The UN Representatives;
The Hon Minister for Health;
The Hon Minister for Women;
Suva Rugby Union Players,
Officials and Supporters and Families,
Ladies and Gentlemen.
Ni sa Bula Vinaka and good morning to you all.
Throughout the world of over many years, sports have unified people. They draw community members together in common purpose. They help people of different faiths, different races and different walks of life come together to support their local team or their national team. And internationally, they draw people from different nations together in friendly competition. That is the whole point of international competition—not to prove one people better than another, but to find common purpose through the pursuit of athletic excellence. We can all take a lesson from the Olympic athletes who admire and support each other, even while they compete furiously.
Rugby holds this place in Fiji. It is truly our national sport, and we all experienced how important it could be to us as a people—to our sense of being one nation—in 2016, when we won the Olympic gold medal. It was a time of pure pride and great joy for every Fijian.
So I am very pleased to officiate at the opening of the Suva Rugby Union Club competition as we begin our Post-COVID 19 rugby season. The club pre-season matches will conclude with the Tailevu and Suva provincial warm up this afternoon, and then we start in earnest.
Given rugby’s ability to unify, I am glad that one of the themes SRU will promote this season is “Together We Tackle COVID 19.” Fiji is now a COVID-contained country, the first country in the world to achieve that, but we cannot drop our guard. We must remain vigilant and disciplined against this disease.
As we begin our Post COVID 19 rugby season, we must keep in mind that new cases have arrived at our borders, even after we had gone 78 days without a new infection. I wouldn’t call this a second wave, because we contained it through our vigorous quarantine requirement and prevented it from becoming a wave. But it underscores the fact that we have only managed to gain a fragile truce with this virus; we have not yet won the war. We have to keep fighting and strictly adhere to the safety and hygiene precautions directed by our Health Ministry.
Our success is a testimony not just to the system the government put in place, but to the competence and hard work of the professionals who tracked down the virus and prevented it from spreading. And I cannot thank the Fijian people enough for pulling together and acting responsibly and with regard for their fellow citizens. They are true heroes in this battle, and all this effort has brought us to this day, which would not have been possible two months ago.
Today’s launching of the SRU competition, with the warm-up matches, has instilled confidence in our communities as the nation returns to normality.
The UNDP, Ministry for Health, Ministry for Women and other government agencies, in partnership with Suva Rugby Union, are using rugby to reach out to our communities. And they are not just talking about COVID-19. They are saying, “No to Violence Against Women and Children,” and as you know, I am personally committed to wiping out violence against women and children in Fiji. They are encouraging our youth to “Say No Drugs,” and they are trying to help everyone fight non-communicable diseases, like diabetes and heart disease, which disable and kill too many of our fellow citizens.
I commend the SRU for being champions of these critical social causes and for their efforts to help improve the lives of all Fijians.
And now I’d like to say a few words about Suva rugby as we Fijians who love rugby know it. Suva Rugby Union is a revered national institution. It has more clubs than any province in Fiji, formed from communities, religious organisations, old boys’ schools, the disciplined forces and other organisations, extending from the city itself to Lami district, Naitasiri, and Nasinu Area. SRU was also the first Union to host female club competitions as we attempt to elevate women’s sports and put them on a par with the men.
Suva Rugby holds one of the oldest Club Competition Shields in the Southern Hemisphere— the Escort Shield, which is more than 100 years old.
And, of course, Suva Rugby has also produced and groomed many top international players and has earned the respect of rugby fanatics worldwide. Thirty years ago the NABUA Rugby Club in Suva introduced the “Sweeper” to sevens play, and today that structure is in sevens play worldwide.
Many sons of Suva Rugby have made their mark on the international arena and earned intimidating nicknames. Like of Waisele Serevi, “the Wizard.” And Nakarawa, “the King of Offloads.” And recently, Aminiasi Tuimaba, “The Tornado.” And Naduva as “Mr Nitro.” And Ratu Meli Derenalagi as the “White Shark.” That’s just to name a few.
Fiji Rugby has come a long way. We are an international superpower in the sevens code and have been toppling Tier One nations in 15s. I am congratulate Suva Rugby, the holder of FRU Skipper Cup for the last three years, has consistently developed and contributed a majority of the players for our national team.
So keep striving for excellence. Keep reaching out to bring more communities into rugby. Redouble your commitment to women’s rugby, and let’s see the women bring back gold from Tokyo. And always take pride that beyond the excitement of the sport, and despite the thrill of the game, you are unifying force for Fiji.
I would like to thank the UNDP, the Ministry for Health, Ministry for Women other Government agencies and private institutions for forging partnerships with Suva Rugby Clubs, players, supporters and families. I hope these partnerships will create more ways for our young people to develop good values and habits, to harness their talents, and to become proud contributing members of society.
And now, it gives me great pleasure to launch the “Post COVID 19” Suva Rugby Union Club Competition.
Vinaka vakalevu – Thank you.