When thinking of Fiji, I think of beauty, I think of community, I think of resilience and strength, and most of all, I think of rugby. Because it is in rugby, where all of these other traits can be found. When rugby begins, all unnecessary stops. And I mean it, school and work, it is put on hold. Wherever you are, rain or shine, Fijians, iTaukei, and passerby will turn on a TV to cheer on their favorite Fiji Sevens Rugby team continuously ‘get the gold’.
And while this is often the reality, it is also a very real expectation held by the Fijian people. So when the Fiji team was sent to the Rio Olympics, we all felt the pressure. It did not matter that it was Fiji’s first time competing in the Olympics amongst the world’s greatest athletes, Fijians expected nothing less than that gold medal. And low and behold, on August 12, 2016, Fiji finally earned that gold after competing with Great Britain! With the help of their coach, Ben Ryan, the team beat Great Britain in what seemed to be an effortless win of 43 to 7. And after their victory, they received their medals with such grace and honor.
This festivities continued to be carried out way past the Olympics, as well as on August 22nd, the day that the Prime Minister issued a public holiday in honor of the Fiji Sevens team first gold medal. The public holiday started at early in the morning, with hundreds of people marching through Suva city, as well as lining the gates. Fans stampeded their way to the stadium to find a seat, in anticipation of the arrival of the Fiji team. And by the amount of people in a small, restricted area, I thought it was going to be a repeat of the Black Friday Walmart stampede in 2008 for sure. But somehow, we all managed to find somewhere to cheer on our favorite boys, even if that meant standing on top of a nearby roof.
The celebration was the biggest I’ve seen in my time being in Fiji. Chiefs came from villages all over Fiji to show their respect; mekes, the traditional Fijian dance, were performed.; and a lovo, or earth oven, was prepared and shared throughout the ceremony. Flower girls were lining the entrance, where they greeted the players by throwing flowers into the air as they walked onto the field. Spirits were high and we cheered and cheered for hours in anticipation. And when Ben Ryan, coach of the winning team showed up through the doors, everybody sprung up from their seats and cheered on one of Fiji’s greatest heroes. This cheering only got louder as each player entered the ground, and made a lap a around the track. This celebration continued the entire day. It was filled with such joy, love, and pride. And while I am only going to be here for a short time, I was honored to be a part of an event that was so much bigger than myself.