When Fijiana qualified for Rugby World Cup for the first time in November 2019, no-one was more delighted than Cathy Wong.
Fijiana missed out on Rugby World Cup 2017 but they made sure of their place in New Zealand next year after beating Samoa twice to claim Oceania’s regional qualification spot.
Describing the achievement as “a very big deal”, the indomitable Wong is now looking forward to seeing the team become the flagbearer for 15s rugby in her native country under new head coach Senirusi Seruvakula.
“The qualification was a very big deal – this was the first time for the Fiji women’s team to qualify for the Rugby World Cup,” she said.
“Now with the appointment of a qualified and very good coach, I know our women’s team will not only appear at the Rugby World Cup but stamp their worth and be a part of the event for the future.
“They will do well. I have always said that our women’s team will progress further than our men’s team who have reached the quarter-final stage.
“The women, in time, given the same full and appropriate support as the men’s team, will progress beyond this.”
Advocate for equality
A bold call? Wong may be diminutive in stature, but she has never been one to think small.
A physiotherapist by profession, Wong has been involved in Fijian rugby for 28 years. She was part of the Flying Fijians’ support staff when they famously beat Wales to reach the quarter-finals of Rugby World Cup 2007.
As Fiji’s Chef de Mission, she experienced at first hand the Fiji men’s team gold medal win at Rio in 2016, the year she became Oceania Rugby Women's Director.
Then, early last year, Wong became the first woman from the region to be appointed to the World Rugby Council.
A strong advocate for equality, Wong has played a big part in advancing women’s rugby in the region.
The inclusion of a women’s team in the Skipper Cup competition and the appointment of a full-time women’s development officer are two of a number of positive developments to have happened behind the scenes.
And her contribution to sport in Fiji was recently recognised with the award of the prestigious Fiji 50th Anniversary of Independence commemorative medal.
“To be recognised is a great honour,” she said. “This amplifies the importance and the impact that sport has on the people of Fiji and on the country.
“Sport in most countries is still seen as a form of entertainment. This medal says that sports is much more than that: it unites, it teaches values, it brings financial support, it keeps the nation healthy, it provides employment, it promotes equality and inclusivity, it builds resilience amongst people.”
On a personal level, Wong says she owes a debt of gratitude to sport and the opportunities it has given her.
“I have seen the world with sports and met great people that have become my mentors,” she said.
“Rugby has opened the door for me both professionally as a sports clinician and as a sports administrator. I have been able to upskill myself in these areas and this has enabled me to progress to where I am today.
“Rugby has also enabled me to use my newly acquired skills with other sports and assist with the development of other sports in Fiji and the Pacific.
“With the formation of a partnership between rugby and other sports and the Olympic family, this has improved the level of support personnel associated with all sports.”