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 thorough and transparent governance that has ushered in an unprecedented era of stability, growth and prosperity for the sport in Fiji.
Following is the Chairman’s Report as presented in their 2018 Annual Report:
The journey of transformation at Fiji Rugby continued with momentum in 2018. We acknowledge the support of the FRU Council and its affiliates in recognizing the need for change for the growth of the sport domestically and internationally, as we continue to embrace this era of professionalism. Similarly, this meant adaptation by the team at FRU to the way we envisioned conducting our business, professionally with sound governance principles plus a flawless service to all our customers.
This resulted in a general reorganization of the structure at FRU and the engagement of professionals at middle management levels to support the work of the CEO to drive the strategic direction intended by the FRU Board. The recruitment of a Manager Sponsorship and Marketing, an Events Manager, Operations Manager, Legal Officer, Manager Finance, GM Drua plus Manager Communications and Public Affairs were all the critical portfolios to fill, in supporting this transformation.
These changes driven by the Board were also cognizant of the need to engage our former national representatives who have had a sound level of rugby credentials recognized by World Rugby, whether it be in coaching, strength and conditioning or physiotherapy. The desire to engage our former representatives was to support the development of the growth of the sport. We have continued to encourage our former national and provincial rugby representatives to pursue their rugby instruction credentials; we hope that through this medium we would be able to generate more interest.
Riding on the success of the Rio Olympics it was only prudent that we submitted a 7s bid for a leg of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series. FRU for the first time ever, in February 2018 submitted its bid for a leg of the HSBC World Rugby 7s. This itself was historical; a nation that champions 7s rugby as its national game and playing the sport for over a century plus, it was logical that we made known to World Rugby pundits and the global rugby fraternity, that it was time such an event was granted to Fiji. This is in recognition for all the work a small nation like Fiji has done through this abbreviated code, to grow the sport globally for World Rugby. Despite falling short in our bid to host a leg independently, (which was made known to us recently), we acknowledge the support from New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) and World Rugby to host the event here on alternate years with the Hamilton 7s leg.
This is an acknowledgement and recognition by World Rugby of the valuable contribution that Fiji Rugby is making towards the growth of the sport globally. We thank Government for their support towards this bid and the continued guidance towards hosting the event here in Fiji on an alternate basis with our NZRU counterparts.
In-depth discussions have been very positive and we hope to sign off an MOU with NZRU and WR to cement this partnership for a leg in Fiji in 2021.
The successes of the Drua in winning the Australian National Rugby Championship, Warriors in the Pacific Regional Competition, our U20s in re-joining the World Rugby Tier One nations plus the continued strides by our national XVs teams saw the desire to provide more professional pathways for our players in June 2018, with the support from Government, FRU submitted a bid for a Super Rugby franchise team to the SANZAAR Board. The team was to be spearheaded by Fiji with support from Tonga and Samoa Rugby Unions. Although the bid fell short, it provided a stupendous insight, knowledge and lessons learnt to the FRU team on how such bids can be promulgated in the future. We acknowledge the input of the team at FRU led by CEO and GM Commercial, Mr. Brian Thorburn in both our Super Rugby and the HSBC World Rugby 7s bid.
On the commercial front, we continue to cherish the support of all our sponsors and acknowledge their support towards our national sort, rugby union. Our major sponsors Fiji Airways continue to amaze us and it’s our earnest desire that we continue to maintain a cordial professional relationship. We have managed to engage new sponsorship deals with Swire Shipping, Tappoos, Victor Sports and Fortress; these are much needed financial revenue we earnestly need to drive the processes of change at FRU. We commend and acknowledge the continued belief in the sport in the renewal of sponsorships deals by our current partners, Carpenters, TFL, Fiji Water, Paradise Beverages and Fiji Sun. Velocity Brand Management (VBM) our merchandising and licensing agent has made massive inroads in ensuring the FRU brand is marketed globally. Establishing the FRU brand with a global footprint has been our intent since we engaged the company in 2017; we continue to enjoy annual healthy returns with the promise for more growth. We salute all these organisations for partnering with FRU.
The need to relook at our FRU brand was an important aspect of this transformation journey at FRU. This rebranding exercise began in April 2018 when WiteKite a professional consultant was engaged to undertake this mammoth task for FRU. This rebranding exercise was to tailor make unique identities and alignment for our various national teams logos, provide a more professional identity to our national FRU logo, design and patent our own masi designs on all our national jerseys, differentiate the commercialization of our national jumpers to maintain the mana of donning the white jersey and above all re-launch the FRU logo in this professional era.
A comprehensive and wide consultation was embarked upon nationally to solicit the views of all stakeholders in this rebranding exercise. This rebranding exercise was launched during our annual FRU awards night in February this year.
In this era of professionalism, player welfare has been at the forefront of the work driven by World Rugby and FRU has not wavered from this responsibility. Our partnership with the Pacific Players Association (PPA) has been a masterstroke in providing much needed personal development options and programs for our elite rugby players plying their trade internationally and domestically. This partnership also resulted in the historical contracting of our national mens and womens 7s team who compete in the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Circuit. Life after rugby has also been a key pillar of the work being undertaken in this partnership between FRU and PPA.
The changes to our national domestic rugby format has provided the necessary outcomes in uplifting and to maintain consistent competitiveness in our provincial rugby competition. The introduction of a new womens completion has provided much needed pathways for our female players and a wider selection base for our national coaches. The centralized contracting of players and officials has also been a game changer in the manner we manage our domestic provincial competition. More changes are envisaged in the future to bring about improved pathways for our players, wider talent identification for our national teams and selection opportunities for our national team coaches.
We are highly appreciative of the continued financial support from Government and trust that this partnership will be enhanced for the attractiveness that rugby union provides to our country. We pledge to continue to deliver on the field, to ensure we continue to market our beloved country globally for the various commercial opportunities that might lure prospective investors here and attract tourists to our shores. We also vouch to identify and develop our elite rugby players with the prospect of a contract abroad, which will eventually contribute to our national coffers through remittance.
Attaining a seat on the World Rugby Council after a century plus of playing the game has been the milestone achievement and justifiable reward for the FRU Board, Council and Management. A small rugby nation like Fiji with meager resources to support the sport, we have managed to achieve this council seat through frank tough consistent dialogue with our counterparts in World Rugby to believe in this transformation journey; that we were genuine in bringing about much needed changes to the way we conducted our business on and off the field; that we were genuine in exercising good governance principles resulting in two consecutive years of unqualified financial reports plus the reviewing of our Constitution, which was eventually accepted by World Rugby.
This two latter conditions although lengthier in term by normal World Rugby standards we have managed to get in earlier through robust discussions and dialogue. We commend the Fiji Rugby family, our President, the Board, Council Members, Management, players, family, friends and supporters of Fiji Rugby locally and abroad for your belief, unending support and prayers for this magnificent achievement.
I salute our Board Members who have volunteered their services over the last four years in contributing to this transformation journey at FRU. 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.
I also thank the team at FRU, led by CEO Mr. John O’Connor who has captained the management team well during this transformation journey.