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Address at the Opening of the Inaugural Pacific Research Symposium on Sport and Sustainable Development.

June 20, 2018       University of the South Pacific, Suva.

The Minister for Youth and Sports, Honourable Laisenia Tuitubou,

The Deputy Vice Chancellor of the University of the South Pacific, Professor Richard Coll, 

The President of the Oceania National Olympic Committees (ONOC), Dr Robin Mitchell,

Distinguished Speakers, Delegates and Invited Guests, 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Ni sa bula vinaka and good morning to you all.

I am deeply honoured to join you and to officially open the inaugural SHAPING UP: Pacific Research Symposium on Sport and Sustainable Development on behalf of the Government of the Republic of the Fiji, and in my capacity as the 24th Chancellor of The University of the South Pacific. 

I welcome researchers and practitioners from Pacific Island Countries and Territories and from around the world. 

It is our pleasure to host you in Fiji for this important event, which is sharing the latest developments and research exploring the contribution of sport to sustainable development. Seen as more than just a game, sport has been widely recognized as an enabler of sustainable development.  Besides the excitement that sport games and events bring to the lives of people in the Pacific and around the world, the role of sport extends to a wide spectrum of human development areas.

At the global level, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development has recognized the growing contribution of sport to the realization of development. Through this realization, sport is recognized as supporting the promotion of tolerance and mutual respect, the empowerment of women and young people, and contributing to development objectives across the domains of health, education, economic growth and social inclusion.

At the regional level, the Small Islands Developing States Accelerated Modalities of Action or the SAMOA Pathway, which was adopted in 2014, further emphasizes the support of the Heads of State and Governments in using sport as a vehicle to foster development, social inclusion and peace, in addition to strengthening education, promoting health, and building life skills, particularly among youth. Recognizing the potential of sport in advancing sustainable development objectives, the Government of Fiji has incorporated sport development in the county’s 5-Year and 20-Year National Development Plan that was launched in the margins of the COP23 Meeting in Bonn, Germany in November 2017.

In the longer term, sport tourism is part of the priority for nurturing new and emerging growth sectors, while the development of professionalism in sport and the promotion of access and participation in sport, is an integral component of the country’s vision for skills development and the attainment of demographic dividends for the people of Fiji.

Pacific Islands Forum Leaders and Pacific Ministers of Health have identified the high burden of Non-Communicable Diseases as the major barrier to achieving the vision of Healthy Islands for the Pacific. Particularly, physical inactivity is known as one of the leading risk factors for mortality across all Pacific Countries and Territories. 

The Global School-Based Student Health Survey, conducted by the World Health Organisation in 2016, estimated that only 19.2 per cent of students aged 13-15 years in Fiji reported that they were physically active for at least 60 minutes a day within a 7-day period. Notably, the same survey highlighted that the level of physical activity among female students in Fiji, and across all surveyed Pacific Island Countries and Territories, was lower than their male counterparts.  

Fiji’s health system and our people are bearing the burden of NCDs. Currently, Fiji loses $406 million annually due to the prevalence of the four major NCDs – cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, and chronic respiratory disease, the leading causes of mortality in Fiji leading to premature deaths.  Fiji has one of the highest rates of NCD-related deaths in the region. NCDs are a major health concern.  As Fiji’s lead advocate and champion in the campaign to reduce NCDs, I am promoting the concept of a fit and healthy nation. I am also inviting as many people as possible to join me in the campaign. Imagine if we have a fit and healthy nation -a good portion of the $406 million could be channeled to education, youth and sports development, among many other nation building initiatives.

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, as a region characterized by a significant youth bulge, engaging our young people in meaningful sport-based activities is critical to reduce the prevalence of non-communicable diseases, anti-social behaviours and other social risk factors plaguing the region.  This should also include improving the mental and physical well-being of all people in the Pacific across the lifespan in homes, in communities, in schools and in workplaces. 

The Pacific region takes pride in its people’s passion for sport and the prowess of Pacific Island athletes. There are more and more success stories of Pacific Island athletes participating in major sporting events including the Olympic and the Commonwealth Games. This points to a critical, yet unique contribution of sport to economic development, and recognized as income, job creation and remittances. 

In the case of Fiji, remittances from talented Fijian athletes competing overseas have significantly contributed to the national economy and guaranteed income support for many families. Sport, as a universal language, has the power to bring people together regardless of their background, status and origin.  Because sport transcends differences, its inherently social nature is a powerful tool and platform to engage vulnerable groups, particularly women and persons with disabilities, in activities which not only improve their physical fitness, but also build their confidence, and nurture leadership skills.

The success of the Fiji Rugby 7’s team at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games is not merely a sporting achievement for Fiji, but has served as a source of inspiration for Pacific Islands people from all walks of life and a milestone that brings pride not only to the people of Fiji, but to all Pacific Islanders. 

Fiji also lays claim to the Pacific region’s first Paralympic Gold medal through the athletic feats of our current Assistant Minister for Youth and Sport Honourable Iliesa Delana. The region’s athletes with disabilities are powerful role models show-casing ability and inclusion, and an important reminder that we all have a responsibility to create enabling environments and leave no one behind. While the potential of sport in achieving the sustainable development agenda is yet to be fully recognized at international, regional and national levels to date, it can be categorized as a mechanism with great potential through which concrete outcomes, to critical regional development issues can be achieved.  

Defining a concrete direction and way forward for how sport is and can continue to contribute to the achievement of regional priorities is a challenge that lies before us all.   Sports can add great value to our regional Leaders’ vision in building a more resilient “Blue Pacific” continent through enhancing economic resilience and building stronger people in order to protect our oceans and our livelihoods. Sport and physical activity as a cross-cutting policy area has a significant contribution to make towards building economic resilience, building stronger people and stronger nations.

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, as we begin to ponder on the contribution of sport to the sustainable development agenda, further mainstreaming of sport into the region’s national development context needs to be supported by a strong evidence base. It is critical to understand the impact of sport to key development areas, including but not limited to, education, economic growth, health, social inclusion and peace building. Such evidence will allow for effective and mutual reinforcement of programmes and policies which combine sport with development priorities.

I congratulate the University of the South Pacific and its partners on the new research project featuring case studies of the economic and social impact of sport in Fiji and Samoa. I also congratulate the research team whose findings, on Fiji and Samoa, we will be discussing at length during this symposium.We should all welcome the inclusion of sport on the University’s research agenda. We should also look forward to ongoing collaborative efforts to measure the impact of sport and its contribution to sustainable development in Pacific Island Countries and Territories. 

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, harnessing the development potential of sport requires translation of evidence into informed national policies. As the contribution of sport, physical activity and physical education is cross-cutting, and easily caters to a wide range of issues, it is critical to develop a comprehensive vision for sport, which aligns with national and regional development priorities.  

Since 2017, the Government of Fiji has been in the process of revising the national sport policy, which aims to maximize the contribution of sport to national development priorities. Led by the Ministry of Youth and Sport, the process of policy development has been participatory and evidence-based through data collection and engagement with critical stakeholders through inclusive and participatory consultation exercises. The sport policy development process in Fiji has highlighted that sport is not a stand-alone sector and that setting a vision for sport needs to go beyond the domain of the sports sector. An inter-sectoral and inter-disciplinary approach is key to ensuring that local, national and regional development initiatives embrace and leverage the power and potential of sport to maximize its potential to achieve broader development priorities.

I am pleased to note that Fiji’s Minister for Youth and Sports will also be speaking this morning and I am sure he could enlighten the symposium on this, and other related issues. 

I fully support the Vanuatu Minister for Education and Training Hon. Jean Pierre Nirua when he said that “Sport is Everyone’s Business” during his address at the 5th Pacific Sports Ministers Meeting in conjunction with the Vanuatu 2017 Pacific Mini Games. I was fortunate to be in Vanuatu at that time. What this essentially means is that a coordinated Action Plan for sport requires the alignment of international standards and norms for sports with a regional and national development framework, to support the collaboration of different sectors and the commitment of multiple stakeholders in translating talk into action. 

In this regard, I also welcome and endorse the recent calls from Pacific Sports Ministers and Forum Finance Ministers for the development of a Pacific Sport and Physical Activity Action Plan and regional coordination mechanism. Through collective and coordinated action, we look forward to realizing the true potential of sport and physical activity for our people and our nations.  

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, this is my last official engagement as the 24th Chancellor of the University of the South Pacific, and I am delighted to announce today that the USP Research Office will introduce a new Pacific Regional Sports Research Scholarship programme. The new scholarships are designed to build the research capacity at USP in line with the University’s strategic research themes, strengthen the evidence base on the contribution of sport to sustainable development, and inform policy development and regional investments in and through sports in Pacific Island Countries and Territories. For the University, this will increase the number of post-graduate scholarships in areas of regional need and the Pacific Regional Sports Research Scholarships will be celebrated as one of the sustainable legacies of the University’s 50th Anniversary year celebrating the Pacific and shaping its future. 

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, I once again congratulate the University and its partners at the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat and the Oceania National Olympic Committee for this innovative research symposium. I wish you all a successful few days of presentations and dialogue as you ‘SHAPE UP’ the research agenda for sport and sustainable development. 

It is now my pleasure to declare the symposium officially opened.

Thank you and vinaka vakalevu.