Sports contribute $100 million (US$53 million) annually to the Fijian economy, confirmed Prime Minister, Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama.
He made the revelation Friday while speaking as the 2013 Fiji Sports Awards chief guest at the Vodafone Arena, Suva.
The Prime Minister said sports had been one of the biggest income-generators for Fiji.
This is brought about by the success and the talents of Fijian rugby players contracted to clubs in countries like France, Australia, Japan and New Zealand, soccer through Roy Krishna in the A-League in Australia and rugby league imports to the National Rugby League, basketball, and other sports.
“There’s no doubt about the respect and affection that our Fijian players in all codes have carved out in the hearts of fans all over the world,” Commodore Bainimarama said.
“They also happen to be making a big contribution to our economy. Of the $360 million or so dollars flowing into Fiji from overseas remittances, I’m told that about $100million of that comes from our sportspeople. So if you want proof of the wisdom of Governments investing in sport, there it is.”
He said good sports role models like Vodafone Fiji Bati skipper, the great Petero Civoniceva – last night’s keynote speaker – was among, “the greatest sportsmen Fiji has ever produced and a wonderful ambassador for our country.
“I’m always bemused by the way the Aussie rugby league commentators mangle the names of our players, as in “there goes “Petro Sivoneeseeva!
“The other day, the Australian Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, presented me with a jersey signed by Nic Naitanui, the Fijian ruckman for the West Coast Eagles AFL team. She’s a big fan of him and it was a wonderful moment.”
The Prime Minister also paid tribute to the sporting public, especially the athletes.
“This evening, of course, is all about celebrating the achievements of the nominees for these awards. Whether you are athletes, coaches, administrators, volunteers or sponsors, you all play a key role in making Fijian sport what it is. And I want to pay tribute to your contribution, the long hours and effort you put in and for being the role models you are to the community and especially our young people.
“Sports bind us together as a nation in a unique way and every Fijian joins me tonight in thanking you for your dedication and service.”
“My Government has made a big investment over the years in the development of sporting facilities, not just in our cities and towns but in our rural and maritime areas,” Commodore Bainimarama said.
“We do so not just because of our national love of sport but also because of its key role in nation building, instilling a sense of pride and, of course, keeping our population fit and healthy.
“You’ll have heard me say many times that a central belief of my Government is that people living in rural and maritime areas should enjoy the same facilities as Fijians living in our cities and towns. So we are funding integrated sporting facilities in communities across the nation, whether it’s Vunidawa, Seaqaqa Rakiraki, Gau, Kadavu or Korovou.
“We’re also upgrading rural sporting facilities elsewhere, funding scholarships, overseas tours and outreach programs and providing incentives to encourage the recruitment of international coaches and the sponsorship of more sporting events.”
“The Government’s own performance in the sporting arena is producing some big wins. In August, some of the world’s top golfers will be in Fiji to play in the inaugural Fiji International – a PGA Australasian event at our spectacular Natadola Bay Championship Golf Course. We’ve invested a large amount of time and effort in attracting this event because of its potential to showcase Fiji to hundreds of millions of television viewers around the world.”
The Prime Minister also shed light on the direction ahead in the upcoming election.
“While this isn’t an evening for politics, I can assure you all that this programme to nurture and encourage our sportspeople will be a key element of the manifesto I will take to the people as I seek your support to continue our programme through the forthcoming general election. Whatever the competing priorities, we will always be willing to make the proper investment to keep Fiji a great sporting nation and help realise the true potential of our sporting men and women,” Commodore Bainimarama said.
“I urge you all to fully enjoy your time in the spotlight but remember that it also carries a special responsibility – to continue to be excellent role models for others.
“Young Fijians – like young people the world over – are invariably looking for heroes.We want them to grow up in their everyday lives emulating the best of every great sportsperson – competing with each other in a friendly spirit, winning with humility, and losing with grace.
I keep saying this is a great time to be Fijian and also a great era for Fijian sport.”
SUVA, (FIJI SUN)