“Toso Viti Toso” (translation: “Go Fiji Go”) is a chant you may have heard if you have ever attended or seen a Rugby game, and it was certainly chanted by fans of Fiji when they retained their gold medal in their rugby sevens victory at the Olympics.
But the win is about more than just gold medals.
For a small nation residing in the Pacific Islands, the Fijian community has struggled immensely with mainstream representation, whether it be in shows, movies, music or fashion.
For once, it felt like the community was finally being seen, and for our athletes, the blood, sweat and tears were recognized not only by the Rugby Union, but by many Rugby-loving fans.
The powerhouse of a team truly displayed their talent, determination and proved that just because they come from a small nation, does not mean they should be seen as less than when the men’s team went on to win their first gold medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics -- which was also when the Rugby 7’s also premiered for the first time, replacing the Rugby 15’s.
Five years later, Fijians and many other Pacific Islanders tuned in once again to watch their nation be represented, with hopes for Fiji to pick up another gold medal and become back to back champs.
The win was especially important during this difficult time with COVID-19 taking a big hit on the island. The Rugby 7’s may have brought some stress release for the community, and allowed them to reconnect with their love for the game, seeing both men and women represent Fiji on the international big stage.
Both the New Zealand and Fiji men’s teams met at the finals, and showed their athleticism and physicality during the match, with all players displaying signs of not giving up.
Of course, as many Fijians (like myself) watched or waited the following morning to see the final results, history did indeed repeat itself at the Tokyo Olympics.
Right as the final whistle blew in for the game to end, the reality set in that the Fiji men’s team officially won their second gold medal, and became back to back champs. The team’s celebration was an emotional one, and much needed for Fijians back home during the COVID-19 outbreak and on top of a potential political crisis over a controversial native land legislation.
Celebrations were taken to social media, where many videos uploaded to Twitter showed villagers blowing up fireworks and dancing on the streets to express the laughter, joy and happiness with that gold medal win.
The pressure to win was definitely put upon both the men’s and women’s team to bring home any medal, because due to the pandemic, many players were not able to see their families since the outbreak.
The need to win was quite clear, as many of the players were overcome by emotion at the end of the match, gathering together to sing and pray in a huddle.
The celebrations didn’t just stop there, as they carried their heartfelt emotions and pride with them into the medal ceremony, where they were each given flowers and their well deserved gold medals.
As we embrace this joyful celebration, and await for the HSBC World Rugby 7’s tournament to arrive in Vancouver this September, with the stadium being filled with Fijians in every corner singing, dancing, creating music, let’s not completely ignore the fact that the women’s team deserves the same energy.
The women’s team started competing at the international level a bit later than the men’s team, but they were often seen as a joke, and faced harassment, misogyny and sexism like many women’s teams competing in any sports typically do.
While they may not have won a gold medal and lost to New Zealand in the semi-finals, they still managed to bring home a bronze medal for their win against Great Britain, shutting down trolls online and proving the point that just because they’re women, does not mean they deserve less respect and recognition for the amount of time they put into training than their male counterparts.
Nevertheless, smashing glass-ceilings and bringing home medals (whether it be gold, silver or bronze) Fijian Rugby players have shown courage and have continued to prove that while our country is not in the headlines often and our community continues to navigate an identity crisis, our win’s are more than gold medals.