SPEECH: HON. PRIME MINISTER JOSAIA VOREQE BAINIMARAMA AT FIJI RUGBY UNION DEVELOPMENT WORKSHOP

Bula vinaka, a very good morning to you all, and welcome to the 2015 Fiji Rugby Union Development Workshop.

We Fijians know how to show the world what we are made of. We talk about how Fiji punches above its weight class, and it’s true. We do it in peacekeeping, where we make a contribution to world peace. For decades now, we have been providing stability to people who live in areas that are in conflict or could erupt again in conflict at any moment. We have also become a leader among our fellow South Pacific island states, offering our infrastructure and our experience for the common good. And, of course, we take a back seat to no country in tourism and hospitality, where we are known for quality and variety.

And, of course, there is rugby. We all know it, and people who couldn’t tell the first thing about Fijian culture or politics—or even place Fiji on map—know it well: Fiji is a world rugby power, especially in Sevens. We are always one of the national teams to beat. We are the country that provides world-class players not only to our own teams, but to teams in other countries as well.
All would seem to be wonderful with Fiji rugby. Or is it?
Are we as powerful as we could be, and as we can be? And more importantly, are we serving the people of Fiji as well as we could? Are we providing enough opportunities to play and excel in rugby, and to all the people? This question, of course, has significance beyond the playing field itself. It goes far beyond the cheers of the crowd and the social status that comes with being a star athlete, whether at the national level or the village level.

Everyone in this room knows the deeper social value of sport. Participating in sport teaches perseverance, personal responsibility, teamwork, fair play, strategic and tactical thinking, and problem solving. Many young people were aimless and without aspirations before they discovered sport. But sport showed them how to overcome adversity, how to fit in with their peers, how to strive toward a goal and not stop until they reached it. It taught them how to succeed, and they took that into the rest of their lives. Even after their competitive playing days were over, they had emerged from sport with high personal standards—with a desire to excel, to achieve, and to keep their commitments. They became better students, better parents, better workers, better soldiers, better professionals.

I am convinced that Fiji’s dedication to sport and fitness is one of the strongest building blocks of our national character, and rugby is a big part of that. So we are here to develop our rugby programme with an eye toward world competition. But few players will reach that level, so we know that our work has a much deeper social value that we must all embrace.

I am most grateful for the presence of Mr. Bruce Cook, who has won great praise—and much deserved praise, I might add—for his work in developing rugby around the world. He has been given credit for a remarkable rise of the rugby program in Portugal, for example, and his dedication to building the sport—in countries where it is little known and in countries like Fiji where it is very popular—has won him a great many admirers around the world. But Mr. Cook is not in this for the admiration. His legacy consists of many rugby programs that are stronger and more popular because of his dedication.

We have more than 65,000 registered rugby players in Fiji, from Kaji to the elite. But most of our energy, attention and financial support are aimed at the few elite, including our local provincial unions. Workshops such as this one should provide us with ideas and guidelines on how to develop the 65,000 players who play rugby for the sheer joy of the sport—for the camaraderie or the competition, or just to stay fit and healthy.

That is one of the reasons we are here, as part of Leading Rugby.
Leading Rugby is a programme initiated by World Rugby to help unions with governance, administration, participation, high performance, women’s rugby and finances. All support that World Rugby gives to National unions is aimed at improving the sport in all its aspects and at all levels in each member country.

It was first introduced in our Oceania region in 2014 in Tahiti, and Fiji is the first country in the region to take that drive that level of service throughout the country with this first-ever Rugby Development Workshop. Through this, we empower the provincial unions and local programmes to develop and grow. So, I thank the new Board for this initiative.

Provincial Union leaders are the ones who eventually will take our Fijian brand of rugby to another level. We are facing England in this year’s opening game of the 2015 Rugby World Cup. In the near term, our role is to make sure that our performance in this year’s tournament will be an inspiration to our children and grandchildren, just as we did in 1977, when we beat the British Lions. And in 1938, when we toured New Zealand for the first time and returned home undefeated. That has never been done again—not before or since—by any other national team. Or in 1952, when our electrifying performance against the Wallabies reignited interest in rugby in Australia.

What we will learn in the next 2 days should be a start and hopefully continue to “Lead Rugby” within our Provinces.

Fiji is blessed with a massive amount of local talent and resources. We have been testing the world’s best with these talents. Imagine if we strengthen our local unions with proper governance and leadership, coaching, refereeing, strength and conditioning, and medical knowledge? We are very much at a crossroads, and it is time to commit: Will we carry on as we have, or do you want to leave a valuable and enduring legacy for our children and our country? This Rugby Development Workshop is the starting point of that change.

But imagine, also, the possibilities we have to lift up people through rugby. Rugby is a great unifier in this country, because all Fijians rally around our national teams. But it can be a much greater unifier. We have before us the opportunity to encourage our women to aspire to the same championship form as our men, to encourage more women to take up the sport. We have before us the opportunity to increase our talent pool by encouraging people from all our communities to play rugby, beginning at a young age. This, in my opinion, is critical, because to draw from the largest pool of talent that we can possibly assemble in Fiji, and we cannot afford to overlook anyone.

We are one Fiji, and rugby is a key national sport. It invites everyone to participate—as serious players, casual players, and fans. Sport has a way of transcending differences and creating understanding, and rugby is no different. On the way to world supremacy for Fiji, Rugby can also bring us together as a nation.

My fellow members of the Fiji Rugby Union, I wish you well in this workshop. I urge you to take what you learn here back to your communities to become even more energetic apostles for rugby than you are now, and work from the grass roots on up to cement Fiji permanently as a rugby world power across all divisions.

Vinaka vakalevu.