By Michelle Curran
As a youngster growing up in Fiji, the national sevens side and the team’s star player Waisale Serevi provided endless entertainment for proud ITaukei local Jessica Naevo and her family.
Little did she know, Fiji rugby would become such an integral part of her life.
After marrying former Fiji and Super Rugby lock Api Naevo, Jessica has observed the ups and downs professional rugby players frequently experience, and she is now putting the knowledge she has learnt into use as the new Suva-based community education coordinator for Pacific Rugby Players (PRP), a role which aspires to support the abundant talent Fiji boasts.
A breeding ground for fast, agile and athletic players, Fiji is often visited by overseas club and school scouts on the lookout for their next recruit.
Meanwhile, becoming a professional footballer is the ambition of many young Fijians and their families, however the dream is not always what it is made out to be.
Pacific Rugby Players (PRP) chief executive Aayden Clarke says managing these expectations and creating awareness around the recruitment process among players and their families has become a focus in Fiji.
“The community education coordinator is a Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade funded role, and one which PRP thinks is a priority for Fiji,” Aayden says.
It is a busy role which Jessica Naevo, who hails from the Garden Islands – Taveuni, will be perfect for, he adds.
“Part of this role involves Jessica going into villages to connect with elite school leavers and their parents about agents and contracts and what they should look like, while at the same time creating brand awareness for PRP and letting these players know that when agents contact players, they can reach out to PRP for advice and support.
In the new year, Jessica will also host day sessions in schools.
Prior to her new role, Jessica worked in event management at travel company Rosie Holidays Fiji, and numerous five-star resorts on Denarau Island such as Sheraton Fiji, Hilton Fiji Beach Resort and Spa and Marriott International in event planning and management.
“Aside from knowing Fiji well and having rugby connections, she has 10 years’ experience in the tourism industry, with exceptional organisational, coordination and management skills.”
For Jessica, the role puts her expansive skillset to good use, while young people in Fiji benefit.
“My family and the passion I have for my people motivates me to do the work I do and will be doing,” Jessica says.
“I would like to see every Fijian player from a young age is directed to make wise decisions in their rugby career.”
Jessica says she will draw on the experiences she and her husband Api Naevo had while he was playing professional rugby.
“It is a great opportunity to help educate our Fiji children and their parents on the awareness of agents and contracts when choosing rugby as a career and really speak to families so they are well aware of the dos and don’ts when it comes to agents and contracts.”
Jessica met her future “partner for life” Api in 1998 when she moved to New Zealand to further her studies.
At that time, Api was playing for Super Rugby franchise Auckland Blues and provincial side Counties Manukau.
“He also played for the Chiefs and was part of the Fiji team preparing for the World Cup back then.
“Api continued his rugby career overseas until 2007, but two years earlier I returned to Fiji to work and establish a base for us in Fiji.”
The couple have five sons and one daughter – three of their children play rugby, and Jessica gladly supports them and their passion for the game.
“I am involved in their Village Rugby Club Committee assisting with the marketing and planning as well as helping out in the Under-19 Nadi team as my eldest son is currently in the team.
“I have always given my time in any way to assist where I can in the schools and community when it comes to rugby, and I always try to fill in the gaps and make things happen when it comes to organising or planning.
“That pretty much sums up my involvement in rugby – I am signed and sealed for life.”
Jessica’s new role with PRP adds another string to her bow, and she is excited about the upcoming regional travel, allowing her to reach all areas where rugby is played.
“I also feel this could grow into something greater, emerging from Fiji to other islands – engaging at the grassroot level to educate and grow awareness, and building from there.”
“Long term, I feel this type of awareness programme around agents and contracts should be made mandatory across the Pacific.”
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