Hong Kong Sevens

Broke, drunk and depressed: how ‘King of Sevens’ Waisale Serevi hit rock bottom after being sacked by Fiji

A new book tracking the life of the ‘little master’ tells how a decorated career at the top gave him everything but money

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 04 April, 2018, 7:03am
UPDATED : Thursday, 05 April, 2018, 8:57am

He spent a lifetime at the pinnacle of his sport and brought joy to the hearts of fans the world over, but when all was said and done Waisale Serevi was broke and at rock bottom.

It might be hard to believe, but a combination of his own generosity, low wages in his homeland and mismanagement while playing abroad resulted in the “King of Sevens” facing ruin at the end of his playing and coaching career in 2009.

A new book tracking the life of the ‘little master’ – Waisale Serevi, The King of Sevens – outlines how the sport’s greatest player was left with nothing to show for decades at the top.

He may be the ‘King of Sevens’ but Waisale Serevi slept on the floor of the Hong Kong Hilton during 1990 triumph

“A lifetime of generosity – supporting his extended family, teammates and community – had left him in serious financial trouble,” the book says.

“Over his career Serevi had been well taken care of with his employers in Japan, England and France feeding, clothing and sheltering both he and his family. 

“That support had come at a cost; without a manager advising him against signing such deals, Serevi was in effect a ‘subsistence’ professional paid just enough to support his family and survive. 

“What little money he had been able to save over the years had been given away to an army of distant relations, as was the expectation of successful members of society in the Pacific Islands.”

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To add insult to injury, Serevi was subject to a tax audit soon after being sacked as the coach of Fiji and was forced to borrow money from a friend to clear his FJ$6,000 (HK$23,000) debt. With his pride dented, Serevi battled depression and alcoholism.

“As problems compounded around him, he slipped deeper into depression and alcohol addiction. 

Friends and family tried to guide him back but his demons threatened to drown him. Eventually, even his closest supporters turned their backs
‘Waisale Serevi, The King of Sevens’

“Friends and family tried to guide him back but his demons threatened to drown him. Eventually, even his closest supporters turned their backs. Through those dark days, Serevi felt that only God remained. For a deeply religious man, he was truly walking through the shadow of the valley of death.”

After an ill-fated attempt at coaching Papua New Guinea – the home and salary he was promised never eventuated – it was a trip to Vancouver to play for a Fijian invitational team that proved life-changing for Serevi.

After meeting Semi Lotawa of the Seattle-based Old Puget Sound rugby club, the wheels starting turning for Serevi to start a new life in the United States.

As Patten sailed into the sunset, up stepped Serevi as the new ‘governor’ of Hong Kong

He arrived with nothing but some clothes and his rugby boots but, with the help of some key figures in the Seattle rugby scene, he set up a life that sees him remain in the US to this day.

“Serevi will never forget the extraordinary kindness and generosity of Chris and Julie Prentice which in every sense ‘saved him’.

“To coach in the United States after a lifetime spent mainly in Fiji was a challenge unlike anything Serevi had previously faced. Children in Fiji grow up blessed with an innate understanding of rugby. 

“As natural athletes, they quickly develop an inordinate array of skills through daily participation in their national sport. American children have no such advantage and must start from a clean slate.”

And while Seattle is now very much home for Serevi, “Fiji still calls his name” and he plans to one day return to his homeland, this time in a far better place.