The Honourable Minister for Sports,
The Executive Chair of the Fiji Sports Commission,
The Sponsors of the 2016 Fiji Sports Awards,
Sportsmen and Women,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Bula vinaka and a very good evening to you all.
I very much look forward to bringing recognition to our many talented and deserving athletes here this evening. But before we begin with this ceremony, I ask that we take time to remember the 44 Fijians who were killed almost exactly one year ago when Category Five Cyclone Winston arrived in Fiji.
This coming Monday marks the anniversary of that dark day in our history – the day our nation was ravaged by the strongest storm to ever reach our shores. And I would like to dedicate the beginning of our evening to the memories of those 44 Fijians who were taken from us so suddenly and so cruelly on that fateful day.
As we approach that anniversary, as we look back on the tremendous suffering endured by our people, we must rekindle the spirit of love and comradery that binds us together as Fijians and that carried us through that difficult time.
That is why last week I asked that – beginning today – every Fijian take this weekend to reflect on the tragedy that befell us, especially the pain caused by the loss of life. I asked that we acknowledge this painful time for the relatives and friends of those we lost – that we offer comfort and do what we can to make that pain more bearable. There is still work to be done to reclaim everything we lost, to rebuild homes and schools, but it is people who must always come first.
This coming Monday, we will be holding a Multi-Faith Service of National Remembrance and Thanksgiving at Albert Park, to remember those we lost and to honour their memories.
We honour those we lost, and we will never forget them. As your Prime Minister, I will carry the memories of those Fijians with me all my life, and especially when I go the world later this year to lead the global campaign against climate change.
I am serving as President of COP 23 – the United Nations negotiations on climate change – to tell the stories of TC Winston’s victims, and to tell the stories of every person residing in vulnerable areas around the world. Because these tragedies and this suffering cannot go on, we need decisive global action on the issue of climate change so we can dramatically reduce the behaviour that is causing seas to rise and these severe weather events. We cannot and we will not accept anything less.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Even as we endured the trauma of Winston last year, we were very blessed to have so many moments where we could put aside our despair and celebrate the many achievements of our superstar athletes.
Each and every one of our athletes are a beacon of hope for our people, a source of motivation during trying times, and a role model to thousands of our young people.
On nights such as tonight, we recognise their achievement and can thank them all for all they do to represent Fiji so well.
Every Fijian remembers the thrill of competing in these past Olympic games, and the joy of watching our Rugby Sevens heroes win Gold on rugby’s biggest stage. And I would like to again say, vinaka vakalevu to our boys, Coach Ben Ryan and his staff for that spectacular showing.
Of course, we were also extremely proud of our Fijianas and our Table Tennis team for also performing so well in their first Olympic games. When we needed our spirits boosted most, all of our Olympians delivered – and for that we will always remain grateful.
As I’ve said many times before, sport in Fiji is one of the greatest sources of unity and of inspiration for our people. We have a love of athletic competition unrivalled anywhere in the world, and therein lies the real secret to our success – our passion. The passion seen from our cheering fans here at home and the passion our athletes bring to competition – that is why we are able to continually amaze the world with our success. That is why – regardless of the greater populations and resources of larger powers – Fiji routinely out-performs the competition. And that is how we earned the world-wide respect in the sporting world we enjoy today.
Late last year, I had the chance to speak at a sporting diplomacy seminar put on by the European Union. I told them how sport can be a highly effective instrument of diplomacy for small island countries, and how our Fijian athletes are – every day – shaping how the world sees Fiji. Because our men and women competitors exemplify the best of what our nation has to offer: strength of character, honour on and off the field and an undeniable desire to achieve victory.
Truly, our sportsmen and women are a pivotal part of telling Fiji’s story to the world. The story of a small island country that is the hub of development in the Pacific and an example for small countries the world over. A nation that is a leader and that stands for the rights and the protection of every global citizen.
Together, along with our UN Peacekeepers, our civilian volunteers and the men and women behind the Fijian-made brand, our athletes are a crucial part of our engagement with the world, enhancing our national reputation and helping put Fiji on the map for the many people who may not know what we have to offer.
Every time our athletes win big, every time Fiji hosts a major sporting event or we share our sporting knowledge and expertise with other nations, more people learn about Fiji and the Fijian people. And as we’ve seen, once they have had a taste of Fiji, they want to keep coming back for more. They want the full Fijian experience, to see Fiji themselves and to be with our people. And that is a tremendous source of economic opportunity for our country.
My Government understands how to leverage sport to empower the Fijian people. We are investing in the next generation of Fijian athletes and capitalising on our strong sporting reputation to attract more international competitions – not only so our people can enjoy world-class sporting events, but so that we can bring more of the enormous benefits of sports tourism to Fiji. So that sports fans across the Pacific and beyond are lining up to visit our shores – and bringing their families and friends with them –to watch rugby, football, golf, netball or any of the major sporting events we are capable of hosting.
Those efforts are paying off. Last year, Fiji hosted a wide slate of regional competitions, including the FIBA Oceania U18 Championship for Men, the Oceania Melanesian Regional, Weightlifting, Swimming, Sevens and Beach Volleyball Championships and the Fiji Open Tennis Championships.
We also again held a very popular Fiji International Golf Tournament and I was very pleased to announce that we signed a three-year contract to host Super Rugby 15s matches in Suva from 2017-2019, following our successful hosting of the Crusaders and the Chiefs match last year. These events don’t just bring us publicity – they bring us a significant return on investment. Money injected straight into our businesses and local communities by fans from all over the world.
So we have another positive year of sport in Fiji to report. More victories for our athletes in competition, and for the Fijian people as we secure more international tournaments and continue our aggressive investment in sporting infrastructure throughout our islands.
In the first half of our financial year, we have already invested $3.84 million through the sports commissions to fund sports scholarships, overseas competitions, community outreach programs and a wide array of other programmes designed to boost the development of sport for Fijians competing abroad and for those right here at home.
It’s the most exciting time in our history to get involved with the progress we are driving for sport in Fiji, and I urge our business community to take full advantage. Sponsor a team, cater your offerings to tourists looking to enjoy sporting events or participate in sport themselves and join my Government’s efforts to tap our untapped potential as an even more prosperous sporting nation.
Congratulations, again, to all of our athletes for their success over this past year. Keep working hard, keeping making us proud. We will be there with you, cheering you onwards, every step of the way.
May God bless you all and may God bless our beloved Fiji.
Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.