Fall 2021 SS Magazine

Fiji rugby sevens team captures back-to-back Olympic gold, praises God on field

Rugby is by far the most popular sport in Fiji, and some would even say the smaller, faster version of the game, known as rugby sevens, would more accurately qualify as the national sport. Regardless, Fijian men are the best rugby sevens squad in the world.

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Fiji, a small island country in the South Pacific, defeated New Zealand, one of the world’s preeminent rugby powers, on Wednesday in the rugby sevens gold-medal match. The sport made its Olympic debut at the 2016 Rio Games, which Fiji also won by crushing Great Britain. In 12 total games of Olympic competition, the Fijian men have yet to lose.

After Wednesday’s final, the Fiji players gathered in a circle on the field and sang their team hymn. They were worshipping God.

“We always start with our prayers and songs, and we always end with our prayers and songs,” team captain Jerry Tuwai said, via the Guardian, “and that song says that our God is a loving God, and that while we always tend to go stray from what He expects from us, He still loves us, and gives us good things.”

The 2016 Olympic team praised the Lord as well after winning the inaugural rugby sevens Olympic gold, but Tuwai said Wednesday’s win was even more special. The squad has endured quite a bit en route to the Tokyo Olympics.

As detailed by the Guardian, head coach Gareth Baber called the team into a five-day training camp the day after Easter, April 5. Two days in, their country went into lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The players and coaches have not seen their families since.

They stayed in a hostel and trained in a garage. Tuwai, at one point, tried to leave the camp because he missed his three young kids. He obviously wasn’t the only one who yearned to see his family.

“We’ve been away five months,” said Asaeli Tuivuaka after winning gold. “My father just passed away last year, he was the man who encouraged me to play rugby, and this gold medal is for him, and for my baby boy. He is one year old now, and I haven’t seen him for five months. I didn’t even get to kiss him goodbye when I left, it is tough for me…” Tuivaka stopped speaking, and started crying.

By the time the players fly home and complete a quarantine, Coach Baber says they won’t have seen their families for 20 weeks.

Previously, some of the younger players had never been out of Fiji or on a plane. En route to Japan, the team flew over on a cargo flight along with a few dozen crates full of frozen fish. But the whole ordeal served as bonding time.

“A lot of these guys are learning to be away from their families, learning to be overseas, but if you do it right, that does create a unity,” Baber told the Guardian. “You won’t find a tighter group of people than this team.”

And after capturing Olympic gold, they immediately turned to praising God.

In the bronze-medal match earlier Wednesday, Argentina topped Great Britain. In the fifth-place match, the United States fell to South Africa.

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