TNRL expulsion criticised: like "trying to kill a fly with a bazooka"

5:09 am on 12 October 2020

The Chair of the Asia Pacific Rugby League Confederation has criticised the decision to remove Tonga's representative from the world governing body.

Tonga perform the haka before facing Australia in 2019.

Tonga perform the haka before facing Australia in 2019. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

The Tonga National Rugby League (TNRL) was expelled from the International Rugby League (IRL) in March, after a long-running battle over governance, money and a threatened player boycott.

APRL Chairman Sandis Tsaka believed the approach was too heavy-handed.

"There may have been some issues but the way that we tried to resolve the issue in Tonga was, I think, trying to kill a fly with a bazooka, if you know what I mean," he said.

"There was a better way to address the issues and get the outcome that was desired for the interests of the game in Tonga and the international game. The way we went about it, we felt, wasn't the right way to do it."

The battle over the governance of rugby league in Tonga is ongoing.

The battle over the governance of rugby league in Tonga is ongoing. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Fiji, Samoa and the Cook Islands voted in support of the TNRL.

Sandis Tsaka, who is also chair of the Papua New Guinea Rugby Football League, says they backed their Pacific Island neighbours.

"I think all our Pacific nations were all united in that view," he said.

"We felt that we made our position on that - as a Pacific we do resolve this issue - and unfortunately I think it went down the way it did."

"All of us Pacific members voted at that time, that our position was getting Tonga (National) Rugby League out of International Rugby League was not the solution to the problem. There's another way to do it."

Sandis Tsaka was re-elected for a third term as Chair of the PNGRFL.

Sandis Tsaka was re-elected to a third term as PNGRFL Chairman in June. Photo: Supplied.

Australia, New Zealand and the Rugby Football League in England, who laid the original complaint against the TNRL, all voted to expel Tonga's representative from the IRL.

Sandis Tsaka said such a situation would never happen to one of the sport's major players.

"You can't kick the Australian Rugby League out of the International Rugby League for some little issue in Australia and the same thing should apply across [the world]," he argued.

"There were some issues that needed to be addressed but I think by kicking Tonga out of the International Rugby League was not the solution to the problem and it still is not."

Australia rugby league team celebrates a try against the Kiwis.

Sandis Tsaka says New Zealand and Australia would never face the same scrutiny that has been inflicted upon Tonga. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

The Asia-Pacific Rugby League Board has already recommended a new governing body to represent Tonga, with Tonga Ma'a Tonga Rugby League (TMTRL) also having the support of the current Tongan players and coach.

TNRL's appeal against its expulsion from the IRL has been adjourned until December.

But Tsaka believed a window of opportunity still remained to broker a resolution.

"We hope that we can find an opportunity to build bridges between the different organisations out of Tonga and the different people that are involved," he said.

"So that we feel from the APRLC that the Pacific way may find the solution to solve this impasse and get Tonga Rugby League and rugby league in the Asia Pacific united again going forward."

The Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland

TNRL has appealed its expulsion to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Photo: AFP

"We always felt that to dismember Tongan Rugby League was the wrong way to go around it. The way to deal with it is to address the issues at Tonga Rugby League that were actually affecting the game.

"We feel that right now we feel that right now there is an opportunity to do that - bring all the parties in Tonga Rugby League together."