Response: That four line, paltry apology appeared on your web site for four or five days and then again it magically disappeared. It did not reappear until a stink was made about it on the Water Polo Planet Message Board. Now you tell us it was not just a bone head play by Terence Ma but other USWP leaders and/or staff members were also a part of this scandalous behavior, which should probably be labeled "cap-gate". How can we move on when one or more of the leaders and/or staff of our National Organization was/were 1) misconstruing our obligations to one of our few National sponsors, 2) receiving or disseminating misinformation, 3) making incorrect decisions (1 - 3 are your words not mine) and/or 4) ignorant of the rules they are to enforce?
Doc's Question 9: Whether it is true or not there is the perception that the staff in Colorado Springs is not very effective? If this is not true then explain why, and if it is true what can the USWP do about it?
RF's Response: It would be helpful if you could be more specific I know our staff works very hard and has accomplished a great deal in the last two years. Among other things, they have (i) created an on-line membership registration and data base management system, (ii) taken the production of our magazine in house, giving it a new graphic look and saving significant dollars, (iii) developed a new bid process for our championship events, (iv) reorganized our entire national staff, (v) created a new USWP coaches certification program, (v) increased member benefits, and (vi) maintained excellent relationships with our sponsors.
Again, without specifics, it is hard to respond. I would encourage a continuous dialogue with you to identify any problems so that we can address them.
Doc's Response: If one or more of the staff were involved in "cap- gate" that would be a specific instance that would need to be addressed by the USWP Officers.
Doc's Question 10: There is another perception of some members that the USWP is only concerned about the well being and growth of water polo in California. Can you give me several examples of how the USWP is attempting to further water polo in other parts of the country?
RF's Response: While I do believe there are some valid concerns, I think this perception is, for the most part, inaccurate. California is the current hotbed of our sport, but many areas of the country are getting stronger and will push California soon.
I think that the emergence of strong water polo in various regions of the country is due, in part, to programs instituted by USA Water Polo. Many of these programs were influenced by leaders outside of California. Mike Schofield has been a strong proponent of nationalization of our sport. While Mike and I have sometimes strongly disagreed about our direction, Mike has been a strong force in changing USWP's focus and has influenced my thinking on many issues. The following is a partial list of programs we have instituted (many of which have been championed by Californians):
1. The Speedo Cup. About ten years ago, I had many discussions with Zone leaders about developing stronger age group programs across the country. I was pretty blunt with them. I told them that they were not going to compete with California teams if they didn't develop players at younger ages. In California, clubs start kids at seven years old, some even younger. To generate interest in younger athletes, we developed the Speedo Cup, giving each Zone the right to send at least one team. I don't think there is any question that it has worked. As an example, my friends in the Midwest tell me that the Speedo Cup has been instrumental in the development of their age group programs. I think it has had similar effects in most of the other Zones.
2. Junior Olympics. The Junior Olympics used to always be in Southern California because that is where most of the clubs were. We now rotate this event across the country. We have also made it more of an open tournament so that more teams from more areas of the country could participate. It got so big that we had to tone it down a bit, but every Zone is guaranteed spots in each division.
3. Zone Rebates. We used to return money to each Zone based on their registration numbers. Zones in California got the lion's share of these rebates and other Zones weren't getting enough money to make much of a difference. Now, each Zone gets a same base amount of money regardless of registrations. The California Zones were not pleased with this change, because they had to give up a lot of money, but we believed it was important to increase the financial support to the other Zones to give them a better shot at developing the sport. The California Zones recognized this and have cooperated.
4. PACE Clinics. During the last four years, our Women's National Team Staff developed these fantastic clinics. They have operated these clinics, usually at sellout levels, across the country. We will continue to offer these clinics to all Zones.
5. International Events. For a long time, almost all international events were held in California. There are a number of reasons for this, but we believed it was very important to start placing some of these events elsewhere. In the early 90's we organized a tour of international teams across the country. Washington D.C., Houston, Chicago hosted these great competitions. In the last quadrennial, we placed a major women's tournament in Chicago and the World League Super Finals in New York. As I mentioned earlier, New York is hosting the World League Semi-finals this summer for both the men and women.
6. Pennsylvania Office. For many years, we had an office in Pennsylvania, headed by Dan Sharadin. There was no question that this office was significant in the development of water polo, especially in the East. The effort was very beneficial to USWP, but unfortunately, Dan left to start up AWP.
7. Membership and Marketing Committee. I just appointed a membership and marketing committee to examine the critical issues of growing our sport and the impact of other sports on water polo. The committee will also examine increasing benefits to members and better marketing of our sport. Top business and sports leaders have been appointed to this committee and I'm looking forward to their suggestions.
8. Christmas Camps. Each December we host a Christmas camp in Colorado Springs. As you know, this was started by Dennis Fosdick who passed away. "Fos" was Mr. Development and he created this camp to teach coaches and players from across the country. Mike Lewis is doing a great job of continuing Dennis' program. Thousands of coaches and athletes have attended these camps and have returned to their Zones to share what they have learned.
Doc's Response: If today there is no Dan Sharadin or a Pennsylvania Office how in good conscience can you place it in your list. I could only find one in your list that does not meet the test of time, so that is a plus for your response, and more importantly a plus for non-California water polo.
Doc's Question 11: There is also the perception of some members that the USWP is only concerned about the elite players and the National Teams. Can you give me several examples of how the USWP is attempting to foster age group and club water polo in this country? (You cannot use the Premier League as an example because that is benefiting mostly elite players.)
RF's Response: To begin with, USWP is charged by the USOC to field and train the National Teams. Peter Ueberroth, the President of the USOC (and friend of USA Water Polo), has directed that funding from the USOC will go to those sports that are medal competitive. The USOC is our largest sponsor and much of the money we receive from it is earmarked for specific National Team programs.
Strong National Teams create an environment for development of age group programs. We experienced a huge spike in membership registrations when our Men's team won medals in 1984 and 1988. Their exposure on National TV and in the media has generated increased development after each subsequent Olympics. The success of our Women's team at the Olympics has generated huge numbers of new female athletes. Of course there are a number of other contributing factors, but the exposure of our National Teams has been instrumental in the development of our sport.
While we spend a considerable amount on our elite players, we also spend a lot of money on age group development. I've discussed specific programs in response to some of your other questions, but the Speedo Cup, Junior Olympics, PACE clinics and Zone Rebates have all been important programs in the development of age group programs.
Doc's Question 12: USWP does very little to market its athletes. Water polo has some of the best looking athletes in the world, but USWP doesn't seem to be able to make any connections. The sport needs to be sold. Can you give me examples of how the USWP is marketing our wonderful athletes and our grand sport of water polo?
RF's Response: I agree with you. I think this situation could be improved if our Marketing Director was located in California at the National Training Center. I don't think marketing our sport out of Colorado Springs makes a lot of sense.
We have experienced a phenomenal increase in the number of articles and television coverage of our sport and athletes. A few years ago, it was unheard of to get coverage in any newspaper or magazine. Now, we are experiencing regular coverage in major newspapers like USA Today and the Los Angeles Times. Sports Illustrated has given us some great articles. Our staff has done a great job at increasing this coverage.
Attracting new sponsors and their advertising and publicity dollars can enhance marketing opportunities and publicity for our athletes. At any rate, your comments are well taken and I think we need to do a better job.
Doc's Question 13: There is an old saying that if you do not know where you are going then how will you know you are there when you get there? What are the primary goals of USWP and how are these goals going to be achieved?
RF's Response: I think there are two broad goals which overlap a bit. The first is to get our teams on the medal podium at the Olympics and major international competitions. The second is to strengthen our clubs and our competition system across the country. As I mentioned earlier, strong National Teams encourage development.
On the first point, we've had lengthy discussions with the USOC as to how to create the best National Team system. One result of those discussions was to create the position of High Performance Director. As you know, we hired Guy Baker into that position. Guy achieved a great deal of success on the Women's side creating a great pipeline system. In his new position, he will be responsible for overseeing the men's and women's system in an effort to get both our teams on the podium. Ideally, the High Performance Director would not also coach a team, but we don't have the funds at this time, so Guy is also coaching the Men's National Team. Our plan is to separate these positions in 2008.
On the second point, we have hired new staff members to create better coaching education programs, create better athlete training programs, develop better national events, and to publicize our sport across the country. As I mentioned, we just established an ad hoc membership and marketing committee headed by Bill Smith and Kurt Krumpholz. The charge to this committee is to develop better membership benefits and better marketing programs. This committee just formed, but I think it will come up with some great ideas.
Tom Seitz has developed an events model to make our events more financially attractive for the hosts and we are also working on a model club program to give coaches a format to run financially successful clubs.
I have read Rich Foster's responses several times, and I am going to save my comments as to whether or not I think he answered all of my questions for another day. Members of the water polo community you judge whether Rich Foster's responses did or did not answer the questions, because as I told Rich, in an email, the Water Polo Planet is not the moderator's, the righteous referee's, or Doc's web site; it is the water polo community's web site.
Also I told Rich earlier in one of my questions, "This is a great first step", but it is only the first step in a hard and arduous journey to make, the sport we love so well, one of the most popular sports not just in this U S of A but in the world as well. Some times the journey is just as important as the destination. The willingness of Rich Foster, USWP President, to take this journey with the members of the water polo community is an exciting and excellent beginning. But a beginning is just a beginning unless we move forward toward goals written and approved by the rank and file of our organization - the membership. Maybe this article was one small step for Rich and me; and, hopefully, it was a big step for water polo.
Email Coach Hunkler at email@example.com