Yalovi setting down a marker for future generations of females to follow

Wed, 29/09/2021, 01:43 am
Oceania Rugby
by Oceania Rugby
Get into Rugby PLUS FIji National Coordinator Lavenia Yalovi is seeing a rapid change in attitude towards females playing sport.
Get into Rugby PLUS FIji National Coordinator Lavenia Yalovi is seeing a rapid change in attitude towards females playing sport.

Lavenia Yalovi will be happy if her extraordinary journey to sporting success is a path no other Fijian girl has to make.

Growing up on Kadavu Island in Fiji's south, Lavenia was forbidden from joining in sports considered a male's domain for risk of being ostracised.

"It was very traditional culture wise," she said of her upbringing.  

"Contact sports and hockey were seen as male-dominant sports and if I ran onto the field to play those games, I would be called different names labelling me.

"They would say you are a tomboy if you play touch or rugby."

Lavenia stuck to traditional women's sports like softball and netball until moving to Suva for secondary and tertiary education.

Remarkably, Lavenia only kicked a soccer ball for the first time when she was 25 and working as asocial science teacher.

"They needed a female to help with female students 'sports," she explained.

"I thought 'why not?'. I knew I had it in me and I love sports so I tried it and loved it.   

"I slowly increased my knowledge and influenced other students to join in. I think me coaching really empowered female students to be part of physical education."

She added with a laugh:  "They were so hungry to be part of it I had to hide in the library to get my class-free time!"

Lavenia proved just as quick a learner as the students she taught.

Her skills improved so rapidly that less than a year later she was part of Fiji's national football squad, making her international debut and playing three internationals.

In 2019 she made history as part of the first all-Pacific Islands female commentary team at the FIFA Women's World Cup in France.

This multi-talented sports woman also represented Fiji in hockey and rugby, setting down a marker for future generations of females to follow.

Yalovi excited by mindset changes in Fiji 

The big difference is those now looking to emulate Lavenia won’t have to travel such a circuitous route while confronting so many barriers.

As the National Coordinator of the Get into Rugby PLUS Fiji programme, the 43-year-old is seeing a rapid change in attitude towards females playing sport.

"There's been a massive change in the opportunities given to girls in primary schools now. ”She said.

"I only wish I was given the same opportunity back then.

"This is a very good programme. We not only have fun learning the skills but also teaching other rugby values like discipline, integrating, respect, life skills, gender equality and preventing violence against women.

"We have had our challenges with Covid-19 but our coaches have been very creative in reaching out to children.

"We have more than 100 children involved in virtual sessions every week and at the end they are given homework to do something new at home.

"A boy can wash dishes for example or a girl can do something they don’t normally do.

"These tools we are giving them are driving change."

Fijianas bronze medal win at the Tokyo Olympics has only hastened the pace at which change is happening.

"It really helps. It is a blessing. I see a change in mindset among parents," Lavenia reported. 

"There are an increasing number of girls, not only of Fijian ethnicity but those with Indo-Fijian background and other ethnic groups, which are calling and asking how can their children play rugby.

"The demand increased tremendously just because of the bronze medal win.

"It has opened up more doors for women as players and I hope to see more women in leadership roles in rugby as well.

"We are building a platform for the future for girls and women who would love to play any sport, particularly rugby."

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