Miss Fiji dumped over age not race, says organizer

Posted at 05/14/12 10:50 AM

WELLINGTON, New Zealand - Fiji beauty queen Torika Watters, who was the target of racist criticism about her looks, has been replaced as the island nation's Miss World Pageant entrant, organizers were reported saying Sunday.

But they said the issue was her age and not connected to complaints that the 16-year-old of mixed European-Fijian heritage did not look Fijian enough.

Watters was chosen last month ahead of a field of indigenous women by a judging panel that including New Zealand supermodel Rachel Hunter, a former wife of Rod Stewart, and other non-Fijians.

The decision sparked uproar on the Miss World Fiji Facebook page with the criticisms including demands that the Fijian representative have a "buiniga" -- the local word to describe the naturally-frizzy Fijian hairstyle.

Hundreds of complaints had to be deleted and a pageant spokeswoman said on Facebook there had been "nothing but negative criticism and remarks from our own people" about the selection of Watters.

"While we appreciate a healthy discussion/feedback on our page, violent or racist comments will not be tolerated."

Show promoter Andhy Blake announced over the weekend that Watters did not meet the Miss World requirement that contestants be at least 17 years old and she would be replaced by 24-year-old Koini Vakaloloma, the first runner-up.

"The change is done because of the age criteria whereby Torika will be eligible next year," he told the FijiLive website.

In a statement to the Fiji Times, Watters referred to the "entire pageant fiasco" and said she was "proud of my identity as a Fijian and have never considered my people as racists."

The Miss World final will be held in China in August.

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