The most popular sport in Fiji is rugby—it’s not even a debate. Per capita, Fiji has more rugby players than anywhere in the world. In a country with fewer than 900,000 citizens, almost 40,000 of them are registered to play rugby. And that’s not counting those who haven’t registered. How did this sport come to be so popular?
Fijian Rugby’s Rise to Popularity
Fijians have been playing rugby for more than 100 years, closer, actually, to 150. The sport was introduced to the country in the 1880s by British settlers and colonial administrators. According to a scholar of Fijian culture, “The game initially developed along racially-segregated lines,” meaning that in the beginning there were different leagues for different races. The segregation of teams continued until the 1940s, when the different unions finally merged.
Today, Fijian rugby players have a reputation for an unorthodox, unpredictable, high-flying, exciting style of play—“fast and furious,” as one commentator puts it. The play style has earned the Fiji national rugby sevens team the nickname “Flying Fijians.”
The Flying Fijians have won the Hong Kong Sevens a record-breaking 12 times and the Rugby World Cup Sevens twice. At the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro—the first Olympics to host a rugby sevens tournament— the team’s fast and furious playstyle won Fiji its first Olympic medal—and not just any medal. The Fijian men’s rugby team won gold, an extraordinary feat for a country whose talent pool (again, fewer than 900,000) is so much smaller than that of many of its opponents.
The Olympic victory led to scenes of mass celebration throughout the country. Not only had Fiji won its first Olympic medal, but the victory secured Fiji’s place in history as the first country to ever take gold in rugby sevens at the Olympics. The historic victory also made the Fiji national rugby sevens team the first and only team (to date) to win the “Sevens Treble”—achieved by winning a sevens series, world cup, and Olympic gold medal.
Rugby Players Unite!
Not everyone in Fiji is the same. As in any country, the people in Fiji have different religions, traditions, cultural backgrounds, and experiences. However, the Fijian’s love of rugby is a unifying and inspiring force for Fijians across the country and throughout the world.
Do you have a connection to Fiji or Fijian rugby? Count yourself lucky if you do. But remember, even our best memories quickly fade if we don’t take steps to preserve them.
If you’re reading this article, you must be on a computer or perhaps on your phone. Now that you’ve finished, take an extra two minutes and upload a photo to FamilySearch.org that proves what a diehard Fijian rugby fan you are.
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