Ladies and gentlemen.
Bula Vinaka and a very good evening to you all.
I’m delighted to be here tonight to celebrate the banner year for Fijian sport we saw in 2019.
Last year, the achievements of the athletes in this room brought glory to our shores and instilled pride in the hearts of our people; we enjoyed the economic boost of hosting 20 sporting tournaments in Fiji; and we continued the steady expansion of sporting infrastructure across the country, getting more Fijians out from behind their television sets out on to the field of play themselves.
But tonight, we’re celebrating more than accolades, tournaments or new development. Tonight, I want to celebrate our athletes as great unifiers in Fijian society.
Whenever our sevens heroes step their way to a tournament win, like the Sydney 7s, whenever one of our weightlifters powerlifts their way to a medal, or whenever our netballers score another victory, our entire nation shares that success. And when Fijian athletes compete overseas, including footballers like Roy Krishna or ruggers like Seta Tamanivalu, competing for clubs in France, Australia, or elsewhere – their success still make us proud to be Fijians. When it comes to sport, it doesn’t matter where in the world you compete, it doesn’t matter who you are or who your parents are, it doesn’t matter who you vote for, we’re all on the same team – Team Fiji – and we all feel that same shiver of patriotism down our spines whenever any of our athletes seize victory.
I know I do. Whenever I can, I’ll make the time to support Team Fiji wherever they are in the world. But for me, it’s not all about the action on the field or the post-game highlights. I love Fijian sport because I love to see our people united. And I believe we’d all be wise to consider the lessons that athletes and coaches can teach us about what it takes for a team to succeed, both on and off the field.
When you’re playing to win, there’s no playing favorites and there’s no room for division. You need to the best people in the right positions, and you need every member of the team working in lock-step with their eyes dead-set on victory.
If you want to win the game, or bring home a gold medal, or take a nation to new heights of progress, the same leadership mentality applies. Victory demands unity. It demands togetherness. It demands loyalty. It demands a clear vision, strategic preparation, and smart decision-making.
Last week, I watched my first-ever Super Bowl. Even though my team – the 49ers – lost the day, I enjoyed watching the Kansas City Chiefs take home the championship Lombardi Trophy.
The Super Bowl trophy is named after Vince Lombardi, one of the NFL’s all-time great coaches. With five championships to his name, he knew what it took to win, and he respected the importance of teamwork – once saying, “Individual commitment to a group effort: That is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.”
Friends, that is what it takes to make Fiji work as well.
It’s the fundamental principles of unity and teamwork that delivered last year’s sevens world series title. It’s why our sportsmen and women are respected so much on the world stage. And because we’ve stuck by those same principles as a government, anyone, from anywhere, can find success for themselves in the Fiji of today. So long as you work hard, prove your merit, and commit to teamwork, there’s a place for every hard-working Fijian on our nation’s winning roster.
Friends, we are known around the world as a rugby nation, and for good reason; our ruggers’ record of achievement ranks among the proudest in the world. But looking at the sea of faces at Vodafone Arena this evening and learning about your range of achievements proves our sporting greatness extends far beyond the rugby pitch. Fiji is a football nation, we’re a netball nation, and we’re a surfing nation. Thanks to the accomplishments of some of those in this room, we’re broadening those horizons, becoming a climbing and mountaineering nation, a Judo nation, and – like the days of my youth – a boxing nation, too.
This summer, we have the chance to prove that pedigree once again, as Team Fiji heads to the 2020 Olympics. For the past four years, we’ve poured resources and support into our Olympic effort at Tokyo – and I wish our athletes the best of luck as they push through the qualifying rounds. I’m with you, and so is your nation; united in common cause and cheering you on to victory.
Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.