Words Matter

The political world has many examples of words being manipulated. Probably the most famous example occurred when President Clinton was accused of having an affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. In an attempt to end the controversy Clinton told a White House press conference, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky. These allegations are false.”

But the accusations continued until finally Clinton had to admit that he had engaged in an “improper physical relationship” with Lewinsky. He tried to justify the “I did not have sexual relations” lie with the following explanation.

“I thought the definition (of sexual relations) included any activity by [me], where [I] was the actor and came in contact with those parts of the bodies” which had been explicitly listed (and “with an intent to gratify or arouse the sexual desire of any person”). In other words, Clinton denied that he had ever contacted Lewinsky’s “genitalia, anus, groin, breast, inner thigh, or buttocks”, and effectively claimed that the agreed-upon definition of “sexual relations” included giving oral sex but excluded receiving oral sex.”

Clinton was playing with words. His oral sex with Monica Lewinsky had been sexual relations. Clinton knew it and so did the world.

I was reminded of that gifted manipulation of the English language during the discussion of swimming events in Rotorua city.

The conversation began when I asked the following questions:

Are there prohibited conflicts of interest in Swimming BOP’s handling of this issue?

The Swimming BOP Constitution is pretty specific about who can be on the Board. It says, “The following persons are not eligible to be a Board member: an employee of a Member Club.” It also says that “No Board member shall participate in or materially influence any decision made by Swimming BOP in respect of the payment to or on behalf of that Board member of any income, benefit or advantage whatsoever.”

Given these constitutional restraints the following questions do need to be addressed. How come the Chair of Swimming BOP, Bronwen Radford, has been employed by the Swim Rotorua Club as a team coach for over 10 years? That does seem to be blatantly unconstitutional. And how come Radford finds it acceptable to put her name on a letter that promotes her employer, the Swim Rotorua Club? That seems to be a clear case of promoting a “benefit or advantage”.

That prompted a pretty direct reply from Bronwen Radford. Her email reply said this.

I am not employed by swim rotorua

Radford’s assurance seemed at odds with what was on the Swim Rotorua website. And so in a third post I asked again.

Please explain why Radford’s email says, “I am not employed by swim rotorua” and the Swim Rotorua website says Radford is the, “Coach of Turbo & Metro Squad and Adults/Triathlons/Masters Squad.”  Unless Radford can explain the contradiction between her email and what the club website tells me, then Radford should leave the Swimming BOP Board.

Radford never replied to this question but I did get a Facebook message from someone called John Joyce. Along with a string of unnecessary insults he said;

Your comments recently about their coach bronwen who is a volunteer.

And so now it appears we are getting near the truth. Bronwen Radford works for Swim Rotorua as a volunteer. She is claiming that this means she is not employed by the club and is therefore entitled, under the Swimming BOP constitution, to be chairman of Swimming BOP.

But is that the full story? Certainly volunteers are not employees. But Radford does work for the Swim Rotorua club. She has satisfied the letter of the Swimming BOP constitution but has she broken its spirit? There is evidence to suggest Radford has done a Clinton and has used a word to get around the rules.

When Chris Moller wrote the rules that form the basis of how potential conflicts should be avoided, this is what he said in his report to New Zealand Swimming.

All Board members are obligated to act in the best interests of swimming in general at all times. Put another way Board members do not and must not represent particular interests groups at any time.

And so we can play Bill Clinton games with the meaning of employed, but it seems to me, that Bronwen Radford is working for the Swim Rotorua club at the same time as she is Chair of Swimming BOP. In my opinion that means she is representing a “particular interest group” at the same time as she is voting on decisions that affect that interest group. It seems to me that conflict is exactly what Moller sought to avoid. It also seems as if that conflict is damaging swimming in Rotorua. Te Arawa should be a club by now. It is valid to ask the question; are swimmers being denied the right to form a club because the Chair of Swimming BOP is working for two masters?

Constitutionally Radford is as clean as a whistle. She can work for Swim Rotorua and be the Swimming BOP chair – no question. But is her position right? Is it fair? Is it in the best interests of swimming? Just like Clinton, will Bronwen Radford find out there is more to right and wrong that the clever application of words? In my view the spirit of what Moller intended should apply. Bronwen Radford should stand down from either working for Swim Rotorua or resign from the Swimming BOP Board. The constitution may say this is about being employed; but justice says it is about making sure every swimmer in Swimming BOP is treated fairly and every official is free of baggage that could bias their decision making.

Radford does not appear to be free of baggage. While she remains working for Swim Rotorua there will always be the thought, whether it is true or not, that her decisions are being influenced by what’s in the best interests of the Swim Rotorua club. Swimming BOP needs to be free of that suspicion. Radford needs to change.

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