Island News

Rugby changed my life, says ex-jailbird

Written By : EMOSI LASAQA . Without wearing any shoes Timoci Lidinalagi a.k.a James Tuibau walked from Nadi to Lautoka. It took him well over three hours. If he is
29 Aug 2009 12:00

Written By : EMOSI LASAQA . Without wearing any shoes Timoci Lidinalagi a.k.a James Tuibau walked from Nadi to Lautoka.
It took him well over three hours.
If he is lucky enough, he’d be able to catch a ride on a back of a carrier or get a free bus ride.
He did this while he was running away from the Law Enforcers.
He kept doing this, until he was introduced to rugby
Born and bred in Narewa Village in Nadi, Lidinalagi said it was through rugby that gave him a second chance in life.
“I was thrown into jail when I was just 14-years-old,” he said.
“I came from a well respected family but it was all the wrong decisions that I made in life that landed me in trouble.”
Today, Lidinalagi goes around Nadi, doing several odd jobs to help look after his children.
He said rugby helped him turn a new chapter in his life.
Looking back, Lidinalagi spent a better part of his life behind bars.
He was detained at the Naboro Prisons for robbery and later at the Natabua Reformatory in Lautoka.
It was at Natabua where his rugby talent was discovered and a special rule was made for him.
And the rule was that he had to be released every weekend to participate in the Lautoka Rugby Union club competition.
He played Number 8 for the Prisons team alongside Peni Rokodiva Senior.
Rokodiva Snr is the father of national rugby sevens reps Tomasi Mawi and Peni Rokodiva Junior.
Released from prison in 1986, Lidinalagi turned to the oval ball to prove his worth in society.
“In fact this was only way for me to redeem myself as people had a different a perception whenever they see me or hear about my name,” he explained.
He soon made his mark in Lautoka and was known as an explosive flanker.
Sooner or later, he felt it was time to switch his allegiance and play for Nadi.
“I’ve been knocking on the national selector’s door for sometime but was overlooked. Someone from Lautoka told me to play for Nadi so it could fast track my chances of donning the white jumper
“But when I came to Nadi, they told me that it is easier for me to don the national jumper than the Nadi jersey. I immediately felt that it was a way of rejecting me because of my criminal record.”
Although he was discouraged at first, Lidinalagi decided to move on to Nadroga and was sooner selected into the Western team that ruled the local rugby scene for from 1993 to 1995.
“The Western team at that time had the likes of Marika Korovou, Manasa Qoro, Ilaitia Savai, Savenaca Aria and Samisoni Rabaka.”
But Lidinalagi still felt that he was not treated right because of his past and this made him to move to New Zealand and played for the Otorohanga Rugby Club in Hamilton.
He returned to Fiji and was offered another contract in Japan but he was not released by the Fiji Rugby Union.
Few other clubs expressed their interest but the rugby authorities rued his chances.
In 1997, he silently slipped out of the country and joined the Sri Lanka Air Force team where he was later promoted to become their rugby technical advisor and later the coaching position.
He came back to Fiji in 1999 hoping for another crack into the national side for the Rugby World Cup but was overlooked again.
Lidinalagi’s love for this game has been infectious however, he have been engaged in developing club rugby ever since.
He has coached the likes of national rugby fullback Norman Ligairi, national rugby sevens coach Iliesa Tanivula when he was part of the Denarau Babas side many years ago.
The 44-year-old father of eight said there’s this stigma attached to an ex- prisoner for the rest of his life
“No one likes crime. No one likes criminals. Very few people care about a criminal’s reasons for being a criminal. I feel that my past was the reason why I was treated differently,” he said.
For him, there is no justification, no vindication, and no respite from the condemnation that is upon him, once he has donned the cloak of evil.
“I sometime feel that I was born under the wrong sign with the wrong planets in opposition. The feeling of- there he is the guy you don’t really ever trust,” he said.
In the era when the game have gone professional, Lidinalagi said he had once wished for time to roll back so he can take another shot at his dream of giving a better life to his children.
“I haven’t been carrying that burden. Both as a fugitive and as an ex-con, I decided to go underground and live my life as a normal human being without ever revealing this dark past that I’ve tucked away neatly under a different identity.
“But I feel that injustice in the game’s system will spoil the future of a lot of people. The provincial level is no exceptional where the decision on who to play and who not to totally depend on who you know and where you’re from. That, I think is killing the sport- that is slowly but painfully.”
Now he has finally accepted that he was treated differently because of his past.
But however, he is hopeful of a change in mindset towards former inmates that will help them move in life.



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