I learnt a harsh lesson the other day. A friend that I had mentioned in one of my conference presentations had found and read the transcript and was profoundly upset by my comments. The first thing I knew about this was an email she subsequently sent me lambasting the critical remarks I had made. When I read how upset she was I felt sick; the last thing I would ever want to do is to offend a friend who I respected for the charitable and hard work she had shown to an impoverished group of African children. And what made it all the worse was that the offensive comments I had made were the result of an informal interview with her in order to get my facts as straight as possible.
Essentially the points I made were regarding the concept of sport as aid. I thought that I had constructed a reasonably sound argument criticising the view that sport was an effective form of development aid. Unfortunately, I neglected to take into account that academic arguments do not occupy the same space as human beings that have emotions and feelings. My criticism of my friend’s work, which I conceded she carried out in good faith and with honourable intentions (though this was edited out in the shorter version of the paper which she had read), was taken as a personal slight, and was made all the worse as she believed that I had intentionally taken advantage of her honesty in our informal conversations. I later realised the implications of my criticism in that using her as a real rather than hypothetical example could directly affect and undermine her charitable work. It is one thing to propose an academic argument and yet another to see the negative consequences it could have in the real world. And although I still believe that my argument holds tight, the adverse effect it could have on a hardworking and well intentioned friend brought home an discomforting truth. Words can hurt.
So what was the end result of this? I admitted I had made a naive and thoughtless mistake and I apologised as best I could. I also deleted the transcript of the presentation immediately and permanently. This wasn’t a cop-out. Having reread the paper, I genuinely believe that it doesn’t accurately represent my views; predominantly because it was a quickly edited version of a longer paper (which is still online) and hence much of the carefully worded and nuanced argument was omitted.
And I still wish to make a public apology for any offence I may have caused both Emma and Deena and their charity, Friends of Rwandian Rugby. I respect you both and the motivation for your work in Rwanda even if I still hold reservations about the concepts behind this kind of charity itself.