As we are midway through #NetballNovember and the days grow ever shorter, it might take some imagination to cast one’s mind back to August and the height of 2018’s long hot summer. Even more so perhaps to call to mind the pacific island nation of Fiji which was the setting for an inspirational act of kindness from one family in the Welsh netball community.
Sian Ropaigealach is from Penarth and her mother is Fijian. As a result, she has a deep connection with the country and has a vast extended family in Fiji. Keen to show her family the “real Fiji” she arranged for a three-week trip to the country back in the summer. However, this wasn’t any ordinary summer holiday. Knowing some of the challenges some communities in Fiji face in accessing sport, she had a plan.
“In 2017 we planned to go to Fiji – I wanted [my] children to see the real Fiji.
“I’ve got a great connection with Fiji – my Mum is Fijian. I was born in Cardiff and I have quite a big family back in Fiji. The two main sports in Fiji are netball and rugby – in all of the villages in Fiji you will find a netball team or a netball court of some sort.”
Fiji regularly punches above its weight in international sport. Fiji’s rugby sevens team won gold at the 2016 Olympic Games and their netball team recently faced Wales at the 2018 Commonwealth Games. Despite these successes, there are some in the country who face challenges in accessing sport.
“I was told by a cousin who organised our trip to Naitisiri Secondary School that the players of this team previously had had to sell vegetables on the side of the road to make enough money ($10 or £3.50) to hire – not even buy – kit, from a neighbouring netball team.”
With this in mind, prior to the family’s trip over to Fiji, Sian made arrangements to get together some sports kit.
“Back in May we gathered some sports kit together and sent it over in a storage container.
“Not only did we have the shipment of various bits of kit, but we were lucky enough to have of dresses, tracksuits, leggings and t-shirts donated from Welsh Netball which we took over in our luggage.
“We had lots of dresses and between us we had six suitcases and our luggage allowance went over by 30 kilos. We were fortunate to be with a great airline, Cathays Pacific, who wavered the charge.”
The family met the netball team at Naitisri Secondary School and witnessed something many Welsh netball players would be unfamiliar with – a netball match played on turf.
“In Suva [the capital] there is a great sports hall, but if you live out in the villages it’s difficult. It was the first match I’d experienced played on grass.”
The donated kit was very gratefully received by the team who immediately set about enjoying a competitive match.
Sian’s daughter, Niahm, who plays for Penarth All Stars and is member of the Wales Under 17 long squad, enjoyed engaging with Fijian culture:
“Here in Wales we play in sports halls and in Fiji its sometimes the same but they also play outdoors.
“We met lots of young girls who aspire to play for their country. I felt very honoured to meet them and [they] were really interested to hear about netball in Wales.”
Speaking about the reaction back home to their efforts, Niamh said:
“[Family and friends] thought it was really amazing what we did, and I showed them lots of photos.”
Welsh Netball would like to thank Sian, Niamh and the family for their fantastic efforts in taking so much netball kit over to Fiji. It was heartening to see it being put to great use by fellow members of the netball family on the other side of the world.