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Welcome Ceremony for the Rugby Sevens Olympic Gold Medalists

August 22, 2016       ANZ Stadium, Suva

The Honourable Prime Minister and your Good Wife,Mrs Mary Bainimarama,
The Honourable Chief Justice,
Honourable Ministers,
Honourable Members of Parliament,
Your Excellencies, Heads of Diplomatic Missions,
Members of the Diplomatic Corps,
Members of the Fijian Sporting Fraternity,
Coach Ben Ryan and Officials of our Rio Olympics Sevens Rugby Team,
Captain Osea Kolinisau and our World Champion – Gold Medalists,
Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls,

Ni Bula Vinaka, Namaste, Asalaam Alaykum, Ni Hao, Noa’ia‘e mauri, and a very Good Morning to you all.

Bula Vinaka Fiji!  For this is indeed a great day in our nation’s history. And as your Head of State, I want – on behalf of the whole nation – to officially welcome home our victorious Rugby Sevens Olympic Gold medalists. (applause)

We have had many homecomings over the years. Some have been somber, as when our fallen in the various theatres of battle or peacekeeping have been borne home to be laid to rest in the nation they loved.

And some have been joyful, as when our sporting heroes have returned having excelled in international competition. And in doing so, have fired the spirits and imaginations of every Fijian.

Four years ago, Fiji erupted in joy when a man with one leg vaunted over a pole at the London Paralympics and won Gold.  And in doing so, not only lifted our spirits but showed every Fijian that disability is no barrier to achieving your dreams.

That man, the Honourable Iliesa Delana, is with us today as the Assistant Minister for Youth and Sports in the Government and we again acknowledge his wonderful achievement. (applause)

Ladies and gentlemen, in 1997 and 2005, Fiji also burst into celebrations when our then National Sevens Rugby Teams returned home with the Sevens World Cup titles, led by the world’s Sevens Maestro Waisale Serevi. The former Chairman of World Rugby Mr. Bernard Lapasset admitted that it was Waisale Serevi who convinced him to push for Rugby Sevens’ to be included in the Olympics.

That paved the way for our gathering here today so I would like to ask that we also acknowledge our very own Waisale Serevi (applause),  and our former players who did so well in representing Fiji and stamped our mark and enviable reputation in the International Rugby Board’s abbreviated code of 7s Rugby.

I would like us to also acknowledge the achievement of our Fijiana Women’s 7s Rugby Team, their Coach Mr Chris Cracknel; and officials for their efforts in retaining their 8th position in the IRB standings.  (applause).

Now, my fellow Fijians, in as far as returning home with the highest accolades, we have been blessed again. And this time we have been showered with Gold as our Rugby Sevens team brings home the first medals that Fiji has ever won at a summer Olympics.

To Coach Ben, Team Captain Osea, the rest of the players and all those who have been part of this magnificent effort, I want to say this to you on the nation’s behalf:

You have made us all more proud than we can say. Proud of your achievement and proud to be Fijians. You have embodied the Fijian spirit of determination and perseverance. You have thrilled us with an astonishing display of your skills on the field. You have brought us together to join with one voice in saying Go Fiji, Go! 

And we have never been more united than we are today – one nation, one people celebrating a milestone in our development as a nation.

You have set a shining example for our young people of teamwork, good sportsmanship and modesty in victory. You have worn your religious faith unselfconsciously and with conviction.

You have brought us honour and more global attention than at any other time in our history. 

As the Honourable Prime Minister has observed, Fiji now stands taller and prouder than at any other time in our history.

And this was a win for all Pacific Islanders, as our neighbours also got caught up in the excitement and the attention our region has been getting because of this victory.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen. It is an exceptional achievement that deserves an exceptional salute - On the part of the nation and every Fijian.

So today, it is a great honour and privilege as President of the Republic of Fiji to bestow on all of you our gallant and victorious warriors – Fiji’s greatest honours as a nation.

To award you another medal to accompany the Gold you won in Rio.  Medals in the Order of Fiji.

The highest award is an honourary one to a non-Fijian who has become one of us – our Rugby Sevens coach Ben Ryan.

Today, Benjamin Christian Ryan is awarded the highest category in our system of honours – Companion of the Order of Fiji.  (applause)

Ben, please come forward to receive your award.

(MC to read citation for the Companion)

Our second highest award – Officer of the Order of Fiji goes to each individual member of the Seven’s team, plus the officials who have played decisive roles in the victory.

And could you all please come forward to receive your awards.

(MC to read the citation for the Officer of the Order of Fiji and then read out the names of the players and officials, starting with Captain Osea Kolinisau)

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, as you are now aware, two players Leone Nakarawa and Semi Kunatani together with the Team Manager Ropate Kauvesi, will arrive into the country later this week. We will only be too happy to present the awards as soon as they arrive.

For now, I request that you please put your hands together once again to acknowledge all our recipients. (applause).

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, as you all know, the Government has also decided to award each of our players $30,000 as a gesture of appreciation on behalf of all Fijians for their tremendous achievement.

It may not be what wealthier nations are able to afford. But it is a substantial sum in Fijian terms. And it is a symbolic gesture that we understand will be accompanied by further contributions from the private sector. It is now my pleasant duty to present the Cheques to our players.

(MC to announce the names of players and officials)

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentleman, I want to close by adding my own thoughts to what the Honourable Prime Minister said yesterday about the achievements of this team.

With this Olympic win, our gallant and victorious warriors have transformed Fiji into a global superpower in Sevens Rugby.  We are now World Champions and the team to beat.

And rest assured that we will have a real fight on our hands to retain our crown as World Champions, if we are to win Gold again at the next Olympics in Tokyo, Japan, in four years’ time.

To avoid this being a “one-off”, we cannot afford to be complacent.  We need, if anything, to work even harder. Above all, we need proper leadership, we need discipline and we need consistency. 

We should invest as much as we can in training the young players who will form the nucleus of our future campaigns in international competition. The Rugby Sevens is our Game.

So let us bring together the Government and private sector to start planning for our next assault as soon as these celebrations end.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, this is a wonderful day for every Fijian. So let us also rededicate ourselves – individually and as a people – to work together to capitalise on this victory.

To be winners not just in one sport but as a nation in everything we do. Fiji cementing its place as one of the great small nations of the world, and taking every one of our citizens on our journey forward.

May God Bless us all. May God Bless Fiji.

Vinaka vakalevu, Dhanyavaad, Sukria, Fai’eksia and Thank you.