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Disputed Fiji beauty queen quits pageant fiasco ‘lies, deception’

Miss World Fiji 2012

From the front page of the latest edition of Wansolwara, the student journalists newspaper at the University of the South Pacific. Image: PMC

Pacific Scoop:
Report – By Edward Tavanavanua and Parijata Gurdayal in Suva

The Miss World Fiji 2012 Pageant is under scrutiny following a plethora of allegations – including over the winner’s young age and that her victory was “pre-determined”.

The school girl beauty queen Torika Watters today made a a statement on Mai Life Facebook page that she had left the pageant “lies, deception and lack of transparency” behind this week and was getting on with her life in Nadi.

Although the pageant concluded late last month, the Miss World Organisation had yet to add Watters, winner of the Fiji franchise, to the list of beauty queens on its official website when Wansolwara went to press.

Torika Watters

Fiji beauty queen Torika Watters ... getting on with her life after all the controversy. Photo: Mai Life/photobure.com

The organisation did not respond to queries emailed to it by Wansolwara – but Fiji franchise director Andhy Blake has since confirmed changes.

First runner-up Koini Vakaloloma will represent Fiji in Miss World 2012 in Ordos, Inner Mongolia, China, on August 18 and Watters will represent Fiji in Miss World 2013 in Bali, Indonesia.

Earlier, Blake had refused requests for an in-person interview with Wansolwara. When asked over the phone whether Watters had been accepted into the international competition, he said “it’s a surprise”.

He also declined to comment on whether the funds raised from a charity ball, which was held to create awareness on mental health, had been given to St Giles Hospital.

The Miss World pageant is reputed for its charity work.  Each country chapter is required to raise money for charity.

Blake said the press statement he issued earlier was sufficient and that he would no longer give any other telephone interviews.

Designer breaks silence
Meanwhile, in an earlier interview, Pacific fashion designer Hupfeld Hoerder broke his silence to confirm that the six-member judging panel, on which former New Zealand supermodel Rachel Hunter was chief judge, had no input in selecting Miss World Fiji.

The panel was required to select the best three from the 13 contestants before Miss World Fiji is selected. Hoerder said 16-year-old Watters was not among the panel’s final three. He also pointed out that Watters will not turn 17 until next year.

The international contest stipulates 17 years as the minimum age for entry.

Wansolwara logoHoerder said the Fiji contest was decided from the start.

He said weeks before the crowning, Blake repeatedly declared his preference for Watters to win the pageant.

Hoerder also listed several other irregularities, like the absence of a judging criteria and the lack of showings scheduled for the panel to view and assess the
contestants.

Hoerder, who has experience as a Miss Hibiscus judge, said the fact that they only had one meeting with the contestants was extremely irregular.

The assessment also was confined to their life story or experiences.

No judging criteria
Blake later confirmed in a press statement that no judging criteria or points system was used to judge the contestants.

“If you are asked to be a judge for Miss World, then you should come with the mindset of hearing genuine stories and not with the expectations of age, points tabulation,” he said.

He added that based on this fact that no judging or points system was employed, any allegations of judging being rigged are false.

“I gave my own personal opinions on whoever I saw fitting for the title without influencing the judges as to who should be the rightful winner,” Blake said.

Watters declined to talk to Wansolwara without Blake’s approval.

However, she was interviewed by Television New Zealand’s Mark Sainsbury. She told TVNZ that she had chosen to ignore the negative criticism and to focus on the Miss World contest in Mongolia.

She was referring to criticism that she was unsuitable because she did not look “native” enough.

Watters said she took the criticisms as a challenge to showcase what she was capable of.

Edward Tavanavanua and Parijata Gurdayal are student journalists at the University of the South Pacific reporting for Wansolwara.

LATEST:  Message from Torika Watters on Mai Life Magazine Facebook:

Re: Miss World Fiji 2012 Pageant:

I would like to state that I have had no involvement in any of this underhand process and that I have been blind to this entire drama going on behind the scenes. I had no knowledge of any pre-selection or pre-judging. I had no intention of doing anything sneaky or wrong and, like the other contestants, entered the competition for what I believed to be the right reasons – to be an Ambassador for Fiji and raise money for charitable causes.

Andhy Blake first contacted me on FB on the March 7 to invite me to be a part of the Miss World Fiji Pageant. He said he would reserve a place for me among the semifinalists because I was in Sydney at the time. I told him that I would not be turning 17 until next year, 2013, and asked if that mattered. he said it was fine as he had sought prior approval from the CEO of Miss World, Julia Morley. I arrived into Fiji on the April 8 and came to Suva to join the other contestants on the April 11.

On the night of the finals, I was delighted and surprised to be chosen as Miss World Fiji and was proud to be given the opportunity to represent my Fijian heritage on the World stage. I am proud of my identity as a Fijian and have never considered my people as racists. The TVNZ interview was something I was coached to do by the pageant director Andhy Blake and I have at all times, up till now, been given the words to say in public as part of my training. This is why I have come out today with my own statement.

Last week Friday, May 4, Andhy Blake told me: ” Sorry, you cannot go to Mongolia. I thought that 16-year-olds could enter Miss World but I was wrong. They have to be closer to 17. Julia Morley has advised me to send the first runner up this year and says you can go to Bali next year.” He opened his laptop and paraphrased an email from the Miss World HQ in which they had stated I was ineligible to compete on the grounds of my age. We then held a meeting in Bau Apartments the next day at which he TOLD me to officially inform the other girls that I would not be going.

I am now back in Nadi with my mum and just want to get on with my life. I left Suva and the entire pageant fiasco on Monday May 7 because I was becoming very uncomfortable with the situation. I was worried about the lies, the deception, the lack of transparency and the lack of professionalism. I knew there were issues with money, some of the girls had not received the promised prize money and were unhappy. I am sad it has come to this and wanted the public to hear directly from me without any outside interference.

Vinaka

Torika Watters, Miss World Fiji 2012

Torika steps down – and up, in my esteem – Croz Walsh

The latest edition of Wansolwara

3 comments:

  1. Henry Kleinstoll, 13. May 2012, 10:13

    why doesn’t surprises me that?
    In Fiji is transparency not available so does honesty!
    Congratulation to your open letter, hope that the Fiji Youth does better over the Years and not stick to that kind of self-rages attitude happened the last 12 Years. Thank you Torika, by the way you deserve better and are from my point of view the real Queen !!!!!
    Regards Henry

     
  2. Chris Caine, 13. May 2012, 13:46

    Good summarised story.

    Thank you for posting her statement which is not visible on Facebook.

    But will/does she want to go to Bali, or is it inferred that she doesn’t to?

     
  3. Taraivini Wati, 14. May 2012, 21:41

    This has been one whole sorry mess. The media want a headline and racist Fiji undoubtedly scores column inches – yes, racism exists and yes, it is ugly and difficult – but the issue here is process. The pageant was compromised from the outset – and with the interplay of other issues surrounding pluralism and egalitarianism – rather than it, amongst other things, providing an opportunity to celebrate and leverage diversity in a way that builds social capital and increased civic engagement, this whole sorry episode just feeds into already negative public perceptions of race and cultural politics in Fiji. Well done to all the girls who participated – God bless Fiji and its peoples.