Fiji PM: Won't Change National Flag After Winning Its First Olympic Gold Medal

Removing colonial symbols from flag takes back seat to ongoing cyclone recovery efforts

By Richard Ewart

MELBOURNE, Australia (Radio Australia, August 18, 2016) – Fiji's Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama has announced that there will be no changes to the Fijian flag for the foreseeable future, after the country won its first Olympic gold medal in Rio.

"It has been deeply moving for me as Prime Minister to witness the way Fijians have rallied around the national flag as our Rugby Sevens team brought home Olympic gold for Fiji ... and I know this sentiment is shared by most Fijians," Mr Bainimarama said in a statement.

"While I remain convinced personally that we need to replace some of the flag's colonial symbols with a genuinely indigenous expression of our present and our future, it has been apparent to the Government since February (last year) that the flag should not be changed for the foreseeable future."

Mr Bainimarama first floated his plan for change in February last year and launched a national design competition before matters were put on hold.

But after the Olympic win, the Prime Minister has told the Fijian people that the money would be better spent on the Cyclone Winston recovery effort.

"It is a question of resetting national priorities as our people continue to recover from Tropical Cyclone Winston," he said.

"The cost of any flag change is better spent at the present time assisting Fijians back on their feet.

"I urge every Fijian to display our flag when our victorious Sevens team returns to Fiji on Sunday and during our special national holiday on Monday.

"It is a time to celebrate not only their remarkable achievement but our collective unity and national sense of purpose."

Former Opposition leader Mick Beddoes, who was involved in the protest against the plan to change the flag, told the ABC's Pacific Beat program that he welcomed the decision.

"First and foremost, I welcome the decision by the Prime Minister," Mr Beddoes said. "But in fairness, the protest (against the flag) was mounted by our youth ... and it created a lot of awareness."

"Essentially I think the Government responded by kicking the can down the road.

"And now that Rio is over how could you possibly want to change that symbol after winning gold and worldwide accolades for it?"

Fiji beat former colonial power Great Britain 43-7 in the Rio sevens final.

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