Fijians around the world are ecstatic about the golden performance of their men’s rugby sevens team in Rio. But as much as their barnstorming win, it is their humble, touching performance as they received the country’s first-ever Olympic medals that has earned respect for the team.
The Pacific nation claimed the gold medal with a comprehensive 43-7 thrashing of Great Britain – or, as the NZ Herald headlined the game before kickoff, “Fiji v England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland”.
The four nations were simply steamrollered by Osea Kolinisau and his team, who have dominated the game’s world series over the past two years.
Thousands watched the match – if such a one-sided encounter can be called that – on big screens at the national stadium in Suva, where the singing and partying began long before the game ended in a 43-7 rout.
Around the world, the tiny nation of 900,000 people celebrated. Former All Black Joe Rokocoko, now stricken with kidney disease, tweeted from Auckland: “Kava business owners in Fiji might be multi-millionaires by the end of the week.”
Stephen Jones, The Times of London rugby pundit who has long been less than respectful of Southern Hemisphere rugby, tweeted: “If you read about the cyclone which razed Fiji, or if you have been there, or if you love rugby, you will be celebrating loudly tonight.”
“They made their country proud, and they didn’t even need Jarryd Hayne’s help,” wrote the Australian website news.com.au, referring to the league-rugby-gridiron wannabe who tried to make the squad but was cut.
At the final whistle, their mission complete, the Fijian players, many in tears, linked arms in a circle on the halfway line and sang a hymn together with eyes raised up to the dark skies above.
Then came the medal ceremony.
Each of Fiji’s players knelt and clapped three times when receiving their medals to show respect to Great Britain’s Princess Anne, who was presenting. It was a gesture that saw them lauded for their class and humility in victory.
Jonathan McEvoy, writing in the Daily Mail, described Fiji as dazzling.
“In front of a decent crowd at one of the most atmospheric of Rio venues, the Fijians threw the ball about with sheer elan to claim a victory that will be met with national delight – and almost certainly a national holiday – back home.
“The Fijian singing in the stands was soon in full swing. Just as it was at the [Suva] national stadium, where the pictures were beamed back.”
Like thousands of his countrymen around the world, Tui Kamakorewa watched the final with about 20 other passionate supporters at a house in Onehunga, Auckland, after telling his boss there was no way he would miss the biggest game in Fijian rugby history.
“I told my employer I’d be watching the rugby with my mates. It’s a special part of our culture,” he said.