Sport: Tonga insists it will be ready for 2019 Pacific Games
Tonga's government and sporting officials believe the country will be ready to host the Pacific Games in 2019, despite a series of setbacks.
Officials in Tonga insist the country is on track to host a successful Pacific Games in 2019, despite financial woes and the resignation of senior sporting officials.
The Kingdom was awarded hosting rights three years ago but construction is close to a year behind schedule.
Vinnie Wylie reports.
The Pacific Games Council has reminded the country not to try and compete with recent hosts Papua New Guinea and New Caledonia, who spent considerable money building brand new venues. The President of Tonga's Amateur Sports Association and National Olympic Committee, or TASANOC, Lady Robyn Tuivakano, agrees Tonga should only spend within its means.
LADY ROBYN TUIVAKANO: It's only the swimming pool and the golf course [that] is a worry now because that has to [be decided whether to] extend the nine holes to make it 18. The Organising Committee has already been established and they are on the road and they are working on it. There is no hindrance or obstacle - government is building the facilities and everybody knows what they're doing and working together as a team. We can do it.
Progress towards 2019 has not been helped by divisions between the government and TASANOC. The Committee's spending at the July's Pacific Games is being audited after the government was forced to pay for the flights of 59 athletes to Papua New Guinea. Former TASANOC interim CEO 'Ahongalu Fusimālohi subsequently resigned, while Senior Vice President Lennie Niit quit earlier this year in frustration. TASANOC Secretary General Takitoa Taumoepeau, who is also on the Pacific Games Organising Committee, says there's been a lack of teamwork between key officials.
TAKITOA TAUMOEPEAU: We are working very closely with government through the organising committee and we're also going to build up the relationship between the organising committee and TASANOC. If it comes to the situation where we need to strengthen TASANOC by having to change some personnel I think for the better - and we'll probably do it - but we need a strong TASANOC. At the end of the day the Games was awarded to TASANOC and TASANOC established this organising committee to deliver the Games on their behalf.
The Minister of Youth, Employment and Sports, Fe'ao Vakata, criticised the sporting federations for being disorganised but says relations are improving.
FE'AO VAKATA: We are doing what we can from our side from the Ministry. I met with the interim CEO for TASANOC, Emiline Tuita, and we have agreed on a lot of things that moves sports forward here in Tonga and she's very enthusiastic and we will be working together.
Construction work on Games facilities has been delayed while the government attempts to raise more than $60 million US dollars. In the recently-passed budget it proposed hiking the airport departure tax from $30 US dollars to $75 dollars, and imposing a small levy on foreign currency exchange transactions.
The measures have now been deferred, following a petition from the business community to the King in Privy Council. Fe'ao Vakata says they're also waiting on the Chinese government to give the go-ahead on other facilities such as an athletes' village, which will be housed at boarding schools. He expects all major construction will have begun by early next year.
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