Laijipa Naulivou – Women in Rugby
The University of the South Pacific (USP) is dubbed as one of two regional universities in the world that promotes an equal playing field in rugby for both young men and women, openly talking about gender inclusivity and addressing gender gaps in sports.
Ms Laijipa Naulivou rose to prominence as a talented rugby player and pursued her career in sports through education. She was instrumental in the development of rugby from the grassroots level, particularly for young girls as rugby for the longest time was dominated by males.
The former Adi Cakobau School student attained a Bachelor’s degree in Management and Public Administration, Applied Psychology, and Sports Psychology from USP.
She was the first Fijiana 15s captain and shortly after moved over to the Suva Rugby Referee Association, making her one of the first women to help develop the sport and become an advocate for the inclusion of women in rugby.
“The University of the South Pacific has equipped me with extensive knowledge and experience that enabled me to break barriers and become a sports counsellor, rugby team manager for both the men’s and women’s teams, and mental skills trainer for various sporting teams preparing to play at the Pacific Games, Commonwealth Games, and the Olympics,” Ms Naulivou said.
She also served as a personal and administrative assistant at USP for over twenty years, so applying knowledge from a professional space to the sporting field became seamless for her.
Being a staff at USP, Ms Naulivou was also a member of the institution’s rugby and hockey teams for several years.
“USP showed me all of the possibilities and the big picture to explore my interest in sports. I have made many friends along the way and had the opportunity to live a life that many women of our generation were unable to,” she said.
A little walk down memory lane, Ms Naulivou boldly expressed how men made disparaging remarks when she first started playing rugby, telling women to stay home and care for their families. This did not dampen her aim in ensuring that rugby must also be played by girls, and her quest to achieve this goal was further boosted when joining USP.
“I recall how female players were booed and called various things and names considering the stigma they endured. When the girls did not have a uniform, I would give them money to buy clothes from thrift stores and other equipment they needed to play,” she added.
Ms Naulivou highlighted how proud she was having represented Fiji and USP in various places and the support from families and the institution was overwhelming, and the tradition continues until today.
“From travelling to the West to participate in sports, notably rugby, I have visited numerous places and proudly represented Fiji and USP,” she said.
In 1997, the first national women’s side competed at the Hong Kong 7s which became a watershed moment for women trying to break into the sport to not only play club rugby at the Marist 7s but also travel to the famous So Kon Po stadium.
She said, “The tournament has been the highlight of my career. At this point, we returned with the trophy, and the men who were given more support did not make it with a trophy. From here on, we were taken a little more seriously, but we knew we had a long way to go in changing the mindset of society,” she said.
Ms Naulivou was appointed Team Manager for the Fijiana for its first outing to the HSBC World Rugby Sevens in Guangzhou, China in April 2013, and two months later to its first World Cup tournaments in Moscow, Russia where they won the bowl against the Netherlands.
She is a mother of two and currently works as a volunteer in schools.
Her only advice to young women who have a passion for rugby, or any sport is to never give up and continue chasing after their dreams.