Bula Vinaka and good afternoon to you all.

First, very big congratulations to Rewa for their victory over Lautoka in the finals this afternoon to win the 2014 Battle Of The Giants. You have played well the entire tournament and I’m sure that you’ve made your fans and the people of Rewa very proud today. Enjoy you victory, you’ve earned it.

I would also like to congratulate the other finalists and all the teams that played in this year’s competition. You have given us two weekends of fantastic football; the hard work you put into your training was noticeable and the level of play was exceptional. I’m already looking forward to next year’s tournament to watch Rewa defend its title against such a strong field of competitors. Well done all.

My fellow Fijians,

Of course our thoughts today are also with the 44 Fijian peacekeepers being detained in Syria. Even in the midst of an elections campaign, we are united as a nation in praying for their safe return. I have received messages from Fijians of all backgrounds expressing their deep concern and stating that they are praying for them.

The negotiations for their release are continuing, but I can assure you that we have the full weight of the international community behind us.

We are peacekeepers, not combatants; our men and women in uniform protect the vulnerable and the weak and bring peace and security to troubled regions around the world. There is no excuse for their continued detention.

As we continue to work side-by-side with the United Nations and our friends in the international community, I ask that you keep these men in your thoughts and prayers and that we come together as a community to provide whatever support we can to their families.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Since 1978, the Battle Of The Giants competition has been a fixture on Fiji’s sporting calendar, bringing together the top district teams to showcase their skills and abilities on the national stage.

When I spoke at the Fiji FACT in 2013, I mentioned the need to raise the quality and standard of Fijian football to the level our nation deserves.

From Government’s perspective, we believe the best way to help accomplish this is by treating all sporting agencies equally. To be perfectly frank, in the past, soccer was seen only as an Indo-Fijian sport. In fact, this ethnic perspective all but enforced a policy of segregation into different sports based on race. This was wrong, plain and simple. Participation should be based on interest and ability and nothing else.

Now, we are all Fijians under the new Constitution and in our eyes soccer is a national sport. I can promise you that my Government will do everything in its power to ensure that the sport is open to any child with an interest in the game, no matter what there background is or where they are from.

The point is that any kind of discrimination is wrong. The moment you say that discrimination along racial lines is acceptable in society, it’s not long before you start to see other forms of discrimination crop up. Between men and women, old and young, rural and urban, abled and disabled, and even between sporting organisations.

That is not the future we want for our children. This is why the basic notion of equality is so important, today and in the future. We want them to grow up in a country that respects and cherishes our different cultures and traditions, but at the same time takes pride in a common national identity. To grow up in a country where every person feels secure in their homes – no home invasions – and on the streets knowing that Government will protect and provide assistance to all Fijians equally. This is very important.

In government, like in football, you have to play the full 90 minutes, meaning that you have to have a game plan that extends beyond the first half. My Government has always insisted on taken the long-term view – to make the necessary adjustments and reforms that not only bring benefits now, but which lay the foundation for a unified, secure and prosperous future.

In contrast, some political parties insist on taking a short-term view to try to win your vote in September. It basically amounts to lying to you. They’re saying things like they are going to reduce the price of basic food items without clearly explaining how they would accomplish this – they don’t explain that the numbers don’t add up; they don’t explain that the price of imported food is determined by foreign countries not us.

In reality, good governance requires the right mix between bold visions and detailed policies. It’s like with football. The vision is to return the sport to its former glory and open it up to all of our people. The policies are the specific ways Government can help to make this happen.

Indeed, the development of the sport is something that I am personally very passionate about, and I have been encouraged by a number of positive developments in the past year.

I’m sure that you are all as proud as I am that our Under-20s team has qualified for the FIFA U20 World Cup in New Zealand in 2015. This is a remarkable accomplishment that will truly put Fijian football on the global stage, as our boys compete against some of the best teams in the world. I am very happy that my Cabinet hosted the under 20 team in the Cabinet Office and provided financial assistance to the individual players to help them prepare for the world Cup. Ladies and gentlemen I think this is the first time ever that soccer, a football team was hosted by a Fijian Government in the Cabinet Office.

Fijian football has also gotten a big boost through the $5 million sponsorship deal with Vodafone Fiji and the CJ Patel Group for the nest 5 years. This represents a new approach to sponsorship that has the very serious potential to lift the standard of the game in Fiji and also to encourage development of the sport at the grassroots level. It is up to the Fiji Football Association to manage this money responsibly and transparently to ensure that it leads to the maximum benefit for the most number of people.

While there has been much improvement, the current state of our national side is still a cause of concern amongst fans.And there’s still work to do to regain the trust and confidence of the Fijian people in the way the sport is managed in Fiji.

Transparency, accountability and good governance are absolutely critical to any organisation: and Fiji’s sporting bodies are no exception. The Fijian Constitution demands these qualities of all elected government officials and senior civil servants, and I think that officials in other organisations should be held to the same high standards.

Football should be for the benefit of the players and the fans, not for the benefit of the organisation.

The Football Association should open management to new blood, with new ideas. They should seek input from young people and players, and create an open forum where people can freely voice their complaints.

They should focus more on professional development, at all levels. They should expose more players to the A League. They should use their affiliation with FIFA to channel more resources into the sport.And, of course, they need to put every effort to get Fiji’s international ranking back up where it belongs.

The Pacific Games and the OFC Nations Cup are both coming up in 2015 and all focus should be put on preparing for these events, both of which act as qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup. I know that this is a very ambitious goal, but I believe it’s within our power. It would be a huge achievement for Fiji, and would certainly be a proud moment for all Fijians.

My government looks forward to working with the Fiji Football Association to not only improve our overall rating as a football nation but to also promote sports as a means to keep all Fijians fit and healthy.

With these words, I would like to thank the Fiji Football Association for its work in organizing the Battle Of The Giants. Such competitions help identify our up-and-coming national stars.

I would also like to thank the sponsors INKK Mobile and once again congratulate Rewa on their victory.

Vinaka Vakalevu. Thank you.