COVID-hit Fiji celebrates Olympic gold in rugby sevens
WELLINGTON, New Zealand – Cautiously exiting their homes in a country under curfew, the Fijians cheered, sang hymns and danced the streets on Wednesday to celebrate their rugby sevens team’s victory at the Olympic Games in Tokyo.
Fiji is grappling with a severe outbreak of COVID-19, with more than 25,000 cases and 200 deaths among a population of just over 900,000. With its health system under pressure, authorities have imposed a curfew from 6 p.m. to 4 a.m. in an attempt to curb the rapid spread of the virus.
Fiji’s second consecutive gold medal in rugby sevens, following its success at the sport’s first Olympic tournament in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, sparked a spontaneous outburst of joy in towns and villages across the country. Fireworks erupted in the night sky and daring revelers from the capital Suva waved flags on car windows as they spun amid the jubilant crowds.
Fiji Broadcasting Corporation presenter Jaquee Speight tweeted: “At the last Olympics we gathered in great numbers, tears flowed and bells rang. Tonight, in the midst of a pandemic and (with) Fiji under curfew, pots and pans are ringing, fireworks go off in backyards and cheers from every house are heard. “
The Fiji Village website showed a family from Nawaka village near Nadi walking out of their home, carrying Fijian flags, singing and banging pots and pans. Another, more poignant, shows two little boys sitting in the yard of a neighbor’s house, unable to enter due to COVID restrictions, and watching the game on television through an open door.
Fiji issued a commemorative seven dollar bill after the victory in Rio and Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama on Wednesday raised the idea of a 14 dollar bill to mark Fiji’s seven consecutive victories.
“The victory is worth more than a gold medal for Fijians around the world,” Bainimarama told Radio New Zealand. “Fijians love this game. It has always united us. (It) shows that we can achieve greatness no matter what the world throws at us, even with COVID. “
Bainimarama noted that Fiji’s gold medal success resulted in widespread curfew violations, but said “no one seems to care.”
“Everyone in Fiji is happy to see the boys win gold,” he said.
When England-born coach Ben Ryan guided Fiji to their first gold media in Rio, he was rewarded with a chef’s title and a land grant. Current Fiji coach Gareth Baber, born in Wales, will likely be rewarded in the same way when the team return to Fiji, likely on Saturday if flights are available.
In an op-ed, the Fiji Times hailed the overwhelming victory of the seven-team and its effect on a weary nation.
“When all is said and done, there can be no doubt about the impact of tonight’s victory on the people of our nation,” wrote editor Fred Wesley. “Looking at a white wall since April with the number of COVID-19 cases out of control, Fijians finally had something to feel good about. We were united as a nation.
“The fireworks and the cheers, the screams of joy and laughter, all meant a sense of appreciation and reflected how much this game means to us as a nation. Our love for the sport and the fact that we can beat the best the world has to offer transcends all imaginary dividing lines. It serves as a bridge uniting all Fijians.
“We may be a small dot on the world map, but we have certainly struck well above our weight.”
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