Samoa takes on the world – Go Samoa!
By Mua (Muavae) Va’a, President, Pacific Peoples’ Partnership
From the time I was a small boy growing up in Lotopu’e, a village in Samoa, I played rugby. Everybody did. We played in school even when we didn’t have the equipment. Back then, Samoa was a powerhouse in the sport and we idolized our national sport. I continued to play after I moved to Canada in 1991. I taught my sons the game and one of my greatest memories is playing on the same team as my older son. He was 16 at the time; I was 43 and about to hang up my cleats. He went on to play on the Canadian Under-20’s team, and played for the BC Bear in the national championship in 2017 where they took gold and still plays at the premiere level locally. My younger son came thru the cross root level rugby and had a chance to represent BC in the national championship from U-14 all the way up to the U-18. It’s been a joy to pass on our national sport to them.
Even when I was playing, I became involved in coaching. I have coached club Jr teams, high school, regional and some for the provincial junior teams. Few years ago I had the privilege to be liaison member of rugby Canada for the Samoan national 15 team; it was a great experience. So, of course, I was there for the 2019 International 7’s tournament at BC Place Stadium in Vancouver. It’s a special time. The tournament takes place over two days, a Saturday and Sunday. This year BC Place was full on Sunday. I was there along with 55,000 screaming fans cheering for their favourite teams. It was an experience that was hard to forget especially with our home island team on the field playing their hearts out for our country.
Our neighbour island team, Fiji, was also on the field; it was great to see so many of their fans joining the fun. Samoa and Fiji, the two smallest countries in the tournament, represent the South Pacific very well. And, of course, their die-hard fans weren’t hard to spot in the stadium as the teams battled with teams from Canada, France, England, the United States and other much larger countries. Despite the difference in size of our countries, we stand up very well with these larger teams. Fiji came in 3rd and Samoa 5th in the annual 16-nation tournament.
The pride we feel in our team is strong. Seeing them in action tugs at our heartstrings and reminds us of home. With that connection, it’s natural for the Samoan community to want to be involved when the Samoan Rugby 7’s come to Canada. They’ve come every year for the past four years and join fifteen other teams in the tournament. And every year the Samoan community of British Columbia hosts a dinner for our national team.
There aren’t very many of us in BC, only about fifteen families, but the tournament gives us an opportunity to renew friendships and learn about family members at home. We feel it is important to extend a welcome to the players when they are so far from home. This year’s event was held at the home of a member of the community in Vancouver. It was so nice to see our community come together for a time of fellowship, sharing our appreciation for the team that represents our homeland. This year the evening was filled with celebration, a dinner – including Samoan traditional foods – and music. The community took up a collection and a financial gift was presented to the players along with t-shirts and chocolates to take home to their families. All in all, it was a great evening of fellowship and the opportunity to honour our Samoan rugby athletes.
I had a chance to sit down with two members of the team to ask them about their experience. I can’t identify them because they are under contract and can’t speak for the team, but they could speak from their hearts about being on the Samoan national team and playing in the tournament. One said, “It means the world to me. A chance to represent my family, my village and my country. I’ve always dreamed of one day representing my country in the world arena and now that dream has come true.” The second player, echoing the first about representing family and country, added that it was a great chance to gain experience at the international level.
Both players said they hoped that playing in the international tournament might lead to professional contracts. A contract would help their families at home.
It was only a brief conversation, but I was able to tell them how proud I was of them and the rest of the team. It was a joy to see them playing hard for our country. And I told them I look forward to seeing them again when the team comes back to Canada for the next tournament.