Bula vinaka and a very good evening to you all.
It’s always a delight for me to attend any netball function. Because we have three generations of netball players in the Bainimarama family and I would be in trouble if I wasn’t delighted.
Seriously, though, it’s great to be with you all tonight for this important occasion, in which we are raising funds for our national netball team to enable them to continue to excel at international competition and do Fiji proud.
It’s been a week of celebration for Fijian sports fans with our win in the Glasgow Sevens and the wonderful achievement of our Sevens team in qualifying for the Rio Olympics. But while we celebrate our fantastic victories on the rugby field, we must never forget our equally fantastic record in the code of netball.
Members of the national netball team have truly been the pearls of the region since 2010 – undisputed champions of the Pacific. And the team has consistently held the number seven world ranking since 2011.
It is an extraordinary record that has brought great credit to the sport and to Fiji. But we are not going to rest on our laurels and will never settle for seventh best. We want to be Number One or close to it. And we have our eyes set firmly on gradually improving the team’s standing and slowly making our way up the ladder to the top.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me give you a snapshot of the positive developments in Fijian Netball over the past four years and the way this wonderful sport has cemented itself in our national life.
The newly introduced Digicel Punjas Netball Super League competition has paved the way for the development of new players and is identifying new talent for inclusion in the national team. Netball Fiji’s technical development programmes that are running in parallel with this competition are also seeing more umpires, coaches and bench officials gaining accreditation for national and international events.
So we are strengthening the foundation of the sport in Fiji across the board and great possibilities lie ahead. Our national team has participated in eleven international competitions since the last Netball World Cup in 2011. And it has been a matter of great national pride that six of these events have taken place in Suva.
The confidence in Netball Fiji’s capacity to host these events is such that the New Zealand Silver Ferns played three test matches here earlier this year. And the fact that we can attract such an acclaimed competitor to our shores is strong testament to the performance and hard work of Netball Fiji in nurturing Fiji’s growing profile in the sport.
Of course, the Fiji Pearls are now preparing for the Netball World Cup in Sydney in less than three months time. As I’ve indicated, Netball Fiji’s executives are telling me they want to retain or better their current world ranking. And I know the players passionately want to achieve this objective themselves.
So Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is up to us to give them the financial support they need to achieve their goal and take Fiji up yet another rung on the ladder. I urge you all – corporations and individuals – to dig deep to enable our talented players to achieve their dreams to bring home glory for Fiji. We need you to be as generous as possible because we are aiming high and that requires a considerable investment.
It is money well spent because the Pearls have already shone before and are certain to shine again in the upcoming matches. And of course what that does is not only add lustre to the sport of netball but lustre to Fiji’s international reputation.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
You will not be backing hopeful wannabes. You will be backing proven winners.
Last year alone, the Fiji Pearls played nine international test matches and won all nine games. This year they have already played three matches and have at least five lined up before the Netball World Cup in Sydney in August.
We need to get behind them and support them for these matches because the more international tests they play, clearly the more competitive they will be and the greater the chances of them shining at the Netball World Cup in Sydney.
One of the upcoming test matches is especially important – the clash between the Fiji Pearls and the New Zealand Silver Ferns that has been scheduled in Wellington between the Pacific Games and the Netball World Cup. It’s a clash everyone is looking forward to and deserves our full support.
I want to close by thanking all of those corporate bodies that support our various sporting organisations in Fiji. In the case of netball, I want to say a big vinaka vakalevu to Digicel Fiji, Punjas Fiji Limited and the Pearl South Pacific Resort and Spa for your continued financial assistance.
And to the rest of the business community I want to say this: Everyone knows we’re a nation of sports fanatics. But netball happens to be the only women’s sport capable of grabbing national attention ahead of other male-dominated events.
Support the Pearls and you are doing a great deal to empower our young women generally. Because we need more sporting role models for our young women and girls. And the members of the national team are individuals they can look up to. They are champions for all the right reasons. Excellent role models in a wonderful game that Fijian young women happen to be very good at it.
Thank you for the opportunity to be with you here tonight. Here’s to victory for the Fiji Pearls all the way to the World Cup and beyond. And again, please dig deep to support our national team.
Vinaka vakalevu, thank you.