By Professor Biman Prasad,
Leader of the National Federation Party
Our sportswomen and those aspiring to do Fiji proud in sports in future have a bleak future if they want to advance their sporting talents because of this Government’s colossal failure to promote sporting talents in our nation for the past 12 years.
The development of sports in the country has not progressed or matched the so-called unprecedented economic growth that Government brags about time and time again.
All this Government has done is to pay salaries of overseas coaches recruited by sporting federations or associations, and contribute towards the budget of national teams or Team Fiji competing in regional events like the Pacific Games, Olympics, Rugby World Cup, Netball Championship and the Commonwealth Games that Fiji participated in for the first time in 2018 after missing out on two Games due to being suspended from the Commonwealth following the December 2006 military coup.
But funding Fiji teams for these competitions does not develop sports. They are merely stop-gap measures.
Lack of priority
Essentially, the advancement of sports prioritising our women by the Government has been lackadaisical. It is all too self-evident in the budget documents just passed in Parliament last week.
Sports development in the budget has primarily targeted young people in the budget but giving women equal footing in national sports has fallen far short of what is required to harness and exploit their fullest potential.
The participation of women and young girls in sports requires more effort and priority because they need to feel they have equal, if not, less barriers than their male counterparts.
It is a shameful indictment for us all when our sportswomen and sporting teams are rendered to spectator status while their male counterparts grab all the attention.
We believe the Fijiana Rugby team is a classic example and has always been considered the poor cousin to the main rugby component where funds are always prioritised, despite competing at the same level. Currently they are at the Rugby World Cup, but are they at the same state of preparedness as their male counterparts?
Fijian Women stamping their mark in Sports
Fiji’s lone gold medalist at this year’s Commonwealth Games was a champion woman weightlifter who also won a gold at the Mini Games in Vanuatu last December.
Lone because the much-fancied men’s sevens rugby team for the fourth time failed to win a gold medal, despite being Olympic Champions and the favourites to break the drought since 1998.
18 year old Eileen Cikamatana won gold in the 90 kilogram division and is a rare talent. She holds three Commonwealth records in her weight division. Her gold medal was Fiji’s first at the Games for the last 16 years since 2002 when we won gold in Judo.
This is indeed a proud achievement. At a young age, Cikamatana has brought glory for Fiji. She is likely to win the Sportswoman of the Year Award for the second consecutive year, but is this all the recognition she deserves for her monumental achievement at a young age OR inspire other young sportswomen to reach these heights and smash records?
The French President has bestowed the nation’s highest honour to France’s soccer world cup winning squad.
Similarly, the Fiji government could have announced it would bestow a national honour to Cikamatana, similar to what was done for the Olympic gold medalists who were given an Order of Fiji medal along with $30,000 each.
But has she received national recognition? It will be an appropriate time to set this right during the Independence Day celebrations in October.
Our National icons
Sportswomen in Fiji have become national icons and inspiration to future generations.
The first local sportswoman to gain prominence was the late Ana Birch (nee Ramakace). She was a sprinter and competed in long jump. She took part in the British Empire (later Commonwealth) Games in 1966, having earlier brought glory to Fiji in the form of four gold medals in two South Pacific Games in 1963 and 1966.
She later became a successful businesswoman after her marriage to a pioneer tourism figure John Birch.
We have the case of a grandmother, Senimelia Turner who became a champion powerlifter. We have had Willow Fong and Radhika Prasad who were two champion bowlers. We had Adi Sai Tuivanuavou who was a champion golfer.
We had swimming sensations Justine Macaskill, Sharon Pickering, Angela Birch, Caroline Pickering and Shayne Sorby. In Sorby’s case, she probably is the youngest Sportswoman of the Year, awarded to her when she was in her early teens in mid 1980’s.
We had sprint queens namely Vaciseva Tavaga and Makaliesi Bulikiobo.
All were champions and household names in the peak of their prowess. Many of them were inducted to Fiji’s Sports Hall of Fame. But how many know what and where the Hall of Fame is?
Correcting the imbalance
The imbalance has to be corrected through recognition and funding, both for women elite athletes and sporting teams.
We will: –
- Make the Sports Hall of Fame a public gallery and accessible to public and tourists at all times, promoting it through the public recognition of all our sportswomen and sportsmen who have been inducted in it.
- Allocate funding towards the development of our sportswomen, both individually and as teams
- Recognise the achievements of sportswomen through financial rewards and national honours.
- Finance the construction of an sporting academy of excellence for our sportswomen where they can excel in their sport. Naturally this will require specialist coaches and identify sporting talent from various sports at a younger age.
- Incentives to retain high performing and achieving athletes so that they can have sporting careers and be involved in nurturing and inspiring the next generation of “Fijian Made” sporting talent.