TRU’s signing of agreement with World Rugby and Tongan government a welcome step, but the game must be properly reformed

Kaniva News Commentary

The news that the Tonga Rugby Union has finally signed an agreement that will put the union under joint management and ensure funding for the troubled body will be welcomed by the game’s supporters.

World Rugby had threatened to cut off all funding if the TRU, which had missed several deadlines, did not sign.

Tonga Rugby Union President Siaosi Pohiva finally signed the agreement between the TRU, World Rugby and the Tongan government on Friday evening.

The plan is that the TRU will be run by a joint management committee until a number of long standing problems are resolved.

The signing will please the game’s supporters, but it is long overdue and only the latest step in a long running saga that has reflected appallingly badly on the way the game has  been managed.

This is not the first time the TRU has been in trouble and  not the first time the world governing body has been brought in to sort out the mess.

Controversy

The game has suffered from years of controversy with accusations of mismanagement, money disappearing or being unaccounted for, sponsorship deals going wrong, old team mates fighting and the national team being reduced at one stage to setting up a stall in an Otahuhu car park to raise funds for players.

As Kaniva News reported last week, the threat to cut off funding to the TRU would have meant the national body would have been unable to meet its World Cup obligations next hear.

There were serious concerns that with funding cuts the Ikale Tahi could drop to Tier Three, be unable to meet Samoa next year or send a team to the Olympic Rugby sevens.

Unfortunately, while the seriousness of the situation was clear to everybody, the TRU dragged its feet.

Pacific Rugby Players Chairman Hale Pole told RNZ the TRU missed two deadlines, even after World Rugby and the government had agreed it was the best way forward.

The situation could not go on.

Sadly, this is not the first time that the TRU has been in trouble and in the past solutions have simply led to more disputes.

In 2011 the TRU was effectively put into administration by the then International Rugby Board when it could not account for what happened to a NZ$2.5 million development grant.

The then Finance Minister Sunia Fili described the ousted board as “dangerous.”

Controversy then erupted over claims that former IRB president Bob Tuckey was being paid TP$300,000 for his role in running the rugby union authority.

In 2015 former Ikale Tahi captain Finau Maka and rugby chairman  Epi Taione fell out spectacularly over a sponsorship deal from French company Team One, which promised to give the TRU $300,000.

Maka claimed Taione took a 20% cut of the money even though he did nothing to attract it.

Four years later the French company took the TRU to court in Dublin, demanding a cut of the Pacific Island’s Rugby World Cup payments.

It said the TRU owed it about €144,000 for breaching the 2015 sponsorship deal.

Tonga is a small country that punches well above its weight in both rugby codes, but in both cases the behavior of their governing bodies has led them into trouble.

After a decade of disputes, scandals, in-fighting and serious financial questions, Tongan rugby players and fans deserve better than this.

Last week the International Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland began a hearing to try to resolve the situation with rugby league in the kingdom.

Hopefully Friday’s signing will offer a solution to rugby union’s problems.

Under the agreement, the TRU must demonstrate that it is sound administratively so it can re-stablish trust in sponsors and funding bodies.

It must be put on a sound financial and administrative footing, even if that means that those involved in the scandals of the past must relinquish power and depart.

Without a sound financial footing, Tonga will continue to lose its best players overseas. With its finances so often in disarray, the TRU will never be able to offer the same rewards as the All Blacks or the big European teams.

Reform in the boardroom is the first step to truly showing what Tonga’s rugby union players can do on the field.

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