The glow of a successful Olympic campaign with Fijiana’s Bronze Medal success at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games is still burning across Fiji, as the small island nation celebrates their new medal heroes.
Defeating the well-resourced nations of Canada in the pool stage, as well as Australia in the quarter finals, shocked many across the world on Fiji’s path to the podium. None of this came as a shock to Fiji Rugby, General Manager High-Performance, Simon Raiwalui.
“We weren’t surprised; we had talked about it all along the journey, surprising the world,” Raiwalui said.
“Due to COVID-19 restrictions, we had been isolated for two years, meaning we were unable to play International sides.
“I knew from the work that had been put in, from the staff and players, and the sacrifices that they had made in terms of achieving that growth, was fantastic.
“I was very proud and elated of the entire team and I can’t give the players and staff enough praise for their achievement.
“No one really had us on the radar and we were one conversion away from playing for the Gold Medal.”
The two-point loss to eventual Gold Medal winners the Black Ferns, may have been a disappointment to Fiji’s players and fans, but highlighted just how far the team had come in two years, having narrowly avoided relegation from the World Rugby Sevens Series.
Women in Rugby…Respect month, the timing couldn’t be better for Fiji Rugby who are excited about getting more girls and women participating in the game.
“This is huge for us here in Fiji in terms of the growth of the sport”, Raiwalui said.
“That next generation of school aged kids now have new heroes to inspire to.”
Get into Rugby, to drive precipitation growth.
“Fiji is a sporting nation, so there’s always competition amongst the sports,”Raiwalui said.
“Once Rugby starts up again here, we are expecting a big spike in interest in the women’s game.
“We’re still in lockdown now, but we are expecting it to translate down into our schools, younger girls, as well as athletes who are in other sports who are now interested in the pathways of Rugby and playing for Fijiana.
“That bronze medal has made our team heroes to the next generation; men and women.”
With less than a year to go until the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand, Cathy Wong Oceania Rugby Women’s Director, hopes Fiji’s Olympic Medal success inspires the region ahead of the global women’s tournament heading to our shores.
“The success of the Fijiana is a real line in the sand moment for the Women’s game in this region,” Cook said.
“Fiji showed not only can they compete with the best, they can beat the best consistently, which is hugely exciting for next year’s tournament.
“It’s the first time the World Cup will be held in Southern Hemisphere for the Women’s game, and I know there will be plenty of young girls across Fiji and the region, who will be picking up a Rugby ball and playing our game having been inspired by Fijiana.”
Fiji will have its own challenges at the global tournament having been placed in Pool C alongside Six Nations powerhouses, France and England alongside a re-emergent South Africa.
Raiwalui, is buoyed by Fiji’s chances to continue the island nation’s growth on the world stage.
“It’s a changed landscape with COVID-19 but hopefully it looks like the world is set to open up again,” Raiwalui said.
“We will always have those challenges in terms of resourcing just due to our size.
“Our inclusion into Super Rugby Pacific and hopefully Super W, combined with our success at the Olympics has really started something.
“We will always compete, but it’s about the consistency. That consistency comes with consistent competition and playing against the best teams.
“Ultimately, we want to grow!
“If we get into that space where we get the same opportunities as other nations, we will be able to compete at the highest level.
“We have to keep on building, keep our heads down; not get ahead of ourselves, but we see a bright future for both of our women’s programs.”
Women in Rugby…Respect month runs throughout all of September, with plenty of ways for everyone to get involved.