Refusing boat trip costs Tongan coaches' jobs

Pacific Island rugby has been hit by more controversy with revelations the Tongan sevens management were sacked for refusing to travel 10 days by boat to a recent tournament.

The Tongan Rugby Union made late travel changes to attend the South Pacific Mini Games, which also involved neighbouring nations Fiji and Samoa, in the French Islands of Wallis and Futuna late last year.

Instead of flying to the tournament on a scheduled six day trip, the union chose to send the team on an 1800 km return boat trip which stretched out to a 21 day venture.

A direct one-way boat route takes around two days but after making several stops travel plans blew out to five days each way.

The delegation to the tournament were told to pay TP$850 (NZ$545.45) for a ticket on a Japanese aid replacement ship, gifted after the old ferry Princess Ashika sank in 2009 with the loss of 74 people.

Meanwhile, a government delegation flew to Futuna at a cost of TP$57,000 (NZ$34,000).

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

When the Tongan sevens team arrived, they had no uniforms and had to borrow kit from the local sevens team and shorts from the women's team.

"Flights through Australia and New Zealand were too expensive so the team was going by boat," interim TRU chief executive Kitekei'aho Fuka told the Sunday Star-Times.

"The boat took about five days [one way] because it was going through each Island in Tonga before going to Futuna."

Respected former Fijian sevens coach Eddie Waqa, who was appointed in 2012 as Tongan director of sevens and responsible for men's and women's programmes, along with former Tongan sevens captain Tevita Tufia, had their coaching contracts terminated for objecting to the travel plans.

Waqa claims he has been made a scapegoat and is "another victim of the ongoing corruption and bad governance of the TRU". Former Tongan and Hurricanes lock Inoke Afeaki also challenged the decision to remove the coaches.

"If Tevita Tufia is not there I'll question it because that guy has the midas touch," Afeaki, who is now technical director at Singapore Rugby, said. "At the moment it seems the politics has come back into it and that's when we go backwards. It's a vicious cycle."

The Tongan sevens team will now be coached in the Wellington sevens leg on February 7 and 8 by board member, Manu Vunipola, while management roles are advertised.

"Those coaches didn't obey the board of director's orders to go. They ignored their responsibility," Fuka claimed.
 Asked whether he believed it was professional to send the team by boat, Fuka said:

"This is the Islands. We used to do that in the past, going on the boat to play rugby. It's not on for New Zealand and Australia but in the Islands we get used to this kind of stuff."

In the last 22 years Tonga has fired five presidents and seven CEOs because of corruption and poor governance.

Factions and self interest are understood to be brewing once again.

The board recently failed to pay the registration fee for the Oceania sevens tournament in Fiji, preventing Tonga from having the chance to qualify for the prestigious Commonwealth Games and the Hong Kong events this year - a major oversight with Olympic Games in Brazil looming in 2016.

TRU president and executive chairman, Epi Taione, also seems at odds with the CEO, after admitting the coaches should not have been sacked.

"It happened at a time where I admit I didn't have a great grip on the union," the former 18 test utility said.

"I was away from Tonga during that time organising the European tour and for family reasons as well. When I came back their contracts had already been terminated. The best I can do is basically pay them off. There's a lot of things where the union was at fault.

"It's finally come together now but there were more problems than the sevens team.

"We have gone back to the drawing board and we are regrouping. It will improve from now on. Our sevens needs a huge amount of work and resources."

This fallout comes after the International Rugby Board suspended military-controlled Fiji's $2.2 million funding grant for failing to comply with governance reforms.

Sunday Star Times