Your Excellency the Chinese Ambassador,
Chairman of the Fiji Rugby Union,
Ladies and Gentlemen.
Bula Vinaka and a very good afternoon to you all.
On behalf of the Fiji Rugby Union, I’m grateful to accept these two new buses provided by the people of China’s Guangdong Province, both of which will lighten the half a million-dollar annual cost of transporting our women’s and men’s 7s and 15s sides to and from training and tournaments, as well as the staff of the FRU.
As part of Fiji’s response to the coronavirus, rugby and other contact sports aren’t being played and, globally, international competitions are currently on hold. So, we all know these buses aren’t hitting the roads tomorrow. But I wanted to be here today to give everyone an update on where we stand on getting athletes at all levels back in action here in Fiji.
Fiji’s acted decisively to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus and our campaign has won incredible success.
We locked down at-risk regions of the country, banned gatherings, implemented a nationwide curfew, closed highrisk businesses and health screened hundreds of thousands of Fijians. We’ve now gone 33 days without a new case of the virus, making us of the few countries on Earth poised to
completely eradicate community-based transmission of COVID-19.
But we cannot afford for our health protection measures to end as quickly as they were first introduced. We’re currently working with all stakeholders, including in the private sector, to develop a long-term containment strategy which upholds the health of every Fijian and instills confidence in our citizens, businesses and international partners that Fiji is responsibly managing our return to normalcy.
As soon as we decide there’s a manageable risk to resuming recreational contact sports, I’ll be the one to let you know. And, when it’s safe to do so, we’ll resume full-scale sporting tournaments in a way that puts the wellbeing of our fans and athletes first.
I know how vital sport is for many Fijian businesses, along with the coaches and staff who make a living supporting teams across the country. I know how difficult it is for athletes to put their careers on hold and put the income they earn from competing aside. And I know how important sport is for ordinary Fijians – particularly when our national spirit needs lifting.
I’ll never forget the happiness our 7s heroes’ Gold medal victory in Rio brought to countless Fijians reeling in the aftermath of severe Cyclone Winton four years ago. But the very nature of the coronavirus crisis has meant that we’ve had to take on this challenge unaided by the gallantry of our sportsmen and women.
Still, that hasn’t stopped our athletes from finding new ways to inspire their nation, including the members of our men’s sevens side, who deserve a big vinaka vakalevu for their assist to our nationwide awareness campaign to re-enforce healthy habits like handwashing and physical distancing.
So, while we wait for rugby’s return, let’s keep cheering on the heroes on the frontlines of our campaign against COVID-19.
I’m speaking of the doctors, nurses, healthcare workers, police officers and RFMF personnel, along with our disaster officials, who are helping win the war against this virus, even throughout our response to Cyclone Harold. It will be thanks to their efforts that these buses will one day start running and our athletes will resume competing.
Until that day, I want to extend our thanks to the People’s Republic of China for this gift – particularly, the Province of Guangzhou Municipal People’s Government. Their generosity has proven that, even as the world hits pause, sports diplomacy remains a powerful tool for connecting our peoples across borders. From the Fiji Rugby Union, its athletes, staff, and the Fijian people –xie xie, and vinaka vakalevu.