Olympian exposes Triathlon NZ's unhealthy attitude to athlete welfare

Ryan Sissons counts himself lucky to have the chance to compete at another world triathlon series event.

The two-time Olympian walked out of the NZ high performance squad last year, after growing frustrations with the way it was run.

"It wasn't a healthy situation for me to be in or for other athletes to be in," Sissons told Newshub. "And I didn't want to be a part of that."

That feeling stemmed from a dysfunctional high-performance programme.

But Newshub can reveal that the issues ran much deeper, to a complete lack of flexibility from the top that hampered any independence for their athletes.

"It was clear that people weren't happy with what was going on - everyone was being told what to do all the time. No-one had their own say, no-one did what they wanted to do."

Triathlon NZ appointed a three-person panel to commission a review, which they intended to remain internal.

It suggests Triathlon NZ should be "pro-active in looking after the welfare of... athletes" and "put a mechanism in place where issues can be raised without fear or favour" - recommendations that brush over what we now know to be major concerns around athlete welfare.

Ryan Sissons.
Ryan Sissons. Photo credit: Getty

Triathlon NZ advisor Fay Feeny oversaw the review and acknowledged that similar concerns in other sports that prompted respective reviews last year had influenced the decision to commission their own.

But Feeny insists their circumstances were different.

"There was no crisis," Feeny told Newshub. "We were in a good place."

But Triathlon NZ clearly came dangerously close to a crisis, as Sissons suggested high-performance funding was all that prevented athletes walking away.

"It does draw you towards sticking to something that may not be the best thing for you," he said.

"Could we have had a mass exodus on our hands, if not for the funding keeping them there? Potentially - people weren't happy."

And athlete welfare wasn't the only shortcoming at Triathlon NZ, with a total administrative failure also striking at the core of the organisation's issues.

"Like all the other sports, we've been caught a bit short in that area," said Feeny. "We need to pick that up as a project."

Triathlon NZ saw a glimpse of what it could achieve at the Commonwealth Games last year.

With their review now out of the way - and out in the open - the focus moves to striving for similar results in Tokyo.

Watch the full story above.