The Chairman and Board of the Fiji Sports Council;
Executive Members of the Fiji Amateur Boxing Association;
Ladies and Gentlemen
Bula vinaka and a very good morning to you all.
Just two weeks have passed since I was in Laucala Bay, re-opening Vodafone Arena and marking a big step forward in bringing Fiji’s sporting facilities to a world-class standard.
This morning, right on the heels of that major reveal, comes yet another proud moment for athletics in Fiji as we open the newly-renovated home for Boxing Fiji, the Captain Stan Brown Boxing Gym.
Now, before we speak about boxing in Fiji, or about this new gym, I want to talk a bit about its new namesake – the “old man”, as we called him, Captain Stan Brown himself.
Captain Brown served as the first-ever Commander of the Fijian Navy, making this morning a very personal moment for me. Before I went on to serve in that same position years later, he left very big shoes for me to fill, and I knew it. His larger-than-life reputation preceded him among the Fijian public, and I had witnessed the strength of both his leadership and his character first-hand.
Captain Brown was good friends with my father back when our family lived in Lautoka. They served alongside each other in the RNZ Navy, and then in the Naval Reserve; so it’s safe to say that my respect and admiration for him started at a very early age.
I first sailed with the “old man” round about 1965, when, as a young boy of around 10, I served on board his yacht as one of his cadets. He had an old catch called ‘Maroro’, which he used to do reef blasting at the time – a slightly less glamourous life for a yacht that, before it came into his hands, was actually owned by Queen Sālote of Tonga. From that young age until I turned 15, I spent every single school holiday sailing Maroro with Captain Brown, where he showed me the ropes – literally – of navigating the high seas.
But my years sailing alongside Captain Brown weren’t over there. I joined the Fijian Navy in 1975, when he was tasked with putting together the country’s first Naval Force – no small task.
Shortly after my recruitment, we embarked together on Fiji’s first-ever Naval deployment, setting sail for Seattle to bring home two coastal minesweepers, the Kiro and the Kula. Of course, the rest is history; I stayed in the Navy for years, rising through the ranks to become Commanding Officer of my ship, and later – following in the footsteps of my long-time mentor – Commander of the Navy myself.
I enjoyed my time with the “old man”. While he was first and foremost a seaman, he was a teacher at heart. I remember – every book he read, when he finished, he used to throw them at me and say “You! Read this!”. And I read a hell of a lot of those books. But more than the books, Captain Brown himself taught me – and everybody else around him – many things.
He taught us seamanship, and he taught us navigation. He taught us to dress well, and how to serve people. But most importantly, he taught us the value of service to Fiji.
He taught us to be nice to people. He taught us to be human beings, and to treat everyone as equals.
He was not only a mentor to me; he was a mentor to everyone he came into contact with. The sports officials, the Navy personnel, the Military people – everyone I know. It’s because he was a man of action; when he said something would get done, it got done, and everyone around him respected that.
But as we know, Captain Brown’s legacy extends far beyond his service in the Navy. I used to come here to this very spot – the PWD Gym, as it used to be called – to watch Captain Brown referee boxing matches. A boxer himself, he brought his passion for the sport into the ring every time he oversaw a fight. He loved all sports, but the “old man” and boxing are forever tied together in my memory. Maybe it was the adrenaline, or maybe it was the great discipline that it required, but boxing was a huge part of what made him who he was.
And he was dedicated to spreading that love to as many Fijians as possible. That’s why, together with Harry Charman, Captain Brown founded Boxing Fiji back in 1955, and – with no time to waste – immediately started training to take Fiji’s first boxing team to the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne.
Boxing grew to see its “golden age” in Fiji under the eye of Captain Brown, experiencing huge popularity in the 1970s. Fiji’s boxing legends had us glued to the radio during the South Pacific Games in 1969, 1975 and 1979. The sportsmen who had our attention trained at this very spot –– names like Joe Keresi, Sakaraia Ve, Alipate Korovou, Joe Nitiva, Kamisese Vaubula and Viliame Tabualevu, to name a few – all made Fijians proud as they competed both here at home and overseas.
That’s why I’m so glad to be here this morning, unveiling a new facility that I hope would make the “old man” very proud. And I can think of no more deserving person to bear its name as Captain Stan Brown.
But, my friends, a facility alone – no matter how nice it looks – will never throw a knockout punch. Gyms alone don’t win medals. So to truly honour Captain Brown’s legacy, we need to revive the sport of boxing in Fiji, and see a rebirth of the golden age that he paved the way for.
When it comes to achieving that mission, as both your Prime Minister and a fan of the sport, I am in your corner. It’s why when I visited Havana in October, I spoke directly with the Cuban President about ways that Fiji could replicate Cuba’s passion for the sport and success in the ring. We talked about ways that our nations could co-operate further – including bringing some coaching talent over from Cuba to Fiji – and those conversations proved very promising. It’s safe to say there are exciting things ahead.
The revival of boxing in Fiji is already showing great hope in promising young athletes like Jone Davule and Winston Hill, who have made a name for themselves at home and abroad.
Winston and his brother Jonathan actually operate a private boxing gym where they are both helping train a new generation of amateur boxers and foster a new love of the game among the Fijian public.
To continue this momentum, I ask all Fijians to take a fresh look at boxing, as your enthusiasm for the sport will mean more than anything to our athletes. Let us replicate the same support that we offer our rugby players – support that fuels their success on the global stage. We often borrow an old expression from boxing to talk about our rugby players, or our fight against climate change, saying that Fiji “punches above our weight”. Well, it’s about time that we live up to those words when we’re actually in the ring as well, and stand behind a new generation of Fijian boxers as fans and supporters.
Ladies and Gentlemen, it’s been just over 16 years since Captain Brown passed away in October of 2003.
Meanwhile, his legacy lives on in the Navy, and – as this morning proves – his light certainly still shines bright in the sport of boxing in Fiji. Let us use today not only as a celebration, but as a pledge to carry that torch forward in the months and years ahead.
With that, my friends, it is now my pleasure to declare the Captain Stan Brown Boxing Gym officially open.
Thank you. Vinaka vakalevu.