Sevens at Rio sets up Fijians for shot at gold

Fiji rugby sevens legend Waisale Serevi, 47, putting some of his 70 workshop participants through their paces at the Padang yesterday.
Fiji rugby sevens legend Waisale Serevi, 47, putting some of his 70 workshop participants through their paces at the Padang yesterday.ST PHOTO: JAMIE KOH

Once every four years, sports fans all over the world tune in to watch their national athletes competing at the Olympic Games.

But on the idyllic islands of Fiji, the population of less than a million is more likely to worry about raging typhoons than the minute chance of winning an Olympic medal.

This could soon change, with the addition of rugby sevens in this year's Games at Rio de Janeiro.

Retired Fijian sevens player Waisale Serevi said: "I believe maybe 90 per cent of Fijians don't watch the Olympics, because there is no rugby. But this year rugby is in the Olympics, it's a big thing for a small nation like Fiji.

"I'm so excited at the opportunity, even though we struggle in finding sponsors compared to other teams. We just want to go onto the field and beat the big nations."

He was conducting a rugby clinic organised by Fox Sports and StarHub at the Padang yesterday.

About 70 youngsters from local schools and the Singapore Cricket Club's rugby academy learned about rugby fundamentals from the stocky 47-year-old.

Serevi, who last visited Singapore as Fiji's player-coach in 2006 when they won the last edition of the Singapore Sevens, praised current Fiji coach Ben Ryan for his work with the team in the past three years.

With Fiji defending their HSBC World Sevens Series title and leading the overall table with just four legs to go, their first-ever Olympic medal could be that gleaming gold.

Yet, despite his nation's form in the World Series, Serevi believes whether or not they finish as champions has no bearing on the eventual placing in the Olympics.

He said: "Anything can happen in sevens in 10 seconds. That's why in the Olympics, you can't predict who will win the gold."

Medal or not, Serevi is hopeful that rugby sevens' inclusion in the Olympics could spark a larger interest in the Games in Fiji.

He said with a laugh: "There will be a lot of excuses of death in the family, feigning illness, whatever - just to stay up and watch Fiji at the Olympics. It's really exciting."

Nicholas Tan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 07, 2016, with the headline 'Sevens at Rio sets up Fijians for shot at gold'. Print Edition | Subscribe