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Fiji 7s campaign

Kameli Rakoko
Saturday, March 03, 2018

IN 1994 Fiji rugby was in the doldrums.

The most popular Fijian sport had hit the lowest ebb in both codes and was struggling to survive.

The XV's side had failed to qualify for the 1995 Rugby World Cup in South Africa and had lost matches to Japan, Tonga and Samoa and Wales.

After the three-in-a-row of 1990, 1991 and 1992 Fiji sevens lost to Samoa 14-12 in the final in 1993 in Hong Kong, lost to New Zealand in the HK semi-final in 1994 and the same team failed miserably in the first Melrose Sevens world Cup in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1993.

The rugby public was disillusioned and the press was severely critical of Fiji Rugby Union from management, team officials down to players.

Then in steps a visionary Kiwi in marketing specialist Kerry Powell employed after a chance telephone conversation. FRU was desperately grasping for straws and immediately employed his services. He worked for a marketing company EM & M.

He took one good look at the situation, analysed everything and came up with a startling revelation and precise prediction, which should be a guide and reminder to everyone involved with rugby in this land.

He observed that Fijian rugby fans were punch drunk with emotion as there was nothing to hold on to since 1992 and in their hopelessness had unnecessarily pressed the panic button. Here was a rugby man who believed in Fijian rugby potential more than the Fijians believed in themselves.

Despite the grim scenario Powell predicted Fiji rugby would rise again to be a powerful force because of two reasons.

Firstly, Fijian rugby showed promise as it was undergoing a rebuilding stage in both codes and secondly 'Fiji had a rich resource of naturally talented people."

Fiji had much to sell in rugby but hard to compete with limited resources.

Australia and New Zealand were increasing technical support for Fiji rugby and Fijian players had begun to secure contract overseas.

"Fiji players needed to go and play overseas for development purposes. I think FRU has got a bright future I'm not pessimistic at all," Powell said in 1994.

The marketing specialist then said that holding an international sevens competition equal to the Hong Kong Sevens would secure financial security for Fiji rugby. There was no sevens series then.

Fast forward to 2018 the campaign to host our first HSBC Sevens Series has intensified with overwhelming support from the public, Pacific countries and even other sporting bodies.

Unfortunately, FRU and Powell's vision were short lived because the then International Rugby Board declared Fiji could no longer host international sevens tournaments because of facilities that did not meet international standards..

In 1993, Daily Post newspaper led by our publisher Dan Bolea with the Nasinu Rugby Union initiated the Fiji International Sevens. At 2metres and 300pounds plus Big Dan was a passionate Fijian sevens rugby fan and had the ball rolling which was eventually taken over by FRU and corporate sponsors.

Ten years later the FIS was discontinued but recently the ANZ Stadium has gone through a facelift and the changing room and player facilities at the stadium have been improved.

World Rugby know how the game of sevens rugby would continue to increase in popularity universally if a tournament is hosted here. Fiji are the Olympic gold medal champion, two-time world champion holders of the Melrose Cup, three times HSBC champion.

The Flying Fijians have beaten Wales, Tonga, Samoa every year including Scotland, reached the 2007 quarter-final, quarter-final play-off against England in 1999 and won rave reviews for their performance in the 2015 RWC.

Fijian rugby has never been on such a high and Powell was right to the dot.

Last but not least, Powell has seen how local sporting administrators treated the media not realising that it was the most important ingredient in hosting major tournaments. World Rugby will definitely be on the lookout for the media facilities to see if the press are well looked after.

Powell said that media facilities should be set up that all the various media representatives have a higher standard of facility.

Current facilities at the ANZ Stadium are not enough and they need to reclaim the original press area in front of the commentary box as is the case in all other HSBC Sevens venues.

Presence of police and army personnel for security reasons should be veiled and kept to a minimum. We have drone technology in the country and it can cater for that.

The first impression counts and recent international matches had police on patrol with vicious looking Doberman police dogs reminiscent of South Africa apartheid days and we don't need to scare off investors and the spending visitors.

We hope to attract overseas fans to boost the local economy, see local culture in a festive mood. Bands, bamboo drums, hula girls, Fijian sigidrigi making noise to support our sevens team. Fijian souvenirs to boost local tourism and not forgetting that big Fijian smile.

Let us make it a weekend to remember. We have reasons to celebrate because we are the champions of sevens rugby
win or lose. Go Fiji Go!

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