Tonga’s sporting teams need fair treatment

The Special Olympics team won three gold medals in Newcastle, but didn’t get a seniti from the government.

The Rugby Sevens team had to play in borrowed women’s shorts at the Mini South Pacific Games in Uvea.

Athletes picked to represent the kingdom at the same games had to hold fund raising events to pay for their tickets.

And now the government wants to send an official delegation to the Winter Olympics where Tonga will have just one athlete.

Just what is happening with sports funding in Tonga?

Tonga’s Head of Sport Delegation to this month’s Special Olympics Asia Pacific Games  in Australia has blasted the Tongan authorities for its lack of financial support.

Vanessa Heleta said approached Tongan sporting authorities for help, but was told they knew nothing about the Special Olympics.

Heleta , told the New Castle Herald it cost nearly 20,000 Tongan Pa’anga (Aus$12,000) to get the team to the games, which were held in Newcastle in New South Wales from November 30-December 7.

She said they were only managed to get to the games because of major sponsorship from  mobile telecommunications operator Digicel and minor sponsorship from the ANZ bank.

‘‘It just goes to show the support at home from the government and shows that Special Olympics is last on their list when it comes to sport,’’ Heleta told the paper.

‘‘They gave thousands of dollars to rugby league and when we tried to get some help, we were told ‘We’ve never heard of Special Olympics before’.

‘‘It’s living in denial.

‘‘It goes to show that these people are outcast and that they don’t care about them.’’

When they did get to Newcastle, the Tongans won nine medals, including three gold.

Tomasi Lolsesio Ma'asi won three gold medals in the 100m, 200m and 400m track and field.

Patiola Pahulu won two silver in bocce, Langalotu ‘Alofi won silver medal in bocce Tangikina Soakai won silver  in the shot put.

The two bronze medalists were Pauli Ma’afu in bocce and Tangikina Soakai in the 100m track and field.

The Tongan team’s financial plight became public knowledge when other athletes discovered they could not take part in the traditional swapping of Olympic pins because they didn’t have any.

Swapping Olympic pins is customary at every Olympic event where sport delegations, media organisations, sponsors and cultural groups exchange pins that feature their logos and colours.

Some fly, some go by boat

Tonga’s Special Olympics team are not alone in their experience of government funding for sport.

In  August there was an outburst of public anger after it was revealed that Tonga’s delegation to the South Pacific Mini Game 2013 in Wallis and Futuna had each been told to pay TP$850 (NZ$545.45) for a ticket on the MV Otuanga’ofa, while a government delegation flew to Uvea at a cost of TP$57,000 (NZ$34,000) and TP$24,000 (NZ$ 15,612.96) for the Rugby Union Seven Team.

Because of a shortfall in funding from the Ministry of Public Enterprise, the athletes then had to raise funds to pay for their tickets.

Sport team manager Takitoa Taumoepeau told local Kele’a newspaper it was important to have a government official  delegation to attend the Mini Games because Tonga would host the South Pacific Games in 2019.

He said he discussed the issue with the sport delegation and told them that some people would have to take the MV Otuanga’ofa to Futuna and Uvea while the rugby flew.

Taumoepeau said the Rugby Union Sevens team was due to play at the end of the games and it was cheaper to fly them there just before their match than pay for accommodation for the whole game.

Coach Edward Waqa and Tevita Tu’ifua refused  to travel by sea and the team was led at the Games by Manu Vunipola.

Even so, when the Tongan team arrived in Uvea they had no rugby uniforms and had to borrow kit from the Uvean Sevens  team and shorts from the Uvean women’s team.

The Tongan Rugby sevens team won bronze.

Tonga government support

The Tongan government announced in October that it would spend T$400,000 (NZ$259,000) to support sport in the kingdom.

The money was allocated to the Tongan Rugby Union team, the Tongan Rugby League team, and the Tongan Amateur Sports Association and National Olympic Committee.

Funding will be divided as follows:

  • 'Ikale Tahi Nothern Hemisphere Tour in November 2013 T$100,000 (NZ$65,000)
  • Mate Ma'a Tonga National Rugby League Team (2013 World Cup)  T$250,000 (NZ$162,000)
  • Tonga's Official Team to 2014 Winter Olympics Games  T$50,000 (NZ$32,000)

The contributions to the 'Ikale Tahi and the Mate Ma'a Tonga are for the players’ allowances.

No other sports received funding.

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