Bula Vina’a Everyone and Good Evening.
The 2022 Fiji Sports Award is back after three years due to Covid-19 restrictions. Much of the world has moved on immediately after we gradually reopened our borders and relaxed restrictions as we recovered from Covid-19, so I am deeply honoured to speak to you tonight, 36 months since our last sports awards.
The Fiji Sports Awards is an event that seeks to honor our nation’s incredible men and women who have excelled in various sports. As a former national rep and athlete who now relies on proper posturing for that perfect golf swing to help me stay fit; I understand all too well the importance of recognizing athletes through a national award ceremony such as this one.
Not only will we honour athletes tonight, we also recognise the efforts those who work so hard behind the scenes. These are technical officials, coaches and administrators.
We all know athletes have to work consistently hard to stay in the best physical, emotional and mental shape, but those in the background work equally hard to ensure competitions, matches and events like this are completed without a hitch. Athletes can only be what they work so hard to achieve when hardworking people have contributed to our nation’s sports achievements from community level to the world stage. They deserve recognition.
I must congratulate you all. After a lapse of three years, the Fiji National Sports Commission, Fiji Sports Council and Fiji Association of Sports and National Olympic Committee (FASANOC) have joined efforts to organize this event, of which FASANOC chairs this year.
Tonight’s awards recognizes 87 nominations received from across 11 categories.
Nelson Mandela said in 2000 that Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand.
Sports unite us regardless of our differences and recognizing achievements is one way of bringing us together. We proudly celebrate our achievements as a nation when any of our national teams win on the world stage. Whether the team is good or bad, everyone feels like part of the team’s successes and failures.
incident serves as a reminder to all of us about the responsibility we each bear.
The success of our sports men and women over the years have inspired future generations with sporting aspirations to follow, and work towards achieving their dreams. Twice we have been crowned Fiji 7s Olympic Gold Medalists and World Champions. Our Women 7s has won Bronze medal at the Olympics.
These achievements are no small feat for a country of our size. In just its second year in the Super Rugby Pacific competition the Fijian Drua defeated the Crusaders – the most illustrious team in the competition with 11 titles. Our won the Gold Medal at the 2012 London Paralympic Games has inspired Para Sports, which continues to excel, having won medals at the 2022 Commonwealth Games.
In 2022, we also qualified for World Cups in Rugby, Netball and Under 20 Football, which will take place later this year.
Our sports men and women have set national records and our children after themwill continue to brake those records.
We must recognize that sports is a vehicle for living healthier which help nurture model citizens of our proud sporting nation.
Personal Sporting Career
I was 14 years old when the Pacific Games first came to our shores in 1963 and from there my interest in sports grew and led to a fulfilling sporting career.
I was part of the 1971 South Pacific Games in Tahiti, and was selected as flag bearer for Team Fiji at the 1974 Commonwealth Games in Christchurch and participated in Shot Put, Discuss and Decathlon.
I was a member of the famous 1970 Great Britain Tour, in which the Fiji Rugby team beat the much-fancied British Barbarians. As a young 22-year-old, I played eight games on the tour but did not take the field in the match against the Barbarians.
A memory I still hold dear is being invited to have dinner with Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace.
As many of you here would know, sport taught me the value of discipline, hard work, perseverance, teamwork, patience, dedication and leadership. These values go a long way in life. Although athletes are, by definition, sport performers, they are fundamentally human beings whose physical, mental, and social health is reflected through their well-being and ill-being.
Government’s Strategic Vision
Sports will also be a conduit for the People’s Coalition Government’s national development agenda. Through sports, the government will continue to address issues such as gender disparity, disability, youth empowerment and social inclusion.
Initiatives like the Pacific Sports Partnership help create pathways for our young people, especially our women and girls. We hope to use programs like the Pacific Sports Partnership to achieve our development agenda have also been organized to encourage the participation of women and girls in sports. The People’s Coalition Government will continue to invest in sports through modernizing and building more state-of-the-art sporting facilities. There is huge potential to harness our sporting prowess and transform sports into a major income generating industry.
Government will invest in the development of our elite athletes and also boost our level of participation in sports and physical activities supported by technical specialists.
The National Sports Policy is being reviewed to promote the participation of all Fiji citizens irrespective of ethnicity, gender or physical and mental ability. The policy will set out our vision for sports for 2023 and beyond. It will define the actions taken to achieve our ambitious and achievable goals.
Well-founded research have concluded that regularly active individuals have lower mortality rates and there are health benefits of being physically active regardless of age, ethnicity, disability and socio-economic status.
To help build a more active nation, Government will continue to promote and develop sports and physical activities to address health issues, in particular, NCDs and obesity.
A nation’s workforce needs to be healthy and fit in order to be productive and contribute to the society.
Government’s Focus Areas
The People’s Coalition Government will review relevant policies such as the National Sports Policy and the Anti-Doping Policy.
The Ministry of Youth and Sports will review existing sporting infrastructure with key stakeholders prior to recommending to Cabinet key investment priority areas to ensure we offer excellent facilities that would attract more international sporting events.
Sports is an industry and our goal is to make Fiji the sporting hub of the Pacific.
We intend to catapult individual sports towards an era of professionalism with the necessary budgetary provisions to be channeled towards sports in the next financial year.
Contribution of Sports
Remittance inflows from our sports men and women contracted abroad is one of our highest foreign exchange earners with remittances between $30m and $60m annually.
We know all too well what it would mean for a not just a family but a community or village when one of our own secures a sporting contract abroad.
Remittances lift families out of poverty and families are able to meet basic needs and essentials such as housing, food, education and improved medical services.
Sports men and women have invested back into the country through real estate, land development and commercial farming to name a few.
Fiji is renowned as the home of Rugby 7s which attract tourists to our shores especially those that closely follow the 7s series. Our tourism industry gains from marketing mileage when our sporting teams participate in international events and international events contribute to our economy through visitor spending.
Government will support Team Fiji to the 2023 Commonwealth Youth Games in Trinidad & Tobago, the 2023 Pacific Games in Honiara, and the much-anticipated Paris 2024 Olympic Games next year.
We will engage with the respective stakeholders to bring the 2031 Pacific Games to Fiji.
I encourage aspiring future athletes present or watching me on the live television broadcast, to keep striving to be the best they can be. Remember that with hard work, dedication, and perseverance, you can achieve great things.
As Prime Minister, I challenge the youth of Fiji to step up and use the opportunity to prepare for the 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games, which will be held in our backyard in Brisbane.
I urge you all to train smart and represent our nation with pride and dignity on the world stage. When you qualify to participate, not only do you showcase your athletic abilities but you also promote our multicultural society and our commitment to creating equal opportunities for all Fijians, regardless of ethnicity or social background.
Before I take my seat, I want to reiterate that tonight’s event is to celebrate the achievements of our sports personalities and recognize their dedication and commitment to their chosen sport.
You are all winners in your own right. Your hard-work and achievements have made a significant impact to our society.
I again congratulate all nominees of the 2022 Fiji Sports Award.
Thank you to the organizers for your hard-work in making tonight’s event one we will all remember.