Sports in Fiji has a storied history that stretches back decades. But prior to 2011, Fiji was not the sporting powerhouse of a country we could be. We lacked the vision to harness and direct the athletic ambition of every Fijian –– not only to achieve global glory or earn a decent living, but to simply make sport and exercise bigger parts of their lives.
So we made it our mission to transform sport in Fiji, not only to make it a more unifying force for the country, but to make it a professional and profitable industry for the benefit of men and women both. We wanted Fiji to become the heart of athletic excellence in the Pacific and a respected and world-renowned sporting destination. And we sought to give every Fijian the chance to become more physically active. That vision required a single, national coordinating body. No more working in silos. No more missed talent. No more missed opportunities.
In 2011, we launched a National Sports Policy that recommended the establishment of a National Sporting Commission. Two years later, that piece of paper produced the Fiji National Sports Commission. And every year since we have kept the conversation going on what more can be done to improve sport in Fiji. This Conference creates dialogue between Government, the Commission, sports leaders, and athletes on how we can develop different sports, how we can maximise performance, and how we can involve more of our people in athletics.
We’ve done more than talk. We’ve delivered on the vision we set out. Through the last decade, Government has invested more than 77 million dollars into sporting development in Fiji. We’ve also built parks and gymnasiums. We’ve invested in world-class coaching talent. We’ve sent our athletes to compete around the world as proud ambassadors for Fiji.
We are breaking the bias around women’s participation in sports –– empowering girls to pursue athletics, not only as a passion but as a rewarding career.
More than ten years on, we’ve all seen how those investments have steadily paid off. Today, the FSC is a household name. It has helped lift hundreds of athletes from community pitches to the highest stages in the world. And our athletes and coaches have done the rest:
Three Gold medals; two in sevens rugby at the Summer Olympics and one in the Paralympics. A bronze medal for our Fijiana. Three world sevens series titles. The award from top men’s sevens player of the decade –– The Fijian Drua who will arrive into our shores next week. Our Fijiana Drua, of course, are dominating the Super W. And Fiji’s success has extended far past the rugby field. We’ve qualified athletes for the Olympics for the first time in sports like yachting.
We’ve lifted, punched, swam, and ran our way to big wins in the South Pacific Games, Oceania Championships, And Commonwealth games. We’ve hosted tournaments in everything from chess, hockey and table tennis, to karate, yachting, swimming and volleyball. Sports like boxing, netball, soccer and cricket are on the rise in popularity.
Supported by their Government, our athletes have delivered moments that none of us will ever forget. I’ve no doubt each of us can remember exactly where we were for each of our Olympic Gold medal wins. I’m sure our fondest memories are watching our children or maybe our grandchildren compete in the sports they love. I’m also sure we all remember how eerily unusual it was when our stadiums and parks were quiet during the period of COVID restrictions, and how joyous it was when our high vaccination rates allowed for sports to return. Because whether it is playing ourselves or watching athletes compete –– sport is part of life in Fiji for all of us. And the best is yet to come.
We have more memories left to make; more moments to etch into history; and more to celebrate. As you deliberate through the conference, let’s remember that it took forward thinking to get us where we are today. We must keep looking forward and answering the question “What’s next?” There are other sports outside of rugby in which Fiji can do very well –– even dominate. One challenge I’d like to issue you all is to think about how we create opportunity for athletes looking to make the move from competitor to coach.
There must be a time when we need not look beyond our shores to find the best coaches in the world. And lastly I urge you to seek more ways to make young girls and women feel welcome in whatever athletic pursuit they choose. It requires daily commitment to erode age-old stigmas. The Government I lead is prepared to give that commitment, and I ask the same of every athlete, coach and manager in the country.
Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.