28 Mar 2020

Sport: TNRL confident of backing as it appeals expulsion

3:15 pm on 28 March 2020

Tonga's National Rugby League is filing an appeal with the International Court of Arbitration for Sport in a final bid to remain the governing body for the sport in the kingdom.

A decision to expel the TNRL from the International Rugby League, IRL, was confirmed by a membership vote this month.

The situation comes after a long-standing and high profile battle over governance which has involved star players as well.

Tongan fans celebrate their team's win over Great Britain in Hamilton

Photo: Photosport

TNRL Secretary William Edwards said despite the negative outcome there was a sense of relief knowing their case would be heard in the Court of Arbitration after exhausting every avenue underneath the IRL.

"I was disappointed. I was very disappointed because you wouldn't believe the amount of lies and the only way to tell you this is that it's going to come out in the Court of Arbitration," he said.

Edwards claimed the IRL continued to "go against their own rules."

"They expelled us on a governance restructure which is not under the rules and which was never requested by another member," he said.

"Their answer to that was 'it says that we can make any rules that we want because it says that we must do anything for the good of rugby league'.

"The fundamental premise of any constitution around the world is that you must be charged for an offence and you cannot be punished for anything that is not an offence and that offence must be expressly stated in law.

Edwards was forced to miss the Special General Meeting, where full members voted on the expulsion, because of flight restrictions due to the Covid-19 pandemic. However he said papers to appeal the decision were already being processed by the TNRL's lawyers.

Tired and frustrated with the continuous "he-said-she-said debate," Edwards said it was time for them to be heard independently.

"We're going to an independent body that's going to write a detailed ruling based on the evidence before them and we believe that that evidence will expose them to making up lies."

"Basically, the decisions have just been decided by them at board level. We don't have a representative there, we've asked for mediation and they denied our right to mediation," Edwards said.

"Everything's gone a bit haywire, but you know we'll get there. It's just the uncertainty of not knowing what's going to happen for the next few months that's the frightening thing."

TNRL claims it still has local support

Edwards insisted the TNRL still had the support of the Tongan government and local league clubs.

"The government is still on our side, the clubs are still on our side - they're writing a letter as we speak - and so, they're (IRL) going to get a backlash against it because I know what the legislation is that's coming out and the legislation is not going to allow them to do what they're doing [to the TNRL]."

He added that representatives of Pacific nations who voted against the expulsion have also showed support in continuing to work with them going forward.

Nanise Fifita's lawyer William Edwards.

TNRL's William Edwards Photo: RNZ Pacific/Koro Vaka'uta

Fiji, the Cook Islands and Samoa told RNZ Pacific they had voted to support the TNRL.

"No justice has been served," said Edwards.

"I've never seen it before. When the person who makes the decision against you gets a right to vote against you on the appeal."

"They had nine votes. Three of them were New Zealand, Australia and England, who were the decision makers to expel us and the island representative who spoke on that night [of the special general meeting] was the one who wrote the complaint, so they've got four votes against us who are responsible for getting rid of us. How can you say that that was justice?"

It's now a waiting game for the TNRL while the situation with coronavirus continued to evolve. Edwards was still in New Zealand and blocked from leaving the country due to the four-week lockdown.

Until then, he'd continue working on the case against the international body.

"We're ready to go ahead with the process and let me tell you, they've got bigger problems than Tonga… let's get it on in Arbitration," he said.

Edwards admitted he wasn't confident on his own accord, but after talking to three different lawyers he was ready for what's to come.

"To get that same view from three different lawyers expressed to us and that they're prepared to draft the appeal for us… I'm happy," he added.

'NRL suspension will hurt the international game'

Meanwhile Edwards said he believed the international game as a whole would suffer greatly at the hands of the coronavirus.

Earlier this week the NRL announced the season was suspended after a pandemic expert told them it was no longer possible to play through the crisis.

The Asia Pacific Rugby League also postponed the Oceania Cup matches scheduled for June which included a blockbuster test between the New Zealand and Tonga. There was a hope the matches could be played later in the year.

However Edwards said he was convinced there would be no more international football in 2020.

"The international rugby league will probably be the first casualty of this whole thing," he said.

"There's going to be job losses, players taking pay cuts… all these things are going to mount up and the first casualty is going to be the International rugby league because the NRL aren't going to give any money to the international rugby league programmes, not even their players because basically they get a bigger return from NRL on TV programming content.

"There will be no international football this year and there's no way they're going to release players to play in September. "

Tevita Pangai Junior tries to close down hat-trick hero Shaun Johnson.

A highly-touted rematch between Tonga and NZ has been postponed Photo: PHOTOSPORT