Honourable Cabinet Ministers,

Members of the Diplomatic Corp,

The Chairman, Chief Executive Officer and team of the Fiji Sports Council,

Distinguished Guests;

Ladies and Gentlemen.

Bula Vinaka and a very good morning to you all.

Today’s opening of this newly redeveloped arena is actually the second time this week sporting history has been made for Fiji. You may have heard that our own Jerry Tuwai was recently named the Man of the Year in Sevens Rugby – a well-deserved accolade for one the greatest Fijians to ever pick up a rugby ball.
Now, Jerry is far too humble to ever admit it himself, but with 18 cup finals, three world series titles and a Gold medal on his resume, he’s been our Man of the Year, every year, as far as we’re concerned in Fiji.    
Ladies and Gentlemen, when it comes to sport, Fiji doesn’t share the advantages of bigger and richer countries. But that has never stopped us from fielding some of the world’s greatest athletes. And it is Fijians like Jerry who have earned our nation a proud and enduring international reputation for sporting excellence.
Not so long ago, the success of Fijian athletes came despite chronic under-investment in our network of sporting infrastructure, equipment and capacities.  Our athletes were competing and winning on some of the world’s grandest stages. But when they landed back in Fiji, it was right back to using the same worn-out equipment and competing in the same small, shabby venues. As a result, we missed out on countless opportunities to bring large-scale sporting events to our shores. We missed out on economic opportunity and many Fijian athletes missed out on the chance to compete under a global spotlight. I’m talking about seriously talented women and men who may well have been only one shot away from global success.
But that was then, and this is now.  Across our country we’re building and revamping a sporting infrastructure network worthy of our people’s relentless passion and undeniable talent for athletics.
We’re charting progress our people can see: Whether it’s across the road at ANZ Stadium or FMF Gymnasium, or in rugby pitches, parks and football fields across Fijian communities.
As of today, every Fijian can be proud to add another stellar venue to our world-class roster of sporting facilities – a bigger and better Vodafone arena. The roof is brand-new, as are the floors, which are now consistent in quality and design throughout the arena. We’ve installed a state-of-the-art sound system, improved the lighting and ventilation systems, and extended the event halls to accommodate up to 3,000 people.
This re-development is more than a facelift. Given the last works were completed over 15 years ago, we’ve put in the time and resources to ensure this facility is built to last. We’re not repeating past mistakes. Instead, we’ve re-developed this arena in a manner that makes future expansion works far easier and more affordable.
Ladies and Gentlemen, every time Team Fiji punches above our weight with an upset victory and every time a clip of our athletes in action catches fire across social media, Fiji captures the imaginations of audiences everywhere. Over the years, our success has made fans out of all sorts of people from all over the world.
The investments we’re making to improve our sporting facilities – along with our roadways, airports, services and ICT connectivity –  are working together to capitalise on the vast money-making potential of global Fijian fandom. By putting ourselves in the position to host regional and international sporting events, we’re giving fans the excuse they’ve been waiting for to get on a plane to visit our country, and bring with them their families, friends and – of course -- their credit cards as well.
Already this year, we’ve played host to the South Pacific Tennis Championships, the Oceania Table Tennis Tour, Football Olympic Qualifiers, Rugby Union and Super Rugby match-ups and the Oceania Sevens Tournament, which is underway as I speak. Whether it’s karate, judo, badminton, table tennis, weightlifting, volleyball, netball or gymnastics, the competitions that will rage in this arena will attract fans and athletes from across Fiji, the region and the wider world. That puts money into our economy, that gives our athletes bigger platforms to showcase their talents, and that can spark passion in our people for different sports they may never have considered taking up before.
It’s not as if these venues sit idle while we wait for the next tournament or competition to come to Fiji. Every day, Fijians of all ages and abilities are putting our new parks, arenas and stadiums to use. And I want to make clear: you don’t need to be a member of Team Fiji to use these facilities: They are open to anyone who wishes to use them.
I’d like to thank the Board and staff of the Fiji Sports Council for their support towards this re-development and for all their work around the country to cultivate the next generation of Fijian athletes. Nothing brings our people together like our love of sport – and as champions for Fijian athletics, you are champions for the bonds that unite our people and underpin the prosperity and progress Fiji knows today. Vinaka vakalevu and congratulations on your 40th Anniversary.
Lastly, in the spirit of sporting excellence, I’d like to wish our Fijianas, our Fijian Deaf 7s Team and our 7s Men’s team the very best for the remainder of the Oceania 7s tournament. Play hard, play well and show the world the greatness Fijian athletes can achieve.
It is now my pleasure to officially declare the re-developed Vodafone arena open.
Vinaka vakalevu - Thank you.