Tonga PM denies support for proposed rugby league governing body

The Tongan Prime Minister has rejected a claim by the International Rugby League (IRL) that the government signalled its support for a proposed new rugby league governing body in the kingdom.

The Tonga National Rugby League (TNRL) was expelled by the IRL membership in March.

The governing body confirmed last week it had received an expression of interest from Tonga Ma'a Tonga Rugby League (TMTRL) to be the new recognised member of the international federation.

An Implementation Committee appointed by the IRL is currently working with TMTRL to prepare an application for new membership from Tonga and hopes to hold an inaugural AGM in the next couple of weeks.

IRL Global Operations Manager Danny Kazandjian also stated that CEO Nigel Wood had been in contact with the country's Prime Minister, Pohiva Tu'ionetoa" and that the IRL would like to thank him and his government for their support and encouragement of this process."

Kazandjian also stated that the Tongan government "has committed to working closely with IRL to see the restoration of Tonga to the international rugby league community."

But Mr Tu'ionetoa has denied the IRL's claims, telling Vavau Politics Online News (VPON Media) the information is not correct.

The Prime Minister's office previously informed the IRL in March "that the expulsion of the TNRL is not supported by the Government of Tonga".

The TNRL has appealed its expulsion to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland and Mr Tu'ionetoa said the government would await the final outcome of this case before passing judgement.

"There is a Law for the Kingdom of Tonga, and everyone should respect and abide with the Law regardless if you like it or not," the Prime Minister told VPON Media.

"Tonga Rugby League still currently have legal Board, so as a court case to be solved from both sides who claimed their rights to legally operate the Rugby League here in Tonga.

"Once the jurisdiction of Court finalises the outcome of the claim the Government of Tonga will decide the way forward based on the outcome of the court case.

"No one else should be allowed to come and decide what is good for Tonga and its sports apart from the Law of Tonga. I have no idea about this claim and where the information comes from, but it is not true."

The Tonga National Rugby League was due to hold its AGM in February but Secretary William Edwards said all of their focus had been directed towards appealing their original explusion from the International Rugby League, while some members questioned the point of holding one before the outcome of their appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport is known.

The TNRL held a Board meeting on Friday and Edwards said they were surprised when they read the IRL statement claiming to have the support of the Tongan government.

He said one of the TNRL directors passed on the publication to Tonga's Minister of Police, Lord Nuku, who informed the Prime Minister at a cabinet meeting later that same day.

A lawyer by trade, Edwards said the TNRL's expulsion from IRL was confirmed on 21 March and he filed their statement of appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport on 9 April, before refiling with additional information two days later.

The lawyer assigned to TNRL's case acknowledged receipt of the statement of appeal on 20 April and Edwards said he received a copy of the Court's letter serving the IRL with notice of the appeal on 24 April.

The IRL have 20 days to file its response to the statement of appeal, which expires on Friday.