Building characters, among men

AT over six feet tall, Seremaia Bai, could still pass off as a rugby player in his prime. The former Fiji international who has more than 53 caps to his name and a successful rugby career behind him, seems unfazed by the glamour that came with it. His eyes speak of the many struggles that beset many former rugby players.

“It’s my humble upbringing that has brought me this far. Where I come from, there’s a lot of pain, hardship and struggle, and I come from a single-parent home,” he said quietly.

“I guess it was this upbringing that made me grow up quickly and learn to look after myself. But for other former rugby players who never made it …. it is a sad thing,” he said after a brief pause.

Bai is not a stranger to the local and international media. The former fly-half national has been vocal over the years about the plight of Pacific Island rugby players. At a time when the demand for young local players continues to grow overseas, the 38-year-old is calling for a system to be in place to help mould young players for the journey ahead.

“Rugby is not long term. It has a use-by date,” he said. “Once you finish 10 years of it, you are left with nothing to fall back on. So you must always have a backup.”

Bai revealed many number former rugby players who were international stars in their own right were now living hand to mouth with no jobs.

“There’s a large number of these players who go through depression. When you have no money to sustain you, you are lost and that’s a very dangerous thing if your mental state is weak and you can’t handle it. That’s why I always stress to these young boys to get an education.

“Anyone can go across overseas to play rugby. You can be on top of the world representing Fiji but you can be pushed aside.

“Will those people who cheered you be there when your time in the limelight finishes? I stress to these up and coming players to have an education and choose their wives wisely. Many go through broken relationships because the women they choose only went for their fame.”

With this in mind, the former national rep is hoping to have a sustainable facility available to upcoming players and is willing to expand his academy.

“The demand is huge many young men are asking for our advice to help with their rugby development. I want to take these school leavers back to school by drawing them in through rugby.

“Last year about 80 young men have gone through the rugby academy. Some came from as far as Gau, Taveuni and Kadavu. Most come and stay with families here in Suva and it’s hard for them. That’s why I want a facility available to help these kids,” he said. “What I want foremost is land about five-10 acres where we can have everything available like a rugby field, a swimming pool, accommodation and a school. Everything is linked up and we look after the welfare of every player.

“At the moment we have managed to send four boys across to New Zealand namely Wellington, Palmerston North Boys’ High School, Kelston Boys’ High School in Auckland and one to St Bedes College in Christchurch while another four boys are on a three-month student exchange program in Luxemburg, Europe. They are expected to return next week. These kids they want to be somewhere in terms of their rugby skills which is to be developed. And on top of that it’s a way of trying to educate them.”

The Cakaudrove native said he had to teach himself discipline and a changed mind-set as he grew into rugby.

“I didn’t have a father figure growing up,” he said.

“I dropped out of school when I was 15 because my mother couldn’t afford my school fees. She worked as a house girl earning $50 a week and it was a struggle. I grew up in an environment that was so poor, I walked to school barefoot. I didn’t even have a father figure growing up. But I never forgot where I came from,” he added.

“The vision for me was that I had to work really hard because if I stopped working I’ll end up in that same place. It inspired me to be where I am today and it brought out my true potential. What pushed me was the pain and struggle that I went through.”

While he is busy helping young players, Bai hopes sponsors or landowners along the Suva-Nausori corridor can help him with the set-up of his facility.

“We are willing to pay for everything I know there’s a lot of landowners and sponsors, if they’re willing to come forward that would be great. We’re looking for a land to operate from and building of facilities that can broaden my services. For me this is my way of contribution to my country.

I have a rugby program at John Wesley School and I’m going to start a girls’ rugby academy soon. I want this facility to be located along the Suva-Nausori corridor so it is easy for the kids.

“I want to teach them that there’s more to sport, that they can become successful after rugby. Pursue an education and a holistic growth and learn not to be dependent on anyone.

“That is one thing that happens too often in our culture, we are too comfortable in our comfort zone,” he said with finality.

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