Boots and all

While the government ‘does nothing for the poor man’, rugby sevens is king of Fiji and must be given its World Series crown

There are plenty of issues to be waded through, but the public’s love of the game should assure success

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 20 January, 2018, 12:10pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 20 January, 2018, 9:30pm

For a bloke whose festive season has somehow stretched well into January, climbing the sand dunes that Fijians label the secret to their Olympic sevens gold medal in Rio is somewhat of a rude awakening.

The Sigatoka dunes – which Fiji often train on – are certainly something and like almost everything in Fiji, they are synonymous with rugby.

It’s been a big week for the sport in Fiji – presumably bigger than most but I wouldn’t bet on it – with the Coral Coast Sevens lighting up Sigatoka and the Fiji Rugby Union announcing it will submit a bid to World Rugby to host a leg of the 2019-20 HSBC World Sevens Series.

The first thought to come to mind after a week in this beautiful country is “yep, rightio then, heck why not give them all 10 legs? Hang on, best keep one for Hong Kong, but they can have the rest”.

The fervent, bordering on delirious, support at this week’s tournament has again shown no one loves rugby like the Fijians and one thing is abundantly clear: the way sport overrides any hardship the people of Fiji are facing is truly remarkable.

This goes to another level in Sigatoka, which calls itself Rugby Town and is a production line of international stars.

The people are forever smiling and they could talk rugby until the cows come home (which might be an actual measurement of time here judging by the selection of animals my taxi driver nearly mowed down when showing me the island’s interior).

But when you move past the obvious romanticism that surrounds the notion of Fiji hosting a World Series tournament, there is a thick layer of common sense that must be waded through.

There are those that think the government shouldn’t be spending taxpayers’ money on bringing such an event here when infrastructure in some parts of the country is in disrepair almost two years after Tropical Cyclone Winston.

Then there are the ongoing rumblings of players struggling to get paid, something that regularly results in them taking contracts overseas, and the fact the Fijian public would struggle to afford tickets (this week’s event is free entry).

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Ben Ryan, the man who coached Fiji to gold in Rio, knows it would be amazing but believes 2019-20 is likely too ambitious a target considering the work that has to be done to make the bid a reality.

A stadium in Nadi has been earmarked for improvement works to host the World Series but, from a broader perspective, one thinks it will take longer than a couple of years to put a sustainable structure in place.

There would be nothing worse than the FRU rushing into something and seeing it flop due to high ambition but lack of proper planning.

But while all the challenges must certainly be given their due consideration, overall one can’t help but feel that the World Series simply must come here at some stage, preferably sooner rather than later.

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Fiji is the heartbeat of world sevens and it’s time to take the game at the highest level back to the people that love it most.

The level of fanaticism here will surely see that it is a success, even if some serious sponsorship is needed to offset the fact ticket prices would have to cost next to nothing.

Jay White, founding chairman and tournament director of the Coral Coast Sevens, says Fiji is ready and believes it has done more than enough for the game to deserve a World Series stop.

Well-known sevens referee Rasta Rasivhenge knows it must happen – “it would be the greatest thing in the world” – and the people from the Coral Coast certainly aren’t arguing.

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That same taxi driver did in passing voice his displeasure at the government for “low wages, high taxes and doing nothing for the poor man”, but that seemed an afterthought when compared with the prospect of hosting a leg of the World Series.

There are obviously some governance issues in this country that should sit far higher in the pecking order of importance than the sport of rugby, but in the court of public opinion, rugby is still king and it needs its crown.