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Hong Kong Sevens

‘We lived in Fiji with fear’: former sevens player says there is no democracy as the country goes to the polls

  • He fears being named because ‘we don’t want to run naked in military camp’
  • Officials sought donations from around the world to finance Rio Olympics trip
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 November, 2018, 2:01pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 November, 2018, 2:03pm

On the day his country is holding a general election, a former Fiji rugby sevens player said there was no democracy on the islands and many athletes “lived in fear” of the government.

The player, who asked not to be named because “we don’t want to run naked in military camp”, hit out at Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama – whose FijiFirst government is favoured to stay in power in Wednesday’s general election.

“There is no democracy in Fiji,” said the player. “We lived in Fiji with fear. We only do what they tell us to do. It’s like they are gods and we are servants.”

Bainimarama has been leading Fiji since a coup more than 11 years ago and is also president of the Fiji Rugby Union.

The player accused the union of going around the world with a begging bowl to collect money for rugby in Fiji, including the salary of former coach Ben Ryan, who led Fiji to an Olympic gold medal at the 2016 Rio Games rugby sevens event.

“Ben Ryan was an honest man, very dedicated,” said the player. “He was paid for what he was doing, but the players wondered where the money came from. We then realised that our prime minister was going everywhere overseas to ask for donations.

“He used the [2016] Cyclone Winston victim donations to pay for the team’s trip to Rio in 2016. The entire sevens team, coaches and medics travelled in business class, before it was only economy class.

‘Blacklisted’ ex-Fiji sevens coach Ben Ryan urges Fijians to vote in general election; politician vows to ‘free’ Englishman

“[But] most people in Fiji starve because there is no good food, hospitals are breaking down in rubble. Most hospitals are without adequate doctors and qualified nurses.

“Players have to use their personal money to buy medicine from a commercial pharmacy. Our PM is using the name of the people to beg for money from everywhere, but they claim Fiji is growing economically. We don’t understand when a country is experiencing economic growth, why do they ask for donations?”

The South China Morning Post contacted the Fiji Rugby Union with these allegations and are awaiting its response. Bainimarama’s brother-in-law, Francis Kean, is the FRU’s chairman.

Last week, an opposition politician and former FRU chief executive, Manasa Baravilala, said the structure of the FRU would change if a new government wins the election.

Baravilala, vice-president of the National Federation party, said he was “troubled” that the FRU president was also the country’s prime minister. He said it could lead to a conflict of interest.

Fiji election 2018: ex-rugby chief ‘troubled’ that FRU president is also country’s prime minister; hopes for change

One politician said the government had a blacklist of people who are banned from entering the country and it includes Ryan, who upset Fijian officials in his book Sevens Heaven: The Beautiful Chaos of Fiji’s Olympic Dream, which was released at the end of May.

He said the names of those blacklisted are not known to the public, but Ryan and many others would be removed from the list if a new government comes into power.

The election is expected to be a battle between Bainimarama’s FijiFirst party and the Sodelpa party led by former leader Sitiveni Rabuka, who carried out two coups in the past.

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