Rugby in Fiji is almost synonymous with religion. The whole country comes to a standstill when there’s a game on and the whole country celebrates when the team wins. Our next FJWOW is someone who knows all too well how the celebration and disappointments fare out with our supporters. Meet Lorraine Raiwalui-Suka, co-founder and one of the stalwarts behind Fiji’s 8th Man – UK.
I have known Lorraine for a few years now. Her vivacious and bubbly personality is one that belies the difficult childhood that she had. Lorraine was an adopted child but as she explains it, adoption in Fiji is one that is not done in the legal sense. Extended families step in to care for a child when the parent is not able to. Although whilst growing up Lorraine was more or less oblivious to her family dynamics until she was told of her biological parents unwittingly, something she describes as a turning point in her life and led to a somewhat confused and rebellious phase. Lorraine became a young mother at 19 after completing high school and it was at this point that she came to a self-realisation that she had to be the one who decided how her life was to pan out going forward. That the decisions that had been made for her by the adults who had brought her up was no longer going to determine the outcome of her life.
Lorraine’s foray into the rugby world comes as no surprise as she has close family members who have played and work at international level. The idea to bring the community together with Rugby was one that was brought to her at a table in Covent Graden. Lorraine jumped at the idea as she explains, from her first London 7s tournament in 2009, she was quite disappointed with how there was hardly any Fijian supporters out to show their support for the Fiji 7s team. The same happened for 2010 and 2011. It was in 2012 that she decided to try and get a few friends & family members together to cheer the 7s boys. Since then its just gotten bigger and louder. The 2014/2015 HSBS 7s series is when Fiji’s 8th Man – UK became official. That year alone saw over a thousand Fijian fans attending thanks to the team behind Fiji 8th Man – UK. Lorraine describes the success to her venture as a big dose of “can do attitude” and a great support system from her husband, Mr Suka, her children and also working partner, Mr David Borrow. All the work that is put into Fiji 8th Man – UK is done in addition to her 9-5 job at the Australian embassy in London, it is done entirely in her own free time and utilising her own resources. At present, the database hosts 401 members and is growing steadily. Throughout its 2 year campaign so far, Fiji 8th Man – UK members have enjoyed watching Fiji win not only the 2014/2015 HSBC 7s series, but also the 2015/2016 series and to top it off, Fiji’s 15s game against Canada leading up to the Rugby World Cup in 2015. This success has fuelled the need to continue with the campaign in bringing fans of Fiji rugby together even more.
When asked about the challenges she has faced and how she has overcome it, Lorraine stressed the need to have a strong support group. During the early stages, a lot of doubt was cast on the conceptualisation of the campaign and whether it would be able to establish itself. Lorraine has proven all the nay-sayers wrong by not only achieving the quota she had set as a benchmark for the supporters to purchase tickets but actually surpassing it each passing year. Lorraine currently works closely with two rugby unions – The English and French. The inaugural Paris 7s last year saw Lorraine bring together fans and have our supporters cheering the 7s boys during the Paris leg. The success in both the London and Paris campaign would not have been possible without the strong support group she says. Lorraine explains that with anything that puts you out there in the public eye, you must learn to deflect the unhelpful comments that come at you and take on the constructive feedback to enable you to be better at what you do. A sentiment that is shared by someone she looks up to as a mentor, retired Rugby Union player, Simon Raiwalui, who currently co-manages Stade Francais. Simon’s number one rule that he stressed for Lorraine was – Never get angry because then it turns personal. She carries this advise as her daily mantra in all that she does, as she stressed, it’s not about me, this is about the sport and the community.
Lorraine’s advise to those who might be thinking of going into something similar was to ensure that you follow the correct channels so that the doors are not inadvertently closed, ensure that you have all your paperwork and boxes ticked so that when the concept is presented to the interested parties there are no grey areas that will have your credibility questioned and last but definitely not the least, ensure that you have not only the right but also a strong support system, as you are only as strong as your weakest link.
Dedication is key when it comes to ventures that involves having to engage with the public at community level. Inorder to succeed in all that you do, you must be willing to show the community at large that you here for the long run.
Tha passion that Lorraine has for not only the sport of Rugby but also in bringing the community together is one that I feel is always downplayed, I hope you've enjoyed reading about Lorraine's journey with Fiji 8th Man - UK and continue to support and celebrate Fijian Women of the World going above and beyond in all that they do.
***For those of you interested in joining us for this years London 7s, Fiji 8th Man - UK is selling tickets for both Saturday and Sunday, contact them via their facebook page***