Fiji prosper despite protests
Wellington
February 10, 2001

Fiji beat New Zealand at the Wellington Sevens, despite the protests of around 150 people demonstrating against the Islanders' inclusion in the tournament.

The New Zealand government banned Fijian sportsmen from entering the country after last year's coup on the islands but relaxed the rule for international events such as the Sevens.

Protesters carried placards with slogans such as "human rights before rugby", "equality for all Fiji citizens" and even "anti-apartheid 1981 and 2001" - a reference to the 1981 South African Springbok tour of New Zealand.

Several had megaphones but their chanting was often drowned out by a nearby beer promotional vehicle playing music.

At one stage police demanded a meeting with protest organiser Nik Naidu to get the group to move away from the stadium gates.

However, veteran protester John Minto said police allowed the protest to continue peacefully so long as it did not get much bigger.

Minto said he was hoping the protest would be friendly. He had not encountered a lot of opposition from people entering the stadium.

"I hope New Zealand rugby fans have matured in the last 20 years." He added that government action against Fiji had "dissolved into a farce."

The New Zealand sanctions initially blocked all contact, but were relaxed in November by the government when it was warned by international rugby bosses that Wellington risked losing the tournament, which generates significant revenue.

The government agreed to exempt "international" sporting events from its sanctions, and has since issued visas to the rugby players and the Fiji cricket team.

The forthcoming Australian round of sevens in Brisbane has lost its status as an IRB World Series event because Fiji were refused admission to the country to take part.

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