'Ginger with glasses' wins Fiji's top honour

2016-08-22 18:27
Ben Ryan (Getty Images)

Suva - Englishman Ben Ryan was on Monday awarded Fiji's highest honour for coaching the South Pacific nation's rugby sevens side to a historic gold medal at the Rio Olympics.

Tens of thousands of Fijians cheered and many openly wept as they braved heavy rain to attend a victory ceremony in the capital Suva with celebrations rolling through a second day since the team returned home.

Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama declared Monday a public holiday and free buses were provided to take people to the national stadium where Ryan and the players were feted as heroes.

Ryan, a self-described "44-year-old ginger bloke with glasses" has become the most revered person in Fiji since he guided the sevens team to a 43-7 hiding of Great Britain in the Olympic final to deliver Fiji its first Olympic medal.

"In recognition of the achievement, it is an honour for me that I have this opportunity to present the country's highest recognition medal award to Ben Ryan," President Jioji Konrote said as the coach was made a Companion of the Order of Fiji.

The sevens players were each made officers of the Order of Fiji with the squad members and coach Ryan also receiving FJD$30 000 (R200 000) each.

The crowd roared their approval when Ryan finished a bowl of kava, the traditional drink taken at ceremonial occasions in Fiji and he drew even more applause, when he thanked the crowd in the native iTaukei language.

Ryan, whose value as a sevens coach skyrocketed after his Olympic success, has said he will take a short break from the game before deciding his future.

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