Bula Vinaka and a very good morning to you all.
I’m very pleased to be here this morning to announce a major corporate sponsorship deal with Athletics Fiji to benefit the nation’s sports-men and women.
This partnership – with Shop N Save Supermarkets – has come at a critical time in the lead up to the South Pacific Games in Port Moresby in July.
Fiji has always shone at the South Pacific Games. And through partnerships such as this, our nation has the opportunity to shine even brighter.
However much we can do as a Government to assist the development of sport in Fiji, we can do so much more with the financial support and encouragement of corporate entities such as Shop N Save.
I want to pay tribute to the company for following the lead of such entities as Punjas and Tappoos in supporting the efforts of community and sporting groups to improve the lives of our people.
In this instance, it is to boost the ability of our athletes to compete on the regional and international stage. With this investment of $65,000, you are playing a crucial role in the development of Fiji’s sporting prowess.
You are helping to equip our athletes with the facilities, equipment and know-how to maximise their individual performances and the performance of Team Fiji at these important events. And because you are supporting our athletes, you are also supporting our nation. Because every Fijian rejoices in whatever sporting success our dedicated men and women athletes can achieve.
It is not only their personal performances that inspire us – the pride we have in these individuals, whose blood, sweat and tears achieve greatness – but also the Fijian determination to win.
It is the great surge of patriotism and pride we all feel when these individuals do their personal best and that performance turns into victory for the whole Fijian nation.
As you all know, my Government has a vision. That when our athletes compete in regional and international arenas, they will do so before a new national symbol.
As I said on Tuesday when I announced our intention to replace the current British symbols on our national flag, this is about strengthening the Fijian identity. Raising our eyes upwards towards symbols that are indigenous and authentic. An expression of our aspirations and strengths as a nation. Not symbols of our colonial past, but symbols of our present and our future.
Flags matter. They are not merely pieces of cloth at the top of a pole. They are expressions of who we are and the values we hold dear as Fijians.
None of us will ever forget the thrill we all felt when Iliesa Delana – who I am proud to have as Assistant Minister in my FijiFirst Government – held the existing Fiji flag aloft when he won Gold at the London Paralympics.
Nothing will ever dim that achievement. But we need to recognise that the flag he held aloft depicted symbols that aren’t relevant to Fiji 45 years after we gained Independence from Britain. The Union Flag and the British Cross of St. George.
Many in the crowd that day in London would have been excused for wondering, “Is this wonderful athlete from a British colony?” And especially those in the vast crowd who were from other countries and had no idea of our historical link to the United Kingdom.
I want you all to imagine how much more potent that moment might have been had Iliesa Delana been holding a genuinely indigenous and Fijian flag.
How much more pride we would have all felt as Fijians at his remarkable achievement. How much more it would have singled out Fiji to the millions watching in the stadium and on television. That this wonderful athlete was from a strong and independent nation with its own symbols and in full charge of its own destiny.
I know not every Fijian has come to terms with this idea. But the vision of a new flag is something that many passionately believe in. And one that we would like every Fijian to share.
We believe that Fiji is on the road to greatness. With such things as our education revolution, we are broadening the horizons of every Fijian young person.
We believe they deserve a new symbol in the 21st century that is more in keeping with their own aspirations. We want them to hold their heads high, with their eyes firmly on their own futures and the future of our beloved nation. Not to be looking backwards over 45 years, with their eyes on the symbols of our coloniser. And symbols that have no relevance to their lives and our future as an independent nation – standing taller and prouder in the world than ever before.
My fellow Fijians, the truth is that only those in this room who are in their 50s can even remember Independence Day 1970. And yet we know that most Fijians are young people, full of optimism and hope. Not looking backwards, but forward to the vision we are holding out of better lives for themselves, if they work hard to fulfil their dreams. And a better life for our nation as they gain the education they need and we need to make Fiji a clever country. Proud, independent and strong.
I want to leave you all with this vision today because I believe our sports-people are at the forefront of creating our new identity. You are all role models for our young people. You are all mentors.
So I appeal to you all as athletes and administrators to take up the baton of change. Run with it for our young people today. Run with it for the generations to come.
Vinaka vakalevu Athletics Fiji for all you are doing to support the development of sport at all levels. Vinaka vakalevu to everyone such as Shop N Save who have joined hands in the collective effort to develop our sporting prowess.
Here’s to gold at the Pacific Games in Port Moresby and gold at every future sporting event. And here’s to a new flag for our beloved nation. To a new flag that is indigenous and truly Fijian. Because even better days lie ahead.
I now have great pleasure in launching this valuable partnership and wishing you all every success.
Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.