A Fiji businessman who has followed rugby for over two decades believes Fiji has established itself in the sporting arena and proven itself as world champions winning the Rugby World Cup sevens twice.
Toorak native Ambed Prasad, who first followed rugby when Nadi winger Sainivalati Laulau dazzled the Hong Kong crowds in the early eighties, continued his enthusiastic support while watching the Fijian sevens side hoist up tournament crowns seemingly year after year.
Prasad believes Laulau was the best Fijian winger to play for Fiji in Hong Kong and has never seen anyone who could emulate the easy way he scored tries.
“Well, I started following Fiji in the Hong Kong tournaments and Sainivalati Laulau was the best player then. I believe there has never been another player that dazzled the crowds there the way he did,” Prasad said.
“I also loved to listen to Graham Eden with his golden voice describing events so vividly for us all when many times we were forced to huddle around a radio as our only option.
“Laulau’s speed off the mark was unbelievable and he played magical rugby with all the other teams impossibly trying to figure out a way to catch him.”
But Prasad thinks his small contribution in the national side winning the US leg of the IRB Sevens series earlier this year was one of the best experiences of his life.
His trip to San Diego was prompted by Fiji’s loss to Samoa in the final of the Wellington tournament and he wanted to contribute from the stands because he felt the fans had a big part to play in any team sports.
“I watched the Wellington sevens on television back here in Fiji,” he said.
“It was a sweet semifinal when Fiji defeated New Zealand. We were celebrating like crazy… and then Samoa kicked us out so excruciatingly in the final,” Prasad said.
“There was certainly enthusiasm at the event, that’s for sure, but I did think that the Fiji supporters there were not backing the team as well as they could, and at times I noticed the supporters were not very organized in their efforts.
“When you go to major events around the world, you often see a higher standard of organization in cheering from the main participants’ fan bases.”
“I believe the fans need to motivate the players and to go all the way to let them know that they have tremendous support from the stands.”
“Watching from Fiji I could see that our country as a whole was being given unfair treatment to our Fijian supporters. Immediately from the opening ceremony things weren’t right.
“Fiji and their fans were not even able to participate equally in celebrating a sporting event due to political agendas that have nothing to do with them.
“Politics is politics and it shouldn’t be brought into the sporting arena.
“Sports are sports, and our players were guests of the country and they shouldn’t be treated otherwise. So I decided to go to San Diego, which was the next step for the boys on their tour,” he said.
Prasad was actually highlighted in quite a bit of the television footage during the Fiji One coverage of the San Diego Sevens.
He was also seen on international programs including Total Rugby which is an arm of the IRB.
There’s good reason for all of that. Prasad went ready for the battle and was dressed in a grass-skirt; his island hat weaved from pandanus leaves and with a Fijian Rugby white shirt.
“I took a lot of gear from Fiji because I wanted to be part of a crowd that would show the players on the ground that we were in full support of the team,” he said.
“I wasn’t going to be a neutral supporter and just sit there; especially when the players were struggling on the field… they needed to know we were fully supporting them.
For example, on the second day Fiji was playing South Africa in the quarterfinal and we were behind at the halftime break.
”I began to rally many of the Fiji people together and started to cheer for the team. Soon many joined in…believe me, they were down, despondent and really not “doing it” for the boys.
“I was so happy because we began cheering wildly for our team and they almost on cue began to grow strong and started playing well and then things really started clicking together.
“More and more Fijians came over to our group and started cheering absolutely madly for our team.
“We saw them playing with everything they’ve got and they came back to win the match!”
He said cheering made a difference.
“We were cheering our hearts out,” he said.
“For me personally, I had a difficult problem to overcome just to be there. I had injured my knee and on that day it was becoming almost unbearable with the pain. I decided that if the players can give their all for the country, then I could take an extra painkiller as my small sacrifice for our country… in order to be at my best in cheering them on.”
Fiji went on to beat New Zealand 19-10 in the semifinals and then defeated Samoa 38-24 in the final to clinch the San Diego title.
Prasad is one of the initial entrepreneurs who more than three years ago helped to start Webmedia, an information technology based company located right here in Fiji.
He has seen the company grow to about 20 employees today.
“Webmedia was a collaborative vision with Steve Reid, Nick Cartmell, Praveen Sewak and myself,” said Prasad.
Steve is originally from the States; Nick is from England and both been on the Fiji scene for about a decade.
Praveen is Fiji born and raised and as Prasad notes “seems to get smarter every night in his sleep.”
He continued, “They’re great guys to work with, and we’ve been fortunate enough to tap into a vein that was ‘sadly under-developed’… and we’ve been able to create employment in the all too important Information Technology sector.”
“We started up in Toorak and we provided services for websites and graphic design and other Internet based applications for clients,” he said.
“We originally focused all our efforts on lucrative international clients but we saw so much opportunity here in Fiji and in the South Pacific that we now have closer to a 50/50 mix of international and Fiji-based clients.
“Believe me, there’s so much more we can bring to these local providers and working with billion dollar US companies has certainly tuned-up our skill level”
Prasad believes rugby has played a huge role in bringing the country together.
He sees great parallels in sports to general business practices, particularly in bringing outside talents and innovative ideas to every aspect of professional sports.
“Fiji Rugby is professional and is absolutely world class… and if we fail to capitalize on all the avenues that present itself in terms of marketing and revenue generation and especially in general public relations from our hard earned victories, then we have only ourselves to blame,” he said.
“We really need to use that winner’s podium more to our advantage.
“We can also use sports to bring people together to unite them for a better country and to move forward again together.”
Caption: Businessman Ambed Prasad (right) dressed for battle with a cheering squad at the stands in San Diego where Fiji clinched the US leg of the IRB Sevens series title