Australian taxpayers will “sponsor” the Fijian Drua’s entry into the Super Rugby Pacific competition.
The Australian government has pledged $US 1.3 million ($FJ2.7 million) to support the franchise’s initial operating costs until the end of 2024 season.
The three-year financial commitment of $A600,000 a season is set to aid Fiji’s economic recovery until industry can attract investment after Covid-19 has dealt a huge blow to its tourism trade.
Australian minister for the Pacific, Zed Seselja, was present in Suva this week for the announcement.
“Australia and Fiji are bound together by our geography, our history, our religious traditions – and our passion for sport,” Seselja said.
The “vuvale” sporting partnership will continue playing and living in Australia throughout most of 2022.
The Drua are set to prepare for their debut season from a Lennox Head base in Northern New South Wales, but will play its opening home game in Melbourne with other Australian venues to be determined.
The possibility of travel restrictions has caused the Fijians to only move between Australia and New Zealand for its fixtures before hopefully returning to play back home in 2023.
“What we’re going to see with the Fijian Drua coming into Super Rugby is a fundamental change and that is a great thing for rugby in our region,” Seselja said.
“We’re going to see Fiji continuing to shine and players making such extraordinary contributions.”
Fijian minister for youth and sports, Parveen Kumar Bala, added that the inclusion in Super Rugby was a “game changer” for the nation that has won back-to-back Olympic rugby sevens’ gold medals.
“This has been a dream for such a long time as it is the missing pathway for Fijian rugby,” Bala said.
The new 12-team Super Rugby competition will include Auckland-based Moana Pasifika for the first time to join five Australian and five New Zealand provincial sides.
Fijian Drua interim chief executive Brian Thorburn said the Australian government’s support has benefitted the Drua in a number of ways.
“Australia has literally made our Super Rugby dreams come true, he said.
“Their sponsorship has been crucial in getting us to where we are today, just three months away from our historic first match.
“The Australian Government’s backing has also helped navigate international health and travel requirements during this difficult period, protecting the health and safety of everyone involved.”