It was WRONG of NZ Cricket to invite Ashley Bloomfield to be their guest at a T20 match and then lobby him about getting the Black Caps vaccinated against Covid-19 so they could go overseas, but perhaps that’s the type of crass, unsubtle behaviour we should expect from sporting administrators. After all, they tend to have just one object in mind, which is the promotion of their sport. No worries for them about perceptions of conflict of interest or important principles such as transparency and the improper exercise of influence over public officials. Of the three parties in this affair, NZ Cricket is the least culpable. But at least the controversy has cast a brief glimmer of light on the schmoozing industry, where corporates and sporting organisations play on the vanity of politicians and senior public servants – not to mention their fondness for sport – by inviting them to glamour events and plying them with free drinks, food and an opportunity to mingle with the players. This is the soft, vulnerable underbelly of a political system that prides itself on being corruption-free.
It goes without saying that it was also WRONG for Bloomfield to accept the invitation, especially when he should have foreseen that he might be subjected to pressure, however gentle it may have been, regarding vaccinations. Hasn’t he heard the old adage that there’s no such thing as a free lunch? Outfits like NZC are unlikely to invite the director-general of health to a match out of pure goodwill; they generally do it in the hope of securing some benefit. Bloomfield now appears to accept that he erred, and has apologised. But the fact that he accepted the invitation can’t be reversed, and we are left with the perception that he’s either extremely naïve or wasn’t too concerned about the ethical propriety of accepting a freebie. Either way, it’s a worry – the more so when we add this to the sainted Bloomfield’s proven tendency to make reassuring public statements about Covid-19 that are subsequently contradicted by health workers on the front line. I suspect most New Zealanders like Bloomfield and want to feel they can trust him, but public confidence in him has taken another hit.
It was woefully, inexcusably WRONG for Bloomfield to defend himself by saying he attended the match “in a private capacity” (which he now appears to have retracted). What did he take us for? He’s a very senior and high-profile public servant in a position of almost unprecedented influence. He may go shopping at the local supermarket in a private capacity; he may go to the movies with his wife, paying for their own tickets, in a private capacity; but he certainly can’t attend a major public sporting event, at the expense of an organisation that’s hoping for a favourable decision from him, and then disingenuously claim it was “private”. Did he really believe, as he claims, that he was acting within the rules? Did no alarm bells ring? Or if they did, was he was so excited about the prospect of meeting his cricketing heroes that he clamped his hands over his ears? Whichever way you look at it, his judgment has to be regarded as gravely suspect.
Finally, it was more than just WRONG for Jacinda Ardern to say that she didn’t think anyone in New Zealand would want to deny Bloomfield the opportunity to watch some cricket. This was so patently and grossly disingenuous as to insult every New Zealander’s intelligence. No one has suggested Bloomfield shouldn’t watch a cricket match. All we ask is that he pay for his own tickets, which he can well afford to do on his very generous taxpayer-funded salary. Did Ardern really expect to spin that line and get away with it? We can only conclude that her judgment isn’t too sharp either.