Cokes Legacy: The Busi­ness of Ath­let­ics

mailife - - Contents - By JONE KALOUNIVITI Images by SAVE­NACA VIRIVIRI

IT is the big­gest school games of its kind in the world in terms of par­tic­i­pa­tion. Held over two days with more than 3000 ath­letes com­pet­ing from around Fiji rep­re­sent­ing about 130 schools, with more than 20,000 spec­ta­tors – what is now known as the Cokes Games is eas­ily one of Fiji’s big­gest an­nual sport­ing events. Me­dia cov­er­age on tele­vi­sion, ra­dio and on news­pa­pers in the weeks lead­ing up to the Games has seen the event grow in the past 15 years. Some would say that it has taken on a life of its own, some oth­ers ar­gue that stake­hold­ers will need to be care­ful be­cause such at­ten­tion has been fo­cused on ar­eas which in the long run could af­fect the ed­u­ca­tion and the sport­ing sys­tem. Be­cause the Coke Games has grown in pro­por­tion to how the me­dia has de­vel­oped over the years, it means that cov­er­age of the event has now be­come a re­gional af­fair with a con­sid­er­able so­cial me­dia fol­low­ing all over the world. But what is the Cokes Games legacy? And what is its fu­ture as a devel­op­ment tool for Fiji’s fu­ture sport­ing he­roes. For­mer cham­pion ath­lete and cur­rent Ath­let­ics Fiji pres­i­dent Joseph Ro­dan Snr says it is an event that started way be­fore his time. “Well the Coke Games, when you re­ally look at it, prob­a­bly started over 50 or 60 years ago,’’ Ro­dan said. “It started off as the In­ter-Sec­ondary School Ath­let­ics Cham­pi­onship even be­fore I was run­ning. So the his­tory of the Games goes along long way back and its pop­u­lar­ity is largely due to your school ri­val­ries and the pas­sion with which the var­i­ous alumni sup­port their teams.” Ro­dan added that the other great sig­nif­i­cance of the Games is that it con­tin­ues to turn out ath­letes who later be­come na­tional reps in other sports, not only track and field. “I know with track and field we look at the Coke Games as an im­por­tant part of our devel­op­ment and of se­lect­ing our ath­letes as they move on.” Some names that come to mind as com­ing through the Cokes Games ex­pe­ri­ence are the likes of rug­gers Joeli Vidiri for Queen Vic­to­ria School in the early 1990s, or Vil­imone De­lasau of Ba, Fero Lasagav­ibau for Le­lean, Ne­tani Talei for Marist, or swim queen Caro­line Pick­er­ing for Suva Gram­mar School or the likes of Manasa Mataele who re­cently made the Cru­saders team. These are some of the few who went on to make it big in other sports. Then there are those who made it big in track and field in the re­gion such as Banuve Tabakau­coro. This year the big­gest devel­op­ment is that Lau­toka now has its own syn­thetic track, which could help raise the bar for the sport over­all. In 2015, for the first time in his­tory Natabua High School won the boys ti­tle and two years be­fore that Jasper Wil­liams cre­ated his­tory for the girls divi­sion. “The tal­ent is in the West, they just need some proper coach­ing and fa­cil­i­ties and they will be un­beat­able,’’ Fiji’s sprint coach Bola Tafo’ou said. “In Suva we have ev­ery­thing, but if we can have just a sim­ple track in ar­eas like Vanua Levu and the in­te­rior it will boost sports in Fiji.” The Games has al­ways been a place where dreams were made or squashed. Joe Ro­dan once proudly car­ried the flag for his school, Marist, in the 1970s but lit­tle knew how it would even­tu­ally take him to unimag­ined places. “I just wanted to run and rep­re­sent my school, and I trained hard. But it got me to travel to other places and in­stilled in me qual­i­ties of work­ing hard – that was one legacy of the Games for me and it sowed the seeds of things that helped me later in my life.” “In the devel­op­ment of sports Coke Games plays an im­por­tant part not only in ath­let­ics but in all sports, be­cause the Games pro­duces the best out of the com­pet­ing ath­letes and most go on to other sports, whether it’s

ath­let­ics, track and field, rugby, soc­cer or any other sport. The Games pro­vides a ba­sis for the suc­cess of these ath­letes when they go into other sports.”

THE GLAM­OUR OF THE GAMES

To com­pete in the Coke Games is ev­ery school kid’s dream. When a young kid from a vil­lage in Macu­ata qual­i­fies to make the trip to Suva for the Coke Games, there will im­me­di­ately be much hype in his fam­ily or even his vil­lage com­mu­nity. The vil­lage will of­ten help raise funds for the school in or­der to make the trip pos­si­ble. The story will be the same for a team of six ath­letes mak­ing the trip from Ratu Finau Sec­ondary School in Lakeba, Lau to com­pete. Just mak­ing the trip and com­pet­ing in front of thou­sands in an elec­tri­fy­ing at­mos­phere will blow their socks off. It will be an ex­pe­ri­ence they will never for­get and the ex­po­sure to such an event can­not be mea­sured. The glam­our of the games is such that it helps drive ef­forts to par­tic­i­pate and to be the best. Peo­ple re­mem­ber all too well when a rel­a­tively un­known Inia Sili of Shree Gu­runanak Khalsa Sec­ondary from Labasa stepped into the ANZ Sta­dium in 2013 and be­came a na­tional name in just days. The Macu­ata flyer came back for three years to rule the long dis­tance scene in Fiji and gain a schol­ar­ship to the United States. Who would for­get the likes of Ratu Tira Narara, raised in ob­scu­rity in a set­tle­ment out­side Lau­toka by a sin­gle mother and who ran his way to star­dom for Ba Pro­vin­cial and later for Marist to be­come the fastest 400 me­tre run­ner in the coun­try. The Games has also be­come a place for re­al­is­ing dreams, what­ever kind of back­ground you come from. It has been a place where fam­ily tra­di­tions have been set in stone. Ro­dan will tell you that the Games has been a fam­ily af­fair for them; his son Joseph Ro­dan Jnr was also a star in the mid1990s, mov­ing on to be­ing the top ath­lete in the re­gion for de­cathlon. Sprint king Banuve Tabakau­coro was not the first in his fam­ily to run, with his mum Li­tia be­ing a cham­pion sprinter for Adi Cakobau and Dad Josefa for Marist in the 1980s. With fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties back­ing their loved ones who are part of the event, it has cer­tainly lived up to its nametag as the Games of our Lives.

SCHOOL RI­VALRY

To­day Ro­dan wears two hats, as the head of Ath­let­ics Fiji and also the man at the helm of FASANOC – the par­ent body of sports in the coun­try. He is aware of how far some schools go to win. Years ago he stated that it was not a level play­ing field as some schools had re­sources and some did not. Some schools had good coaches while oth­ers don’t. “I think what is im­por­tant that we deal with it from an ed­u­ca­tion point of view, that way we will al­ways stay on track and ob­vi­ously those that don’t have re­sources have to work smarter,’’ he told Mai Life in an in­ter­view in 2010. Seven years later, his opin­ion has not changed but he agrees the stan­dards have been raised. Sources re­veal that many top schools now give schol­ar­ships es­pe­cially for ath­let­ics, giv­ing rise to a con­stant move­ment of stu­dents from school to school. Schools that have the re­sources to do so of­fer in­cen­tives in the form of of­fer­ing to buy school equip­ment, uni­forms or pro­vide board­ing fees. A few years ago, a direc­tive from a se­nior ed­u­ca­tion of­fi­cer to shift all top ath­letes in the Divi­sion to one school so that they may cre­ate his­tory and win the Games for the first time was leaked to so­cial me­dia. As a re­sult, this chain of events has lifted the bar in com­pe­ti­tion and brought re­newed en­ergy and in­ter­est in the Games in an­tic­i­pa­tion of a new win­ner. Try­ing to gain that win­ning edge and school ri­valry has also man­aged to pull some out of the dol­drums. How­ever, last year, many schools pulled out of the Cokes due to the dam­ag­ing im­pact of Trop­i­cal Cy­clone Win­ston. For those that com­peted, their strug­gles ex­em­pli­fied their com­mu­nity’s sense of progress. “If we used the cy­clone as an ex­cuse, it means we are beaten,’’ a par­ent told me. “We know com­ing to the Games would make our chil­dren happy and proud of their achieve­ment.” Queen Vic­to­ria School and St Johns Cawaci rep­re­sented their schools at last year’s Games, even though they did not have schools af­ter the cy­clone’s de­struc­tion. Although stu­dents were scat­tered all over to other in­sti­tu­tions to con­tinue their stud­ies, they still man­aged to train to­gether as a team. “Be­ing part of the Games and com­pet­ing as QVS was per­haps the best thing for these young boys who were trau­ma­tised dur­ing the cy­clone,” for­mer stu­dent and teacher Elemaca Ravulo said dur­ing the Games last year. “It gave them a sense of nor­malcy.” The level of school ri­valry is what drives the com­pe­ti­tion.

Marist’s Pa­sio Uluilakepa on his way to set­ting a new record in the In­ter­me­di­ate Shot Put last year. He has since gained a rugby schol­ar­ship to Welling­ton this year.

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