Fiji: Rugby, politics and democracy

People in Fiji are slowly coming to grips with the fact the nation’s Rugby sevens team could not defend its World Cup title because it was beaten by upstart Kenya in the quarter-finals.

In a very unconventional Rugby sevens World Cup played this year in Dubai, Wales emerged as the winner after the game’s traditional powerhouses — Fiji, New Zealand, South Africa and England — were all knocked out of play before the finals. Rugby sevens, which many call the national game of Fiji, consists of seven players per side who play two seven-minute halves. Fiji has won the world cup twice, in 2005 and 1997.

Nearly everyone in Fiji has fingered blame on someone — the players, trainers and coaches. Yet more than a few bloggers and commenters are blaming the loss on the country’s political situation.

In December 2006, Commodore Frank Bainimarama, head of Fiji’s military, lead a coup against the government of Laisenia Qarase. Bainiarama had long accused Qarase’s SDL-lead  government of benefiting the political and economic rights of indigenous Fijians at the expense of other ethnic groups, especially the ethnic Indians (called Indo-Fijians) who now make up less than 40 percent of the country’s population, but hold important positions in Fiji's economic class. Indo-Fijians were brought to Fiji in the 19th and early 20th century by British colonial rulers as indentured workers to toil in the sugar industry. They once made up two-thirds of the country’s population.

Bainimarama took power claiming he is attempting to reverse the pattern of the country’s three previous coups, which overthrew governments headed by Indo-Fijian political parties. He also wants to stem the political power of indigenous Fijian institutions. The Indo-Fijian community once made up nearly two-thirds of independent Fiji's population, but those numbers began falling shortly after the country's first two coups in 1987.

Prior to the December 2006 coup, Bainimarama demanded the Qarase government drop two pieces of legislation: the Reconciliation, Tolerance and Unity Bill that attempted to set up a commission to investigate granting amnesty to perpetrators of Fiji’s  2000 coup and compensate its victims; and, the Quoliquoli bill, which would have transferred “proprietary rights” of beaches, lagoons and reefs from the state to indigenous Fijian councils.

Back to rugby. More than a few bloggers questioned why people in Fiji take the sport so seriously — Fiji's players were yelled at when they returned home and police were dispatched to protect the Fiji Rugby Union’s headquarters shortly after the team’s loss. Yet it’s these same people who anti-government bloggers feel are apathetic in the face of Bainimarama’s regime, which these bloggers argue has continued the country’s coup culture, mismanaged Fiji’s economy and trampled on peoples’ political rights.

(While it’s true many bloggers and commentators could be termed anti-government, that term does not describe every person who analyzes Fiji’s politics via the web.)

“The Fiji sevens team carried the hopes of the nation with them when they went to Dubai and they let everyone down,” writes Talking Fiji, who argues that heads should roll at the Fiji Rubgy Union.

They did not lose to a better team, they lost because they treated Kenya like an insignificant but necessary formality.

And Kenya played like there was no tomorrow.

Basically it came down to attitude.

And Fiji’s attitude in the quarter-finals sucked.

Rizwan ud Dean, himself a supporter of New Zealand, says that Fiji Rugby’s main problem is its management changing coaches too often and this coaching staff who did not properly prepare the team for the match against Kenya.

You’ve got to remember that Fiji and New Zealand have been playing Seven’s for quite some time now and they’ve basically used just about every strategy in the book when on the field. Other teams have over time picked up on these “tips n tricks” then fine tuned their own game plans. After all, Fiji and NZ were two teams most countries were wary of when they entered the field. I think as a result of all the years of play, other teams have taken their plans and changed it by adding their own little ideas into it and then come back to the field and used it against both teams – the result is obvious. Fiji and NZ have not changed their style of play but other teams have by learning from the mistakes and positives of both teams. In the case of Fiji, the story takes a more interesting twist because Fiji changes coaches and management teams faster than the wind direction.

Since I can remember, Fiji has never managed to have a coach who has been there from the beginning. You only need to take a look at the NZ coach to realize that Fiji is hopelessly left behind when it comes to letting your coach run the team the way it should.

Fiji Girl argues the team could not play its traditionally chaotic, free style because of the situation at home.

But the fact is that our boys cannot play their best rugby when their hearts are sick with worry about the situation at home.  When Speight held his coup [in 2000], shortly before the end of the inaugural IRB 7s World Series, all Fiji had to do was make it to the semi-finals and the title was ours.  What happened?  We lost the quarter-final to Argen-flipping-tina.  Now this coup and our chance to defend our World Cup crown, we have lost to Kenya.  Kenya!  In the quarter-finals.

To us, rugby is joy.  The free-flowing, chaotic sparkle you see when we play is indicative of our love of freedom, of the simple act of running, throwing and kicking a ball around, passing opponents and defying physics.  But when our hearts are not in it, no way can we capture that joy or the magic.  It’s something you can’t fake.

Our rugby needs joy and freedom.  Vore [Bainimarama] has sucked that out of our lives.  How can we expect the boys to play, in the truest sense of the word, with our beloved country going to hell in a handbasket?

One interesting aspect of rugby sevens in Fiji is although it is mostly played by indigenous Fijians, the entire country rallies around the team. Fiji's flags adorned many cars, and offices changed the dress code for the first day of the tournament so people could wear shirts emblazoned with the country’s flag along with the words ‘Fiji rugby’.

An unsigned piece at Raw Fiji News wonders if rugby fans will put their energy into other causes.

Fiji reported a record number of people who stayed up either late at night or early morning in the last two days to catch a glimpse of their Fiji team in action at Dubai.

TV sets in Fiji must be suffering right now from all sorts of verbal abuse hauled at them by their owners when Fiji was playing its losing game against Kenya.

And while the Fiji rugby flag bearers will sadly pull down their Fiji flags today, some have already comtemplated burning down the Fiji Rugby House in capital Suva.

They’ve lost the Melrose Cup and it hurts them so bad.

The blame game and finger pointing is already at full swing.

And democracy?

Nah, it’s too foreign a flower to them. It ain’t got legs to do a fancy goose-step and it definitely ain’t part of rugby making it soo soo insignificant to that rugby-mad Fiji.

Ranjalu, writing at Raw Fiji News, thinks it may be a good thing Fiji lost.

In retrospect, perhaps its a good thing our team lost and not only that – they lost to Kenya (one of the teams they never thought they’d lose to.)

[Rugby sevens coach Iliesa] Tanivula’s right in a way – its not the boy’s fault. I reckon its the nation’s fault. We have spent too much time on this rugby thing that we have misplaced our priorities along the way.

Thank God, we lost! Perhaps now we can look to reviewing our relationship with the Lord and open our eyes to where we shold be channelling our energy and committment.

Wake up Fiji!!

The blogsite at Soli Vakasama Worldwide Movement claims to be a bit tired of what it terms political apathy in this rugby mad country.

…well Fiji’s rugby woes mirrors Fiji’s political situation. What SWM finds unbelievable is the fact Fijians are so worked up about Fiji’s rugby woes, yet they don;t share the same emotion to the political rape and pillage happening to them right now! Maybe Fijians in particular need to face the full brunt of this coup to cherish good governance principles and constitutional government because they aren’t lifting a hand to help themselves. There seems to be a spirit of apathy around Fiji and little unimportant issues all of a sudden take centre stage and the more fundamental and important ones are being shoved to the background. Come on Fijians…rise and wake up from your slumber or all will be lost!


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