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Itatau Ceremony for the Special Olympics Team to Abu Dhabi

February 28, 2019       State House, Suva

The Head of Delegation, Mr Bishwa Sidal;
The Reverend Raki Tigarea;
The Team Coaches/Officials;
The Athletes;
Special Olympics Fiji Staff; and
 Ladies and gentlemen.

Ni sa bula vinaka, namaste and a very good morning to you all.

Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to, at the outset acknowledge and thank the good Reverend Raki Tigarea for his brief spiritual presentation and prayer as we gather here this morning to perform our Fijian, iTaukei iTatau traditional ceremony and seek Almighty God’s blessings on our athletes who will shortly depart our shores to represent our beloved country in the forthcoming Special Olympic World Summer Games which is scheduled to be held in Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates) during the period, 14th March to 21st March, 2019.

It is always an honour and pleasure for my wife Sarote and I, to welcome all of Fiji’s national sporting teams that come to present their iTatau here at the State House before they depart our shores.

To our athletes I would like to congratulate you for your perseverance and hard work in being selected into our National Team. Well done! Your hard work and sacrifices have no doubt paid off in the fulfillment of your dreams in “making the cut” as a Person with Determination who will be representing our beloved nation in the Special Olympic World Summer Games. In fact, it is an ideal and rewarding opportunity of a life time and you should be very satisfied and equally proud of such an achievement.

Ladies and gentlemen, at this juncture, I consider it prudent that I also acknowledge and commend the support of your families and friends whom I am sure were also quite influential in your quest to make the team. Self-confidence and a strong belief in your own ability to excel and succeed are important qualities of a good athlete and I am certain that you all possess those traits.

The great achievements of our past athletes who have paved the way with their proud and enviable legacies like the former Assistant Minister for Sports, the Honourable Iliesa Delana who won Fiji’s first gold medal at the 2012 Paralympics games in London must have been a great inspiration to you all.

Ladies and gentlemen, it would be remiss of me if I do not acknowledge and thank the officials who have worked equally hard behind the scenes to ensure you succeed. These are your coaches, trainers, friends and mentors, to these personnel I would like to say thank you. Also to our supportive sponsors, a very big thank you!

To our athletes, please give it your all and try your best because you will be competing against the best from other sporting countries. At the same time by all means enjoy yourselves and gain as much experience from such exposure at competing at a very high level. Make new friends and treasure the “thrills and spills” of international competition and good sportsmanship. Be an inspiration and role model for the next generation of our special People with Determination. But remember, that we all expect you, that whilst representing our beloved Fiji, you should be good sporting ambassadors by displaying proper demeanor at all time. A Fatherly advice to all is to look after one another.

As a founder and precursor to the Special Olympics World Summer Games, Ms. Eunice Kennedy Shriver said; “You are the stars and the world is watching you. By your very presence you send a message to every village, every city, and every nation.  A message of hope, a message of victory, the right to play on any playing field, you have earned it. The right to study in any school, you have earned it. The right to hold a job, you have earned it. The right to be anyone's neighbour, you have earned it”. In ancient times when Roman gladiators were competing in the arenas they would often recite their warrior chants and repeat the mantra: “Let me win but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt”, so be humble and grateful as winners and at the same time accept defeat gracefully.

To the Head of Delegation Mr Bishwa Sidal, medical personnel, team officials, Special Olympics Fiji and sponsors, on behalf of Government and all Fijians, I extend to you all my sincerest appreciation and gratitude for the work that you have done in preparing our team to participate in the Special Olympics World Summer Games. Thank you, vinaka vakalevu and bahut dhanyvaad!
Ladies and gentlemen, our Government of the day is very cognisant in ensuring that the needs of all citizens are being catered for, and this is reflected in our 2013 Constitution, Chapter 2 (Bill of Rights), Section 42 (2): “A person with any disability has the right to reasonable adaptation of buildings, infrastructure, vehicles, working arrangements, rules, practices or procedures, to enable their full participation in society and the effective realisation of their rights”.

Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to conclude by drawing your attention to a very important issue which currently affects us all because of its adverse impact on today’s society’s overall well-being.

As President and Head of State, I am very committed to being Fiji’s Lead Advocate and Champion in the National campaign to combat and try and eliminate Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) and promote Government’s Wellness Programme. Non-Communicable Diseases and related ailments like Hypertension and Diabetes are contributing to the deaths of over 80 percent of the most productive members of our population, people below the age of seventy.  I consider Non-Communicable Diseases as a Scourge, a present, real and clear threat to Fiji because to date, Government has spent about $406 million annually in endeavouring to combat and treat Fijians who are suffering from NCDs related ailments.

Ladies and gentlemen, these are much needed funds that could be better utilised in improving other sectors like Sports Development, Education and Health & Medical Services to name a few. We are Olympic champions in 7s Rugby and Paralympics champion in high jump, we can also be champions in many other sports if we have a fit and healthy nation. Your training programme encourages you to have an active lifestyle. I now challenge you to also promote the message of wellness and healthy living, within your own families, your circle of friends, and around the country.

I wish you well and every success, as you depart our shores for Abu Dhabi.

May Almighty God bless you all, your respective families, and our beloved nation Fiji.

Vinaka vakalevu, dhanyavaad and thank you all.