From Netball to Rugby, Raijieli is Making a Difference for Girls in Fiji

March 2, 2020

In 2016, the Fijian Women’s National Rugby Team became the first women’s rugby team from the Pacific region to qualify for the Rio Olympics. Unlike the men’s team who eventually created history by winning the gold medal, the women’s team had to overcome numerous obstacles to qualify.  Some of the Fijian women players were ridiculed and even chased from their homes for playing rugby. In fact, many Pacific women like the Fijian women rugby players are defying odds to play the sport. Fiji Corrections Department officer, Raijieli Daveuwa, was a netball national rep before she switched to sevens rugby. She is only one of fewer  than 300 female rugby players in a country, said to have  the world’s largest talent pool for male sevens rugby players. Daveuwa is now one of the senior players and occasionally captains the Fiji national women’s rugby team. This is her story.

“I decided to switch from netball to rugby sevens because it is an Olympic sport and because of the World Sevens Series, which is held in many countries, offering opportunities to travel and visit places.”

Describe your sports journey and why you switched from netball to rugby?

I played netball and took part at both the primary and secondary school level. I was a record holder in the senior girls triple jump event in the annual Coke-Cola Games. I also played volleyball. In 2011, I was named in the national netball squad and in 2012 I debuted for Fiji at the Pacific Netball Series.  A year later I captained the Fijian national under 21 team to the  World Netball Competition in Scotland in 2013. I secured a contract to play netball in Singapore the following year.  In 2016, I made the decision to switch to rugby and was selected to be part of the Fiji national women’s rugby team- Fijiana - to the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. In the same year, I also won the World Sevens Rugby Rookie of the Year award, the first Fijiana player to do so. I also captained Fiji to the World Cup Sevens Rugby in San Francisco in 2018.  

What are some of the challenges you face as a female rugby player?

Being in a “rugby country”, you can feel the “pinch” when the men’s team are given priority and the women’s team is overlooked.

Having the same opportunities as the men's team could go a long way to helping our women's team in this sport. As a player, one of the greatest challenges I had to endure was the physical ramifications of the sport of rugby. We could get injured during training and during the game. It takes a toll on the body and can impact one’s game. 

How has sports helped you in your work as a corrections officer?

Being a warden officer requires a lot of physical preparation and discipline. Sports and my line of work are similar requiring 100 per cent of dedication from me. I have to sacrifice the normal life of a girl my age and spend time either training or perfecting my craft 

What’s your best sports memory?

Playing in the 2016 Rio Olympic Games and winning the Rookie of the Year in the same year.  

How can we ensure there is equality in sports such as rugby?

Equality in any sport would be possible if those in administration support and administer practices to encourage it. It also falls on the shoulders of all athletes to allow and create an environment where both sexes are coached  and developed in the best possible way to allow the sport to grow. 

What advice can you give to young females wishing to play rugby in Fiji and the Pacific?

Sports has allowed me to visit countries and people of different backgrounds, ethnic and religions. Sports has helped me forge friendships which I treasure the most. Sports has personally helped me grow as a person. Like anything in life, it also has its cons but I personally feel that the pros outweigh the cons. So pick up a ball be it a netball, soccer or rugby ball and get to work. You'll never regret it!