Tonga Head Coach Kristian Woolf

There may finally be stability in Tongan rugby league after International Rugby League has received an application for full membership from Tonga Ma’a Tonga Rugby League.

The application comes after the formation of a committee by the IRL to oversee the rebuilding of rugby league in the kingdom, which has suffered from prolonged and bitter disputes over the management of the game by the Tonga National Rugby League.

The International Rugby League expelled the Tonga National Rugby League in February this year.

The TNRL’s membership of the IRL was suspended in October 2019 after a row erupted over the sacking of coach Kristian Woolf.

There were also disputes over governance, control, management, and the inability to field a team for the World Cup 9s.

The TNRL has taken an appeal against its expulsion to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

In May Tonga’s government said it would not engage with the IRL while the TNRL dispute was before the court.

The Prime Minister’s office said at the time it was not confident the IRL would be neutral and unbiased in establishing an Implementation Committee to try to resolve the dispute.

However, the IRL’s Global Operations Manager Danny Kazandjian said the Implementation Committee had brought together several parties interested in Tongan rugby league and helped them form a coherent group, under mutually acceptable rules, structure and leadership.

“The committee achieved that with great professionalism and skill while working under close media scrutiny, especially in Tonga,” Kazandjian said.

TMTRL’s President, Lord Fakafanua, said the government’s stance towards his body was “unfortunate, but we’re very hopeful that the relationship will improve.”

Radio New Zealand reported that 22 clubs attended a meeting in May recognising the TMTRL as the governing body of the sport in Tonga.

The main points

  • Tonga Ma’a Tonga Rugby League has applied to become a member of International Rugby League
  • The application was received by Asia Pacific Rugby League and will be reviewed before being moved on to the IRL.

For more information

Tonga Ma’a Tonga Rugby League submits IRL application

IRL moves to end Tonga dispute by expelling TNRL

Tonga’s government refuses to engage with IRL

New Tongan rugby league body hoping to unite clubs

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