WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — The captain of Fiji’s Olympic-champion rugby sevens team, Jerry Tuwai, says he doesn’t expect to lead the team in its attempt to win a third consecutive gold medal at the 2024 Paris Games.
Speaking from quarantine after the team’s return to Fiji, Tuwai, who was also a member of the Fiji team which won the first Olympic gold medal in sevens in 2016, said while his plans aren’t entirely clear, he doubts he will reach a third Olympics as a player.
Tuwai told the Fiji Village website he and other senior members of the Fiji team have set up the Life After Rugby Barbarians club to mentor the young players who eventually will carry the nation’s medal hopes.
“I don’t think so, I don’t think so,” Tuwai said when asked if he expects to play in Paris. “We have lots of talent in Fiji right now. That’s why we set up the Barbarians, to bring that talent through.
“There are some who are in a bad environment, or not a good one. We want to bring them into our environment and instill international training, an international mentality in them so they can play at the highest level.
“The next Olympics, I don’t think so. Only God knows.”
Tuwai revealed he came close to quitting the Fiji team during the difficult days of the team’s Games preparation. When the World Sevens Series was suspended because of the pandemic, the Fiji players were left to train with no immediate prospect of playing again.
Tuwai admits feeling a growing sense of frustration and helplessness as uncertainty arose around the Tokyo games. When Fiji coach Gareth Baber told players the team was going into a closed camp ahead of the Games which would mean no contact with family or friends, Tuwai, who has a wife and three young daughters, considered leaving.
“For me I came to a point that I nearly abandoned camp,” he said. “They were in a meeting, I was outside and I had already packed my bags, I’m about to leave the camp. And my brothers, too, some were about to leave go.
“A lot of us have gone through life, through some different kind of struggle and (we knew) it’s worth sacrificing not just for us, not just for our families but for the country as a whole. Because we know we are crazy on our rugby sevens and if we win this Olympics it will boost the morale and bring happiness to the country of Fiji.”
Tuwai said after Fiji’s victory over New Zealand in the Olympic final, he gave up his gold medal to Fiji’s Wales-born coach Gareth Baber.
“I gave my gold medal to coach because I know as a coach he has gone through a lot in Fiji,” he said. “He has been away from his family a lot, his daughters. I just wanted to give it to him because I know as a human being that one gold medal is enough for me, to make me humble. Two, it’s way too big for me.”