Gold medal not for sale: Tuwai

Fiji Sun - - Sport - Feed­back: os­eab@fi­jisun. com.fj

The peo­ple of Fiji wanted to get their hands on the Olympic gold medal so much that some would pay for it. But rugby sevens player Sere­maia Tuwai told all in­ter­ested buy­ers that it is not for sale at any price. Tuwai, who scored Fiji’s sec­ond try against Great Bri­tain in the fi­nal in Rio, had an en­tic­ing of­fer for his cov­eted medal fol­low­ing their tri­umphant re­turn with the coun­try’s first Olympic medal. A fam­ily friend made an open­ing bid of US$30,000 (FJ$61,000) for that medal, so that he could frame it up and dis­play in a shop. But while the money would have been a big re­lief for the 27-year-old, who comes from New­town, a set­tle­ment out­side Suva, he turned down the of­fer.

He gave the gold medal to his fa­ther, Poasa Vu­nisa, 55, for safe­keep­ing, and as a ges­ture of thanks.

Tuwai, the el­dest of five chil­dren, said: “I gave it to my dad be­cause he’s the one who strug­gled a lot and sac­ri­ficed for me when I grew up.” Vu­nisa, who lives in a vil­lage where elec­tric­ity is scarce, is a spearfish­ing diver and a farmer. He wanted to sur­prise his son by send­ing him off to Aus­tralia’s Gold Coast for his de­but in the World Sevens Se­ries in 2014.

But af­ter hitch­ing a ride to the air­port in Nadi, he had to sleep on the streets be­fore bor­row­ing money to make the trip home. “A few peo­ple wanted to buy it (the gold medal), but I told them that the gold medal is price­less,” said the 1.70m tall Tuwai, the smallest mem­ber of the Fi­jian sevens Olympic team, yet known for his nifty sidestep­ping foot­work. The sport has changed Tuwai’s life even be­fore strik­ing gold in Rio. He grew up play­ing at a round­about in his set­tle­ment, and ei­ther a co­conut, a bot­tle or a rolled-up shirt was used in place of a rugby ball. Said Tuwai, who dropped out of sec­ondary school to pur­sue the sport: “Be­fore this, I can be a per­son walk­ing freely along the streets. Now I can­not even walk five steps.” Though he did not get mobbed in Sin­ga­pore, where he is play­ing for Fi­jian club Daveta at the Sin­ga­pore Cricket Club In­ter­na­tional Rugby Sevens (SCC 7s), peo­ple do recog­nise him and want self­ies. The group stage of the SCC 7s con­tin­ued yes­ter­day with the favourites suf­fer­ing a shock exit. The crack Fi­jian out­fit were up­set by Eng­land Academy 7-5 in the Cup quar­ter­fi­nals, end­ing their chances of claim­ing a record sev­enth Ablitt Cup. Still there is no tak­ing away their fame back home. Daveta cap­tain Emosi Mulevoro, who was part of the squad who won the World Rugby Sevens Se­ries this year, added: “Win­ning gold in Rio was such a big thing. They needed 30 min­utes to walk 50m.” While the fame and suc­cess have brought “things I didn’t have be­fore and I can get the things I want”, Tuwai does not go for ma­te­rial riches.

He said: “Yes, there’s lesser worry now, but things are still the same for me. “I’ve been brought up in hum­ble be­gin­nings where I didn’t have many things and I don’t need many things to be happy.” Noth­ing unites the South Pacific na­tion of 333 is­lands like rugby. But it is with a mix­ture of fear­ful­ness and un­cer­tainty when they think about what’s next for them. Their coach Ben Ryan, who led them to back-to-back World Se­ries ti­tles and the Olympic crown, has left. Cur­rent Hong Kong coach Gareth Baber, a Welsh­man, is the English­man’s suc­ces­sor. Tuwai said: “Now the ex­pec­ta­tion on Fiji rugby is so high. All the pres­sure is on the team and on him (Baber). They can sack the coach or the play­ers if we don’t de­liver.” Strait Times

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