Fiji declares public holiday after winning historic gold

Fiji players in a celebratory huddle after their decisive 43-7 victory over Britain in the rugby sevens gold-medal match at Deodoro Stadium.
Fiji players in a celebratory huddle after their decisive 43-7 victory over Britain in the rugby sevens gold-medal match at Deodoro Stadium.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

SUVA • Fiji erupted in celebration yesterday, with people in the country setting off flares and dancing in the streets while a national holiday was declared after the tiny nation won its first-ever Olympic medal - and gold at that.

The South Pacific island came to a standstill at the start of the rugby sevens final against Britain, and by half-time the fireworks had started and there was a monumental chorus of car horns as it became evident that their team would win and create history.

Fiji scored first after just 55 seconds, led 29-0 at half-time and finally thrashed their opponents emphatically, 43-7.

"This is the biggest day in Fiji's history. Everyone is celebrating," said photographer Feroz Khalil, who watched the final on the big screen at the main stadium in Suva.

"It was crazy. There were people chanting, crying, tears were flowing. I'm feeling so happy."

Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama, who was in Rio de Janeiro, announced there would be a public holiday on Aug 22, the day after the team arrive home.

In a message to the nation, he said "every Fijian is rejoicing" around the world.

"Never before has the Fijian spirit soared so high as it does today. Never have we stood so tall as a nation."

Fiji Rugby Union chief executive John O'Connor said nearly all of Fiji's 900,000 residents gathered around television sets in the 110 populated islands to watch the historic event.

"Everyone is very excited. Some people may go to work now but I don't think they will be very productive," he said.

The University of the South Pacific vice-chancellor Rajesh Chandra said the victory showed that a small nation "can overcome our limitations of size, low income, and many other vulnerabilities and take on the big boys internationally".

It is only the second Olympic medal won by a South Pacific island nation, following the silver claimed by Tongan boxer Paea Wolfgramm who lost the super-heavyweight final to Wladimir Klitschko at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.

Wolfgramm, now a sports ambassador for Tonga, said it was a "bittersweet moment" that it took 20 years for a second Pacific medal, but said he had tipped Fiji to win.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 13, 2016, with the headline 'Fiji declares public holiday after winning historic gold'. Print Edition | Subscribe