Gold at Rio Olympics puts Fiji on world map

Mahendra Sukhdeo – Wellington must stand-Mahendra Sukhdeo Web

Fiji’s scintillating gold medal win, the first ever exploit at the Rio Summer Olympics 2016, was a crowning glory for the Sevens team.

While Fiji is shedding away some of the remnants of the past left behind by its colonial master, the 43-7 defeat of England was like the captivating ‘Kohinoor’ falling from the Taj into the cap of the smallest island nation represented at the Olympics.

Ginger bloke’s magic

Ironically, it was the suave and unpretentious English coach; Ben Ryan who provided the fillip for the rugby-crazed country to achieve its mega dream.

Ryan described himself as ‘ginger bloke with glasses.’ He was exasperated when he was not paid for the first five months and he was aghast to find that there were not enough funds to provide drinking water at the practices or pay for transport.

But the ginger bloke has framed Fiji in the World Rugby map and in so doing, has immortalised himself in the annals of Fiji’s sporting history as the Fijians start coining songs with his persona and new born babes are named after him.

Hero worship has reached a new height of effervescence not seen before.

Serevi’s legacy

Fiji has had a hallowed pathway in the aisles of World’s Sevens Rugby and had won several milestones skilfully mapped by its nippy ex-Captain, Waisale Serevi.

For several years, Serevi personified Sevens Rugby globally.

Fiji had the niche to become a back-to-back World 7 Champion.

A number of local Sevens players were integrated into national teams in New Zealand, Australia and Japan.

I would not be wide off the mark to state that the winning spree of New Zealand Sevens in previous years was to a large measure due to the Fijian players.

Unpretentious players

gold-at-rio-olympics-a-bow-of-defeat-webSuva City Council had hosted the Fiji Sevens Team on several occasions over the years. In spite of the temptation of free drinks and opportunity to socialise, the players had displayed immeasurable sense of maturity and disdain.

Their simplicity and humbleness could not be ignored.

The players who made it to the team came from common background and had presumably started playing on the outskirts of the villages and towns using plastic bottles or cheap rubbery balls from the Two-Dollar shops.

Their navigation from patchy backyards to the world arena is an incredible feat of endurance and dedication.

They could have succumbed to lucrative offers from abroad like many of their other players had done.

While some came from the army, police, prison and the security sectors; others are cane cutters or simple villagers, literally unemployed.

Fiji’s gentle giants

gold-at-rio-olympics-kolinasaus-national-gloryNor are they receiving hefty pay packets as their counterparts in the western world. Reportedly, they are paid the equivalent of around US$ 6000 whereas some stalwarts in Australia and New Zealand are into 6 digit scales.

The Fiji Team’s budget is less than US$ 600,000, not even quarter of the budget of some national teams.

It can be concluded that Fiji, led by its gentle giants, laid the foundation for Rugby Sevens as a safe and spirited game, almost entirely free of long-lasting injuries and concussions that afflict the players of more physically combative games where winning is the mantra rather than safeguarding the players from lifelong disadvantage.

Many other games such as Rugby 15, American Baseball and Australian Footy would therefore not reach the portals of Olympics’ status till such time they modify the game rules within the ambit of the Olympics regulations.

Commemorative events

It is therefore befitting that the victorious team was accorded a full-fledged ceremonial welcome firstly at Nadi’s Prince Charles Park followed by the Monday holiday bash at the ANZ Gymnasium in Suva. Further, the Reserve Bank of Fiji would issue a coloured commemorative gold coin in early 2017, a first for Fiji that is likely to become a collector’s piece.

Fiji had suffered heavily in February from the devastation caused by Category 5 Cyclone Winston that had resulted in 44 casualties and half a billion dollars in damages. The anguish and gloom had not yet dissipated.

The gold medal win at the Rio Summer Olympics brought joy and boosted the morale of the people.

A global destination

The feel good mood of the nation was captured by the Prime Minister, Voreqe Bainimarama who said, “It is time to celebrate not only their remarkable achievement but also our collective unity…”

More importantly, Fiji was the centre of media attention far in excess of other events in recent history. Fiji became the focus of world-wide audience. It was trending on the prime spot in Twitter for several hours after the victory and “Fiji” on Google was the most searched topic during that time.

The impact created by engaging such a widespread audience would allow Fiji Tourism and Fiji Airways to embark on marketing strategies to strengthen the reach of Fiji.

Fiji is indeed now a global destination.

Mahendra Sukhdeo is a Fiji born writer, researcher and author. His book “Aryan Avatars” is now available through the USP Bookstore in Suva.

Photo Caption:

  1. Bow of Defeat
  2. Captain Osea Kolinisau is Fiji’s glory (Pictures Courtesy: Reuters)

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