How do Tonga, Loyola Marymount and rugby tie into the Winter Olympics? Very oddly. The story of Bruno Banani, or Fuahea Semi, as he was formerly known, is one of the weirdest in recent memory and its being picked up by news outlets all over the world, thanks the ingenuity of a Loyola Marymount rugby alum.
Tonga wanted a winter Olympian but needed sponsorship money and help of those familiar with a winter sport to help make it happen. Tongan princess Salote Mafile'o Pilolevu Tuita got in touch with a marketing firm that operates in Germany, the United States and Peru – Makai. The owner and founder of that company is Loyola Marymount rugby alum Robbie Thain.
Makai hatched the plan that would lead to Semi, an amateur Tongan rugby player and student, changing his name to Bruno Banani, that of a German underwear company, moving to Germany and eventually becoming the first Tongan ever in the Winter Games.
There are strict policies in place in regards to sponsorship of Olympic athletes, so Bruno Banani the underwear company wouldn’t have been able to sponsor Fuahea Semi in the traditional sense if he were going to remain eligible for the Games. But Makai found a loophole in the IOC’s regulations – have Semi legally become Bruno Banani.
"The Bruno Banani Olympics campaign is a perfect example of how our culture drives original thinking and resourcefulness. We embrace internal entrepreneurship and project ownership. We are proud that our ethos produces inspirational campaigns globally." Thain told the Sacramento Bee, "When we started Makai in Europe in 2006, we wanted to revolutionize advertising and marketing there. We were passionate for guerilla marketing.'Bruno Banani goes Olympic' is typical of our exceptional marketing ideas."
Banani finished 34th, 33rd, 32nd and 30th in his runs this weekend, failing to compete for a medal. But he did represent Tonga in the Winter Olympics, which was the goal all along.
Below is a trailer for a documentary made on Banani’s Olympic journey.
Coconut Power trailer from Tom Chapman on Vimeo.