Four years ago, New Zealand exercise industry lobbyist Richard Beddie made several false claims about CrossFit affiliates and trainers, among them that it killed six people overseas and left an Australian man paralyzed.
This seems to have been part of an attempt to coerce CrossFit affiliates and trainers into joining his trainer registry, REPs NZ. Greg Glassman publicly rejected Beddie’s proposition:
“I’m not budging, and I’ll commit our resources to the very last drop to fight for the right of the independent owner-operator to speak openly and honestly about human movement, and eating, without fear of repercussion regardless of whether you are flying the CrossFit flag or not.”
CrossFit HQ wasted little time and sued Beddie in the months following his statements for defamation, malicious falsehood, and breach of the Fair Trading Act 1986. Our suit continues. At the time, Beddie was also president of ICREPS, an international coalition of organizations that advocates for regulating the fitness industry and generally excluding CrossFit affiliates. This ties Beddie to his counterparts at the American College of Sports Medicine and National Strength and Conditioning Association. The playbook is the same for CrossFit’s opponents, from Christchurch to Washington, D.C.: to commit libel and lobby, all in an attempt to make up with legislation what they’ve failed to achieve in the marketplace.
This May 17, 2018, Judge Nicholas Davidson issued a ruling refusing to allow Beddie to appeal two procedural rulings on the Fair Trading Act claim. Beddie needed the court’s leave to appeal these rulings, as he had already lost these arguments twice.
The judge shut down Beddie’s arguments with extreme prejudice.
The entire judgment is worth a read, but here are some highlights. First, Beddie is not trying to argue that his claims were true. Nonetheless, he still wanted to have the same protection under the Fair Trading Act that journalists have against claims related to misleading and deceptive publications.
The judge wasn’t having it:
“I have come to the conclusion that the interpretation contended for by the defendants simply cannot be right and there is no serious argument available …”
More explicitly, the judge agreed with the argument made by CrossFit’s counsel:
“If the defendants are right, they may be sued under the FTA for misleading or deceptive conduct when they publish or disseminate by a mail drop, but if the same material is provided by them to a publisher or a broadcaster, then they secure the statutory protection that s 15 gives the media. That simply does not ring true as an outcome which Parliament intended.”
As for Beddie’s argument that CrossFit’s complaint against him does not charge him with a valid form of coercion, the judge didn’t find that compelling either:
“The Court held that coercion for the purposes of s 23 of the FTA will encompass implied as well as direct threats. The former are often more effective, not having to be spelt out. Therefore, it was arguable that the defendants’ actions constituted coercion and whether it could be proved as such was a matter for trial …”
Now that Beddie’s disingenuous arguments have failed him, he won’t be able to rely on them at trial. Libel and lobbying can only get you so far; at some point the truth wins out.