I’m delighted to be here this evening as we commemorate one of the most momentous occasions in Fijian history – the gold medal victory of our Rugby Sevens heroes at the 2016 Rio Olympics. A moment that no Fijian will ever forget, when we took home our first-ever Olympic Gold medal.
Tonight, that victory will be immortalised with the launch of a commemorative banknote and coin that honour our players, coaches and staff and give their victory the ever-lasting place in our history it deserves.
In Fiji, we have some of the brightest and most beautiful banknotes and coins in the world. The colours, the vivid imagery and the iconic designs all represent Fiji. And our coinage has received international acclaim for that very reason.
It has been five years since the Reserve Bank of Fiji revamped our currency and adorned our banknotes and coins with Fijian artefacts and flora and fauna that all showcase what Fiji has to offer and remind the Fijian people and our visitors of the natural splendour and our traditions and economic way of life.
So it is safe to say, the images that we choose to place on our coinage carry enormous importance, because it says so much about who we are as a nation. Our national narrative is woven into the depictions and symbolism on our currency, and, together, those images proudly display our story to the world – the story of Fiji.
In 2012, when we honoured my now Assistant Minister for Sports, Hon. Iliesa Delana’s, gold medal victory at the Paralympics with a commemorative coin, it was because his victory embodied the resilience, determination and tenacity of the Fijian spirit. And it was an achievement that showed the world that, regardless of our small size, we can compete with the best of the best in sport.
And today, we are honouring the coaches and players on our world-champion Sevens side in the same fashion. This commemoration is an acknowledgement, not only of the tremendous feat you accomplished, but for the meaning it held for every Fijian man, woman and child. Because you showed us all that while we may be small, we are strong. And when we work together, we are unbeatable.
In Fiji, rugby is an intimate part of our collective identity. No nation rivals the passion, the energy and the raw emotion that Fijian ruggers and fans bring to the game. And certainly, no nation can match the success we have achieved, relative to the size of our country. So when Ben Ryan or Ratu Peni, Osea and the boys took Fijian rugby to the largest stage in the world and came away victorious, it was a win that meant the world to every single Fijian. And it was victory that came at a time when we desperately needed a source of inspiration, as we were still reeling from the disastrous effects of Cyclone Winston.
I remember very well when our men and women’s Sevens sides were named before you all left for Rio. I told you all then that you had a historic occasion in front of you to show the world the calibre and class of Fijian rugby. You seized that opportunity, and you made history – in a moment that will be forever carried on this banknote and coin.
Ladies and Gentlemen, allow me to extend a very warm welcome to Ben this evening. Bula Ben, and welcome back to Fiji. It’s great to have you here tonight as we look back on the victory you led this team to achieve, and, really, on the entire three years you spent in Fiji building this program, working hard against the odds and making Fiji Sevens the best on the planet. Vinaka vakalevu, and welcome home.
I understand you have a book coming out soon written about your career – including on your time here in Fiji. I’m sure it’ll be a big hit, and I can’t wait to read it myself.
I remember fondly – last year – when you told me that it is not every country where the Prime Minister sends off the national rugby team to the Olympics. Well, now we’ve taken that to another level and honoured you and your team with a banknote and coin. Because this is Fiji, where our passion for the game of rugby is bar none. Where every citizen is glued to the television or radio for every game. And where a victory like the one you and our ruggers achieved will go down as one of the proudest moments in our history.
To our players, thank you again for what you did for your nation and for the Fijian people. It was your sweat, grit and drive that assured that victory in Rio. And during your three-peat victory at the Hong Kong Sevens not even two weeks ago – it felt as if I were reliving the Olympic excitement all over again. Congratulations on that victory as well, and keep up the good work. As always, you have every ounce of support we can offer.
I haven’t seen the design of this coin and banknote yet – I’ve been told it’s meant to be a surprise. But I want to thank the Reserve Bank for leading this effort to commemorate the hard work and success of our Sevens heroes. I’m very keen to see what you’ve come up with.
Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.