Bula vinaka and a very good evening to you all.
It’s a great pleasure to be here this evening to celebrate this wonderful occasion with you all. And I would like to thank the Cricket Fiji fraternity for your invitation.
First of all, congratulations to our Fijian Under 19 Team for winning the International Cricket Council East Asia Pacific World Cup Qualifiers in New Zealand.
We are here not only to celebrate your victory but also to recognise each of you as fine ambassadors of Fiji. By winning this Qualifier, you have gone further than any other young Fijian cricket team before you. You are bound for the World Cup in Bangladesh next year to proudly take the field alongside global cricket heavyweights such as Australia, England, New Zealand and South Africa.
This is a great achievement. We may be accustomed to facing these nations on the rugby field but I am proud to see Fijian cricket achieve the same level of excellence.
And, of course, it comes after the Fijian Under 20 men’s soccer team won the Oceanic Championship to qualify for the FIFA Under 20 World Cup in New Zealand later this year.
This was the first time a Fijian international side had made it to the final stages of a FIFA world event at any level. So our young people are excelling in international competition in a way we could have only dreamed of just a few years ago.
My Fellow Fijians,
It is a testament to the talent and hard work of everyone over the years that Fiji is now making its mark in world cricket.
A great deal of this is due to Cricket Fiji, an organisation constantly striving to bring cricket into the sporting mainstream of this country- particularly at the grassroots level.
In the past year alone, 30,000 young Fijians participated in cricket programs at their primary or secondary schools.
That, in itself, is an impressive achievement and these numbers will only grow in the coming years as more young people come to enjoy the game. As time goes by, we are constantly expanding the pool of talent from which we can draw the best players and make our Under 19 teams even more competitive.
My fellow Fijians,
We are a nation of sports lovers. And not only does this bring great credit to our country because of the efforts of people like you in this room. We all know it builds our sense of nationhood. Our pride in being Fijian. It binds us together in a way that is unique and which my Government, at every level, is determined to foster.
I’m especially impressed by the targeted programs Cricket Fiji has implemented to teach the game to women in rural areas and to encourage disabled Fijians to take up cricket. Like any sporting activity, this is doing a great deal to tackle the problem of non-communicable diseases in Fiji, which as you all know, has reached crisis point.
We must all commit ourselves to greater physical activity and better diets – especially on the part of our young people – to ward off the incidence of heart disease, hypertension and diabetes that is killing far too many Fijians.
I want to see a lot more Fijian “cricket tragics” – as the Aussies call fanatics of the Game – than the tragedy of premature deaths that are robbing us of our loved ones and placing a huge burden on our health system.
To the players: When you travel to Bangladesh next year for the World Cup, remember that you carry the hopes of every Fijian to do your very best. But always remember too that you are ambassadors for our nation and we expect the highest standards of behaviour and sportsmanship.
Remember also, that you will be competing under our new flag that we intend to unfurl for the first time on Independence Day, October 10 2015. It will be a proud moment for you all. Because you will be among the first Fijian sporting teams to compete under a flag that for the first time, will carry genuinely Fijian symbols.
As you all know, the competition for our flag is already underway and, if you have not done so already, I encourage you all to consider submitting designs before the deadline of May the 1st.
It’s going to be a great moment for you in Bangladesh – young Fijians playing for our nation under our new national symbol. So I wish you all the very best for the World Cup and Fijian cricket as whole, the very best in the months and years ahead.
Vinaka vakalevu and enjoy the rest of the evening.