Chairman and Board Directors of FRU;
The New Zealand High Commissioner;
Representatives of Provincial Unions;
Ladies and Gentlemen.
Bula Vinaka and a very good evening to you all.
It’s a pleasure to join you tonight at the Fiji Rugby Union Awards as we close the latest chapter of Fijian rugby excellence.
But before we do, I want to extend some well-deserved gratitude to some of our Fijians in uniform.
This past Wednesday night, we welcomed home 54 RFMF Engineers who just spent five weeks on the ground in Australian communities devastated by the bushfire crisis. In coming to the aid of our Australian Vuvale, they cleared roads, removed fallen trees and helped lift affected Aussie families back to their feet with songs, prayers and more than a few laughs. From everything we’ve seen and heard of their service – it’s clear our Engineers represented Fiji at its very best. So, please, join me in a round of applause tonight for our “Bula Force” of RFMF engineers.
Vinaka, boys and welcome home.
Any time our citizens depart our shores to represent our nation, whether they’re wearing a Military uniform or a Team Fiji jersey, they serve as Fiji’s global ambassadors. For good or for ill, their conduct and actions define the Fijian identity in the minds of all those they encounter.
Fiji’s rising star on the global stage is owed to the high character of countless Fijians over the years, including our RFMF engineers and many of the ruggers represented in this room. Throughout your careers, you have rucked, tackled and dummied your way into the hearts of sports fans all across the world and – thanks to your achievements – you made 2019 another great year to be a supporter of Fijian rugby.
In an absolutely dominating season, our men’s Sevens side secured their fifth HSBC World Series Title – let’s hear it for them.
I’ll never forget that semi-final win over the USA when you took the series title, before going on to beat New Zealand in the final, just for good measure. Last year, at long last, the world recognised a fact Fijians have known for many years: That Jerry Tuwai is indeed the greatest Sevens player in the world. Let’s hear it for Jerry as well.
Our Fijiana teams also secured their qualifications for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and the 2021 Women’s Rugby World Cup in New Zealand. Well done, Ladies!
Two short years ago, the FRU brought women’s rugby into the Skipper Cup Competition, first in the 10s format and – since last year – in a full 15s format.
Last year, we also introduced women’s rugby in the Vanua Provinces, which will adopt the 15s format later this year.
So, by the end of 2020, all 24 provincial rugby unions will field a women’s 15s team – that’s over 960 Fijian women competing at the provincial level across the country. And that breed of competition and opportunity will pay out dividends in the quality of our women competitors for years to come. But last year, our Fijiana teams proved greatness for Fijian women’s rugby is not a generation away –– it’s here and now.
For me personally, watching our Fijiana teams surge to greatness in 2019 was what made last year a truly special year for Fijian rugby. I’m not only talking about the victories and the thrill of the in-game action. I’m talking about the passion and the sacrifices the players have given to this game off the field as well.
On these Olympic and World Cup qualifying teams, there are single mothers who dominate on the field and then go home to raise children on their own; there are Fijians who work full-time jobs and still carve out the time to train; there are Fijians who have given up promising careers in pursuit of their rugby dreams, Fijians who play on both our 15s and 7s side – even in the same season, Fijians who live overseas and who return home just to train with Team Fiji. Fijians who love this game, who love their country and who are proving – one win at a time – they deserve to rank among the greatest women’s rugby players on Earth.
I’m proud of the historic support we’re giving women’s rugby. But I want to give full credit to Fijians like Akosita Ravato, Sereima Leweniqila, Lolaine Burns, Rusila Nagasau, Lavenia Tinai, Raijeli Uluinayau and others whose individual perseverance and unrelenting commitment has made our Fijiana teams successful.
As fans – and as patriotic Fijians – we need to match these women’s passion by getting fully behind their success. It’s not enough to simply watch the games and maybe post a nice status on Facebook cheering them forward. Each of us need to honour what these teams and these athletes really stand for: Strong, courageous Fijian women who are boldly pursuing their dreams.
My friends, while we have made great progress in recent years, society can be slow to change –– so too often, Fiji is still not an easy place to be a woman. I’m proud of the work we’ve done to build a better, safer and more inclusive society, but that work is nowhere near finished. We are still plagued by dangerously high rates of domestic violence and mentalities among men that women are somehow “less” than they are. That’s rubbish, we know that. But too many men still don’t.
So, while I have the attention so many boys and young men around the country this evening – let me ask each of them to join me; join me in my campaign to empower the women of this country to be the Fijians they each dream of becoming. Lift them up with your words and your actions.
Involve the women of your community in athletic activity. Invite them onto the field. And go further, by inviting them to the decision-making table in your communities. Listen to them, learn from them, and – when they are on a path to greatness – either support them or get the hell out of their way. Trust me, as a father of four very strong-minded young women myself, I know that lesson to be true.
It’s clear tonight we not only have a lot to celebrate, but a great deal to look forward to – particularly from our women’s teams. The clock is ticking to Tokyo and the 2020 Olympics. As always, we expect nothing less than every ounce of effort from our Olympians and the highest levels of sportsmanship.
Right now, every member of Team Fiji’s Olympic roster should have clear picture of a gold medal in their minds. Visualise that end goal, work towards it every day, and do so knowing your entire nation is behind you.
Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.