Tonga government defends funding of Pacific Games team

NUKU’ALOFA, 03 JULY 2019 (RNZ PACIFIC) – The Tonga Sports Council has defended the government’s funding of athletes attending the Pacific Games in Samoa.

Last week RNZ Pacific reported King Tupou VI had contributed funds to help the team because of a funding shortfall.

But the Council, which is a government agency, said the team had been properly funded until Tonga’s Sports Association and National Olympic Committee, or TASANOC, included an additional seven teams to Apia.

“There was agreement made that there was a particular standard to be met,” said Council Chair Ikani Taliai.

“So TASANOC, the sports federations and Government had agreed, and that’s minuted, on these particular standards and these are the very same standards that the Tonga Sports Council adhered to in the selection of teams for government to fund.”

Taliai said sports agencies had previously agreed that only the teams that achieved pre-set qualifying levels would be funded but then TASANOC decided, unilaterally, to send another seven teams that had not reached the qualifying standards.

“18 teams got over the mark and seven didn’t so based on the agreement government is offering to pay for the full trip to Samoa of those 18 teams,” he said.

“As the reporting has happened the King offered to pay a shortfall so I wanted to clarify that there is no shortfall from government’s point of view because we are fully funding the teams that have reached the agreed standards.”

Taliai acknowledged that the selection of the final team to compete in Samoa is under the authority of TASANOC and the sports federations, not the government.

“So government does not select the team however government funds pretty much every last penny of preparation and for the trip.”

Taliai said there seems to be a disconnent between those who run the Pacific Games and the governments who are expected to fund them.

“The selection of a team to participate at a Pacific Games government’s of the Pacific have no control of that yet they are expected to fund the lions share of that,” he said.

“In Tonga it is always difficult for a standard to be met if a governing body will include teams that don’t reach that standard – that undermines any progression of encouraging athletes and sports federations to get better at their trade.”

The issue is expected to be high on the agenda when the regions Sports Ministers meet in Apia on Friday.

The Pacific Games will officially open on Sunday, with about 3,500 athletes from 24 nations to compete in 26 sports from Monday.

Tonga was originally awarded hosting rights in 2012 but pulled out two years ago after the government claimed it could not afford to stage the event.

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