Give democracy to all golfers (edited version in FT, 20 March 2016)

Wadan Narsey………..

Academics studying the failures of democracy in Fiji, in addition to studying the assaults by Rabuka and Bainimarama on the elected Fiji parliaments, would understand the failures of society better by also examining the failures of democracy in other organizations, such as superannuation funds, religious bodies, social clubs, sports clubs, and national sports organizations.  Golf is one of them.

Fiji Times sports headline (30 January 2016) announced “New Golf Leaders” with the “National Golf Association of Fiji” being “rebranded” into “Golf Fiji” with a new “elected” Executive Committee. [Rebranding is of course a favorite pastime of corporate leaders trying to prove to the world how wonderfully innovative they are by changing the names of organisations which fundamentally remain the same after the rebranding.]

The FT news item noted that the executive committee was “dominated by members of the Ba Golf Club”, somewhat of an understatement. And nothing new of course, for those of us who understand how the entire Fiji economy is dominated by Ba businessmen of a particular ethnicity.

The new President is Manish Patel of the Ba Golf Club, as also is the Vice President, General Secretary, Assistant Secretary, the “West Delegate”, and Tournament Controller.

There were only two non-Ba Club members on the committee, one from Pacific Harbour and  one from the Fiji Golf Club as the “East Delegate”.

There was no public comment on this even though in golf circles, it is well known that the Ba Golf Club is one of the smaller golf clubs in Fiji.

It will be interesting to see if the Elections Office which recently displayed great proactivity by deregistering the National Federation Party (thereby also leading to their exclusion from Parliament by an equally proactive Speaker), takes any interest in the strange “election” of the Executive Committee of Golf Fiji.

Especially as this Executive Committee has laid down “rules” which discriminate against large numbers of golfers who are not members of affiliated clubs, mostly because they are too poor.

It is as if only the rich in our society could vote in the national elections for parliament.


Discrimination against poor golfers

I recently registered a complaint with the Executive Committee of Golf Fiji that it was wrong of them stipulate (in a Golf Fiji letter to all the member clubs) that club members of Non-Affiliated Clubs (i.e. those not paying their affiliation fees to Golf Fiji)  will

(a) not be able to participate in Golf Fiji events;

(b) would not be entitled to join Golf Fiji High Performance Unit and will not be  eligible  for  National Team  Selection; and

(c) that non-affiliated clubs would not be entitled to receive any financial or equipment grants from Golf Fiji.

I pointed out that every citizen golfer in Fiji has a right to participate in Golf Fiji events and to represent Fiji if they are good enough.

I pointed out that there are many golfers in Fiji who are not members of any golf club (for reasons of place of residence or they are too poor to join a golf club) should not be denied the opportunity to play in Golf Fiji events, or to represent Fiji.

Some of the best golfers in Fiji and Fiji national representatives have been drawn from the ranks of caddies, the majority of whom cannot afford to be members of golf clubs like the Fiji Golf Club or Pacific Harbour Golf Club.

 I suggested that Golf Fiji should allow any golfer in Fiji, with the payment of a small fee, say $15 per year (which is the contribution that each club makes per member to Golf Fiji) full rights to take part in national events and to represent Fiji.

I suggest here also that the equipment grants from Golf Fiji are derived from international donors, none of whom would be particularly happy that the poorest golfers in Fiji would be deprived by Golf Fiji rules, of enjoying the benefits, because they are not members of any golf club, while needing the equipment more than the rich.

The prohibitive entry fees

Let me mention here one way in which poor golfers are discouraged from participating in national tournaments: the high tournament fees.

Most tournaments (including those which are used as qualifying tournaments) to represent Fiji or to win national honors, have “entry fees”.

Usually these entry fees are extremely high because they will cover also lavish food and alcoholic drinks, golfing equipment such as T shirts, caps  and golf balls, and prizes.

Sometimes, the rule is extremely unfair for example when the players are Muslim and will not be consuming the alcoholic drinks or even the food where pork is all pervasive.

Many really poor golfers simply do not enter the tournament.

Tournament organizers are usually the well-off and quite contemptuous of these arguments that they should charge a small tournament fee, and additional fees to those who want to buy the extras.

Unrepresentative Executive Committee

I pointed out that it was undesirable that the Executive Committee was dominated by Ba Golf Club representatives, with larger clubs like Fiji Golf Club (Suva) and Nadi being under-represented.

I acknowledged the decades of “politicking” between West and East golf clubs over control of NGAF, with the West and North being totally neglected in the early years, and vice versa recently, all to the detriment of golf in Fiji.

I pointed out that while in today’s Fiji “we are all Fijians”, it was not desirable that the  Executive Committee of Golf Fiji did not have any representation at all from indigenous Fijians, who are not only a large proportion of the players (and caddies) but also likely to be the primary source of most future additions to golf playing membership.

I suggested that the Committee of Golf Fiji remedy this ethnic imbalance by co-opting appropriate members on the Committee to make up the lack of representation of Seniors, Juniors, and the relatively larger membership of FGC and the Nadi Airport Golf Club.

Lifting what standards?

The new President of Golf Fiji was quoted by the Fiji Times article as saying that he aimed to “lift the standard of the sport in Fiji” and “serve all the affiliated clubs”. Surely he should be thinking of serving all golfers in Fiji.

The Fiji Times article noted that the only Fiji player with a world ranking was at position 5855.

Golf Fiji must acknowledge that this is clear evidence of the pathetic situation that Fiji golf has sunk into, especially given that not too long ago we had the Number 1 in the world, Vijay Singh.

Of course, the intelligent public will remember that a far more important sport in Fiji, also had a  very canny president from Ba, who stayed in post for a very long time, even using a  last minute constitutional change to rule out a solid challenge to the presidency by the late J.D. Maharaj.

This president enjoyed great financial benefits by going to all the FIFA meetings, and ensured that training facilities were built in Ba rather than the more suitable locations around Nadi or Suva.

He simultaneously presided over steadily declining standards in this sport for decades, also with the help of Executive Committees comprised of non-indigenous Fijians, while ironically, the majority of the players were increasingly indigenous Fijian.

Does Fiji suffer from some “sporting disease” whereby the management of major sports is seized by individuals (often corporate types) with ambitions which do not include the improvement of the particular sport, which they personally never played with any distinction, if at all?  Check it out, if you do not believe me.

What accountability?

In my letter, while I complimented the Executive Committee of Golf Fiji for their renewed  transparency and accountability, I may have been a trifle premature.

The reply to my letter came not from the President or Vice President or Secretary, but an Assistant Secretary (a nice enough fellow and a good golfer) who informed me that my comments were “duly noted”.

There was no assurance that the Executive Committee would discuss my complaints and recommendations at their next meeting.

They ignored my specific request for data on the membership numbers by different clubs.  I shall wait to see if they respond on this.

Where does the Executive Committee come from?

The Fiji Times article noted that the Executive Committee had been “elected”, but we should ask,  who were the voters and what was the value given to their votes?

By now, all Fiji knows the importance of such questions, given that they have often been raised about Fiji’s national electoral system, and unfair electoral systems even used in justification of Bainimarama’s military coups?

Undoubtedly, the Fiji Golf Club (with about a thousand registered players) has more registered players than any of the other golf clubs, and probably about the same as all the others put together.

In electing the Executive Committee, did the Fiji Golf Club have the same voting value as Ba Golf Club with perhaps fifty to a hundred registered voters?

Fiji’s recent parliamentary elections, touted as the “most democratic elections ever” was supervised by an Elections Office whose Mission statement is quite clear: every Fijian citizen over the age of eighteen (every golfer?) has the right to vote, with each vote having equal value, voting is by secret ballot by registered voters on a national register, with electoral supervision conducted with honesty, integrity and transparency.

The Elections Office not only supervises the national elections and political parties, but strangely enough the elections for unions which are not even “national” bodies.

It is clear that all registered golfers in Fiji do not have a vote of equal value on electing the national executive committee to foster their sport.

Concerned Fiji golfers ought to ask the Supervisor of Elections to demand that

* the  Executive Committee of Golf Fiji is elected by all of Fiji’s registered golfers with each vote having equal value,

* with no one being disenfranchised because they are not members of  “affiliated” golf club (because of poverty or geographical location);

* the rules of Golf Fiji must be changed to allow all Fiji golfers access to national tournaments and selection for national representation.

* the rules of all golfing tournaments must be changed so that there is a basic fee for the gold tournament itself, and additional fee which gives access to food, drinks and “extras” provided by the tournament.

* no deprived golfers should be denied access to Golf Fiji equipment grants which come from international donors.

Golf in Fiji is a minority sport enjoyed by the well-off and not particularly of national interest, a bit like the unions which Mr Mohammed Saneem has shown great interest in.

I doubt if he will be interested in democratizing golf management.

Just as he has been totally unconcerned about democratizing the second most important organization in Fiji, which has been a cash cow of many a government, not just Bainimarama’s.

That is another article.