The Godfather of Fiji Rugby
BLISTERING runs, goose steps and bone crunching tackles are just some of the things we love when we watch rugby live or on television. Local players with the likes of Josua ‘the Bus’ Tuisova, his brother Filipo ‘the Bull’ Nakosi, Pio ‘the master offloader’ Tuwai, Waisea Nacuqu and Semi ‘the Beast’ Kunatani are just a few players who were discovered by Australian national Jay Whyte. The list goes on. MaiLife has labeled him as the Godfather of Fiji Rugby with the fact that he discovered these rugby greats and their potential that have led them to secure overseas contracts in France, New Zealand and many other countries. Apart from that, these very players were part of the national rugby team to the 2016 Rio Olympics that won Fiji its first ever gold medal. We can say Whyte is the unsung hero or the man behind these rugby greats. Jay Heyman Whyte, 40, is originally from Berowra Heights, in New South Wales Australia. As a result of his first trip to Fiji in 1991 Whyte returned to Australia and decided to pack up and move to Fiji in 2005. “I made this decision as I was following my dream to share the Fijian life I had experience in the interior villages with visitors and locals alike,” Whyte said. “The first impression I had about Fiji was the openness and almost innocence of the people. They are so generous in spirit – na yalo vina!” Upon his visit in 1991, Whyte struck up a friendship with Pita
Matasau who was a security guard at the Shangri-La’s Fijian Resort. “Pita would tell me about Fiji, his village and many great stories that had me captivated. He invited me and my family up to Draiba Village in Navosa on April 1st 1991 and it was through this experience I instantly fell in love with Fiji.” Whyte added the people of Draiba welcomed them like long lost family. “This day I believe I was born for a second time here in Fiji. I learn so much from the people about true humility and loving your neighbor.” “What I love most about Fiji are the ‘koiyata’ or ‘kaicolo’. It was my interaction with them in 1991 that saw me fall in love with Fiji and I will always respect and cherish them for what they gave to me and what they taught me about what is important in life.” Whyte said he has always wanted to reverse the stigma of being called a ‘kaicolo’ or ‘koiyata’ and help enlighten those amongst us who use this phrase when talking about someone who suffers from culture shock. “The ‘koiyata’ and ‘kaicolo’ are amazing people who are strong, loving and always happy to share their lives with anyone.” “I am proud to be ‘koiyata’,” The third child in the family with an older brother and sister to look up to and a younger sister to motivate, Whyte said his childhood was great growing up in the northern part of Sydney surrounded by the bush and nature. “I had lots of great friends from different backgrounds. I was very fortunate that my parents Colin and Christine Whyte were able to take us on family holidays that included overseas destinations which was a pretty big treat back in those days.” His parents and his entire family love Fiji and return every year to visit. “They love the people, the country and the whole way of life in Fiji,” Whyte’s love for our island paradise has led him to fall in love with Sigatoka beauty Lolla Traill who was born and raised in the rugby town. “I met her through a mutual friend at a house in Korotogo. This same house we actually bought in 2009 and have lived in this house since.” A romantic at heart, Whyte proposed to Lolla at home on her birthday. “She came down the steps to meet me. I tried to get the words out but as soon as she saw me reaching into my pocket and saying will you…. She hugged me so tight and I took this to mean yes she would.” “Fiji is home now for me and we are expecting our first baby in the next few weeks so we look forward to raising our child here in Fiji and who knows whether they might be a future fly-half for the Flying Fijians or Fijiana.” Whyte has since set up a business here in Sigatoka, which promotes Fiji’s original and the world’s first village jet boat
safari – the Sigatoka River Safari. “We work with 17 different villages and enable all our guests to experience a day in the life of the Kaiviti.” “The focus of the safari adventure is allowing visitors to get a glimpse of Fijian village life and the bonus if you get there aboard our custom built Safari jet boats.” Rated as Number 1 on Trip Advisor for Outdoor Activities in Fiji, they also won the 2017 World Travel Award for Best Adventure Tour Operator for the Australasia region. With his business growing from strength to strength, Whyte injects as much effort and financial support to give back to the local community in the form of him establishing the annual Mana Whey Fiji Coral Coast 7s Rugby Tournament. He had initially planned for it to be a local tournament aimed at developing grassroot level rugby. However, it has gone big and has become an international event with rugby teams from abroad gracing our shores. “The first year was a local tournament to prove the viability of the event and the aim was to open it up to the world and enable quality teams to visit the Coral Coast and test themselves against the very best opponents of the game of 7s – the Fijians.” “A major part of the decision to start the event was also the fact the tournament would offer our local boys and girls the highest caliber of tournament play and enable them to truly raise their gameplay.” Whyte said the inspiration to start it came from being the Chairman of the Coral Coast Marketing Committee of Fiji Hotels & Tourism Association. “We as a collective wanted to create an event that would drive the profile of the region and help establish the Coral Coast as a sporting destination. We created the Coral Coast 7s in 2010 and it has grown in leaps and bounds since then.” In that time the Coral Coast 7s have welcomed thousands of players and visitors from around the world. “I was able to incorporate an idea that I had back in 2007 to create a Rugby Walk of Fame which now exists here in Sigtown Town and is a world’s first.” The Rugby Walk of Fame started with: 2011 – David Campese & Waisale Serevi 2012 – Jonah Lomu 2013 – Ben Gollings & Vili Satala 2014 – Karl TeNana 2016 – Lote Tuqiri 2017 – George Gregan & Rio Olympic 7s Team 2018 – DJ Forbes “The players who have participated to date and secured themselves futures here and abroad is so rewarding as it proves the legitimacy of the event and of course highlights the way in which it is valued by the stakeholders.” In his time in the rugby town, Whyte has supported the Navosa Rugby Union and set up Yamacia Rugby, which produced one of Fiji’s rugby greats Semi Kunatani. “I have a close personal friendship with Semi Kunatani as he hails from Naviyago Village and I have seen him grow up so to speak.” “Watching his personal development and success fills my heart with great pride. He is a tremendous player and an even better person – a true example of the humility and pride of Navosa.” In 2012 Jone Macilai also secured a contract in New Zealand and has gone on to bigger and better things also. Whyte said seeing our local players succeed is awesome and he wants nothing but the best for them.
Y for Yamacia Rugby Club. Whyte is all for rugby.
Jay Whyte with the Plate Winners of the MWFCC 7s 2018 Fijiana Women’s team.