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'Pageant fiasco'

Tevita Vuibau
Sunday, May 13, 2012

Replaced Miss World Fiji Pageant 2012 winner Torika Watters has released a statement to this newspaper saying she just wants to get on with her life. And wants the public to "hear directly from me without any outside interference" regarding her displacement from this year's Miss World pageant scheduled for August in Mongolia.

Ms Watters will not be representing Fiji to the Miss World. First runner-up Koini Vakaloloma will.

Miss World Fiji pageant director Andhy Blake confirmed this to this newspaper yesterday saying the decision to replace Ms Watters was made after discussions with Ms Watters, her family and other contestants.

"We all agreed that Torika would go and represent Fiji to the Miss World 2013 competition in Bali when she would be better mentally prepared," he said. "But right now Ms Vakaloloma will be Fiji's rep to the Miss World Pageant."

When asked yesterday whether she had replaced Ms Watters, Ms Vakaloloma said, "yes, according to Andhy, it was decided by Miss World in London, because they haven't had 16-year-olds who have yet to turn 17 during their country reign."

Mr Blake had earlier said there was no age issue with Ms Watters but did confirm he had been told later by organisers that contestants had to be at least one month away from turning 17 by the start of the Miss World pageant.

In her statement, Ms Watters said: "Last week, Friday 4th May, 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 ... ," she quoted Mr Blake as saying.

Ms Watters went on: "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."

When asked about Ms Watters' claim of such an email, Mr Blake said: "That's not true."

In her statement, Ms Watters said Mr Blake had contacted her on Facebook on March 7 to invite her to be part of the Miss World Pageant.

"He said he would reserve a place for me among the semi-finalists because I was in Sydney at the time. I told him that I would not be turning 17 until next year 2012, and asked if that mattered, he said it was fine ... . I arrived into Fiji on the 8th of April and came to Suva to join the other contestants on the 11th of April".

Mr Blake said he knew Ms Watters' age and the age requirements of the pageant but had been told later by pageant organisers that 16-year-old contestants had to be at least one month away from turning 17 at the time of the pageant.

He said it was normal procedure for places to be reserved for contestants, adding he had personally approached and reserved places for at least four other contestants.

"Normally it is up to the discretion of the national director of the pageant to choose contestants who will have their places reserved," he said.

Mr Blake said he was not worried about criticism of the Miss World Fiji pageant as he was only accountable to the Miss World committee which is in London.

He said the Miss World committee had been very happy with his work and "really that's a testament in itself".

Ms Watters said she "was becoming very uncomfortable with the situation" citing "lies, deception, the lack of transparency and the lack of professionalism" as reasons for leaving Suva and the "entire pageant fiasco" on May 7.

"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 preselection or prejudging."

"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 (that) 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 (yesterday) with my own statement," Ms Watters said.

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