Your Excellency the President of the Republic of Fiji,
The Honourable Chief Justice,
Your Excellencies, members of the Diplomatic Corps,
Members of Parliament,
Members of our sporting fraternity, including our Olympic Gold medalists,
My Fellow Fijians,
What a wonderful day in our capital. What a wonderful day to be Fijian!
As His Excellency the President has said, today is a milestone in the development of our nation. Precisely 60 years after Fiji first went to the Olympic Games in Melbourne in pursuit of Gold, Silver and Bronze, we have finally done it. And it is Gold – a shower of Gold as the President described it, glittering as bright as the Pacific sun.
I said a lot at the welcome ceremony for all our athletes in Nadi yesterday about what our Seven’s Rugby victory means. The thrill it gave us. The way it brought us together. The way Fiji – for one brief shining moment – became the centre of world attention, as people across the planet scrambled to their computers to find out more about Fiji.
To Ben, Osea and the boys and the three team officials who have received official honours today, thank you again for what you have done for our nation. Thank you for making us proud. Thank you for filling us with inspiration. Thank you for firing our imaginations about what is possible for a small nation working together as a team.
As I told the young people of Fiji yesterday, you are all very lucky not only to see Fiji win Gold at the Olympics but to be living in a golden age. 46 years after Independence, we are finally showing the promise as a nation that most of us of a certain age always knew was there. But which we were squandering by not being able to work together as a team.
Like a rugby side that just can’t get its act together, Fiji kept dropping the ball. Just as an opportunity presented itself. Just when we were starting to play as a team to build our nation, we blew it. Arguments. Conflict. Coups. Our differences rising to the surface when the things that bound us together were far more important.
And like a rugby side that languishes at the bottom of the points table because of indiscipline, we failed to reach our full potential. It wasn’t as if we didn’t have good players. We did. But some people simply weren’t team players. They were more concerned with individual performance. Grabbing the ball for themselves, not passing it to others so that we could put points on the board for the whole team and storm to victory together.
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen. We have put those years behind us. Team Fiji is finally getting its act together. On the rugby field and as a nation. And that is why today is cause for real celebration. Because it is as much a celebration of our recent success as a nation as it is about our success in Rio.
Finally, every player is getting their fair share of the ball. The chance to score for themselves and the team. We are all Fijians. Everyone belongs. Everyone is part of Team Fiji. And the benefits of teamwork are finally coming our way as a nation.
Not only have we put the wasted years behind us – the years of division and argument. All around us is evidence that Fiji is finally on the move and finally beginning to fulfil its promise. One nation. One people working together to fulfil our potential, our destiny. To empower all of our people. To make Fiji great.
Before this victory in Rio, we were already in the throes of the longest running period of economic growth in our history – seven straight years of expansion. We were already attracting record numbers of international visitors. Record investment. More engagement with the world than ever before. And here in Fiji, we were already beginning to use our increasing prosperity to improve the lives of those among us who are less fortunate. Free schooling and access to higher education for families who once only dreamed of such things. Free medicine, free water and electricity. The first social security pensions to ever be paid in Fiji.
The really exciting thing about this victory in Rio is that we have suddenly been given a huge boost. A much greater international profile. More people around the world coming to appreciate the Fijian story. More people looking at Fiji as a place to visit. A place to invest.
Gold in Rio for our Sevens team promises gold for every Fijian. More investment. More jobs. More potential markets for Fijian Made products and services. The possibilities for growth – for improving our standard of living – were already healthy. But thanks to this team and its achievement, they have now been taken to another level.
So Team Fiji is starting to play as it should – giving everyone on a level playing field a go. And as we score more points for our nation, we are determined to continue to leave no-one behind.
We are taking the marginalised, the elderly, the sick and the disabled with us. Doing more to protect the most vulnerable members of our society, including our women and children. Because like the members of a rugby team, we need to look out for each other. Care for each other.
This Gold medal win in Rio has given us all the incentive to try even harder to build the new Fiji. It has fired the imagination of every Fijian about what is possible with teamwork. That’s what Osea and the boys did on that brilliant Friday – inspired us to be a better nation. Just as they were inspired to become better players under the leadership of Ben Ryan.
I want to talk about Ben’s wider legacy by saying this: We must never be afraid as Fijians to reach beyond our shores to obtain the services of people who know more than us about something. Insisting that only Fijians know best is the surest path to national mediocrity. Because while Fiji is a place full of talent, we sometimes need direction. Someone to train us and pass on their superior skills.
And Ben, that is one of the most important lessons you will leave behind in Fiji. That whether it is a rugby coach or someone to run our ports or our civil service, we have a great deal to learn from outsiders. They have the capacity to empower us, to take us to another level. And that is what has happened with our Rugby Sevens team.
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, more than anything else, today reminds us that we are not little Fiji. Small-minded, inward looking and isolated. We have big ambitions as a nation. We intend to transform ourselves – through our education revolution and reaching out to the world – into a modern nation-state. And we intend, like our rugby players, to work hard as a team in the months and years ahead to place ourselves as a nation among the world’s best.
To be a beacon for our Pacific neighbours. A respected voice in the world. Taking the Fijian-made brand to the four corners of the earth. Sending our men and women peacekeepers to protect ordinary people who are less fortunate than us in areas of conflict. Leading the fight on climate change.
Vinaka vakalevu Ben, Osea and the boys for giving us all a lesson on what is possible for a small nation that focuses on achieving greatness. That has the vision to identify a goal and the discipline, commitment and teamwork to achieve it.
Yours is a famous victory. A victory that will live on in the memories of our people long after everyone here today has gone. It is a victory for the ages. A victory for every Fijian.
Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.