The current Board of Fiji Rugby has arguably been the most successful ever in the history of organized rugby union in Fiji. Under the chairmanship of Commander Francis Kean, they have transformed rugby in Fiji at all levels through a new level of professionalism and transparent governance that has ushered in an unprecedented era of stability, growth and prosperity for rugby in Fiji.
The transformation from the Fiji Rugby Union (FRU) to Rugby Fiji has come about with the support of all the provincial unions in Fiji from powerhouse Nadroga and their western allies – Nadi and Lautoka, plus the tough hill men of Naitasiri, through all the Minor Unions, Fiji Secondary Schools and down to Primary Schools Kaji Rugby Chairman Francis Kean has slowly but surely won everyone over with his vision, steely determination, perseverance and at the end of the day – delivering on his promises on and off the field.
And the transformation didn’t come easy or cheap. Faced with a typical chicken or egg situation, Kean had to firstly line up all his cards at home and then start tough negotiations with World Rugby; agreeing to their demands for more direct input into where and how their funds were being spent by Rugby House, which enabled the Chairman to engage professionals in support of CEO John O’Connor including:
• Manager Sponsorship and Marketing
• Events Manager
• Operations Manager
• Legal Officer
• Manager Finance
• GM Drua
• Manager Communications and Public Affairs
Hand in hand with the reorganization in administration, marketing and finance at rugby HQ, Chairman Kean pushed World Rugby to also support Fiji’s on-field technical capacity around our 7s teams and the Flying Fijians Head Coaches Gareth Baber and John McKee including in 2018:
• Attack & Skills: Andre Bell
• Defence: Peter Ryan
• Lineout & Restart: Neil Barnes
• Scrum: Alan Miur
• Kicking Consultant: Damien Hill
SPORTS SCIENCE & STRENGTH & CONDITIONING
• Damien Marsh
• John Pryor
• Naca Cawanibuka
• Julian Sakilaki
• William Koong
• Brian Downey June
• Jennifer Khalik June
• Sio Dickinson June
• David Bick November
• Leigh Egger November
• Dr Emosi Taloga June
• Dr Bryn Savill
• Performance Analyst: John Batina
• Video Analyst: Josh Vuto
• Team Manager: Willie Baleinabuli June
• Team Manager: Viliame Gadolo November
• GM Rugby: Geoff Webster
Francis Kean has also taken a personal interest in encouraging former national and provincial rugby reps to pursue their rugby instruction credentials through World Rugby accreditation courses, so as to hopefully one day be able to engage them professionally in the development of rugby from Kaji to national level across Fiji.
A key part of its transformation under Kean’s stewardship, the FRU re-branded itself into Rugby Fiji starting in April 2018 when PR consultants WiteKite surveyed the views of rugby stakeholders Fiji-wide to develop a range of fresh new uniform designs and unique logos for our various national teams from the Flying Fijians to the Fiji Under-20s including mens and womens national teams in both codes.
In doing so, rebranding will also boost the commercialization of our national teams merchandise and enhance the mana of the famous white jersey in the professional era.
The new Rugby Fiji logos, uniforms and merchandise were launched during the Annual FRU Awards night at the Grand Pacific Hotel in February this year. Congratulations Rugby Fiji.
Also under Kean’s Chairmanship, the FRU submitted a bid in February 2018 to host a tournament of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series in Fiji. While this was singularly unsuccessful, World Rugby in conjunction with Rugby New Zealand agreed for Fiji to co-host alternate years of the Hamilton 7s tournament in Fiji from 2021.
Deserved acknowledgement indeed by World Rugby, of the invaluable contribution that Fiji has made, and continues to make, to the popularity and growth of rugby 7s globally, since the advent of the Hong Kong 7s in 1976 up to the Rio Olympic Games 2016.
In June 2018, with the support of the Government of Fiji and the national unions of Samoa and Tonga, the FRU submitted a bid for a Super Rugby franchise to be based in Fiji, but also drawing players from and playing some games in Apia and Nukualofa.
Although the bid was unsuccessful, mainly on financial grounds, it provided a valuable insight into the workings of rugby at a higher level; more importantly it raised the flag of Oceania with SANZAAR and World Rugby.
One of the big successes of Rugby Fiji has been the Fiji Drua storming the
Australian National Rugby Championship in 2018 and astonishingly, winning it in 2019 creating an exciting new pathway for local players to international rugby.
Kean and his team have broken new ground totally funding and centralizing the contracting of all major provincial players and officials. More changes are planned to improve the pathway for local players, widen the talent pool for our national teams and selection opportunities for our national coaches.
Local womens rugby has also benefitted from a new XVs provincial competition and particularly rugby 7s in schools.
On the commercial front, Rugby Fiji has worked tirelessly, led by Brian Thorburn, to attract new sponsors Swire Shipping, Tappoo group, Victor Sports and Fortress and enhance relationships with major sponsors – Fiji Airways and Vodafone as well as other current sponsors CJ Patel group, Carpenters, TFL, Fiji Water, Paradise Beverages and Fiji Sun.
As well, Rugby Fiji’s merchandising and licensing agent – Velocity Brand Management has made steady progress globally since 2017.
In his 2018 Annual Report, Chairman Francis Kean also credits their partnership with the Pacific Players Association (PPA) as a masterstroke in providing much needed personal development options and programs for our elite rugby players.
Kean also reveals in the report that their partnership with PPA also resulted in the contracting of our national mens and womens 7s teams and that life after rugby has also been a key focus undertaken by Rugby Fiji with PPA.
Chairman Kean has also managed very well the relationship between Rugby House and the various interested stakeholders of government including Youth, Education, Finance, the Sports Commission and of course with his brother-in-law, Prime Minister of Fiji and President of Rugby Fiji Hon. Ratu JV Bainimarama who also happens to be a big Fiji rugby fan.
In return for this support from government, which is mainly financial; Rugby Fiji has delivered strong results on the field, marketing Fiji to an ever increasing global TV and social media audience.
Also on the credit side of the ledger for Rugby House is the not insignificant contribution to our national coffers through remittances sent home by hundreds of Fijians now playing professionally overseas.
The icing on the cake for Francis Kean and this Rugby Fiji Board has to be attaining a seat on the World Rugby Council after over a century plus of organized rugby in Fiji. It caps a remarkable journey of transformation, sacrifice and trust from all sides here at home and from World Rugby.
It is a fantastic achievement which this Board, the Rugby Fiji Council and Management team can be justifiably proud that a small rugby nation like Fiji, with meager resources has managed to achieve.
World Rugby, under the leadership of Sir Bill Beaumont, who was part of the British Lions who lost here to Fiji in 1977 is also recognized and acknowledged for supporting Kean and his team to deliver such a transformation; that they were genuine in bringing about much needed changes to the way FRU conducted its business; that they were genuine in exercising good governance principles resulting in two consecutive years of unqualified financial reports, plus the changing of the FRU Constitution, which was eventually accepted by World Rugby.
Although lengthier in term by normal World Rugby standards, Rugby Fiji and World Rugby managed to work out a deal through robust discussions and dialogue.
So congratulations Commander Kean, Rugby Fiji family including the President, the Board, Council Members, Management, Players, family, friends and supporters locally and abroad for your belief, unending support and prayers.
In concluding his 2018 Annual Report Chairman Kean acknowledges the expertise of the individual Directors has been invaluable in bringing about these positive changes. The sacrifice of their resources and time has been immeasurable.
Kean also thanks the Management team at Rugby House led by CEO John O’Connor during this transformation. Go Fiji Go.