Pacific nations take aim at NZ tag football organisers

Tensions continue to rise between Pacific nations and New Zealand-based officials over ownership and management of national tag teams.

The issue has come to light yet again after concerns were raised at the Tag Football World Cup held in Sydney last year when a Samoan team competing had not been recognised by the Samoan government.

And now American Samoa has taken aim at the New Zealand Tag Federation (NZTFI) organisers with concerns surrounding the use of the name 'American Samoa' in recent events.

In a letter addressed to NZTFI and organisers of American Samoa NZ Tag Football, Sports Minister of American Samoa Pa'u Roy Taito Ausage has said that teams participating in the NZTFI tournaments without prior approval from the government and the people of American Samoa should be banned.

"American Samoa currently has a Tag Federation and a national team which represented American Samoa during the last Pacific Games held in Samoa in July 2019. We will seek legal action in the New Zealand courts in due course," the letter read.

The letter was posted online and was also shared on the Samoa Tag Incorporated Facebook page, confirming its support.

President of Samoa Tag Inc (STI), Faaofonuu JP Leota, said the Samoa International Tag Federation (SITF) group, which is New Zealand-based, needed permission from Samoa, and they must engage with STI in order to be recognised as a team from and representing Samoa.

"You shouldn't be using [the name] Samoa because there's a national body that's based in Samoa.

"So far, all those teams that are playing under that umbrella [NZTFI and ITF] are not a Samoan team. Our governing body is Pacific Tag Federation and we don't recognise ITF. If you want to be team Samoa, then just go through the proper procedures."

He said being associated with different organisations, under separate federations, was causing confusion among players, national teams and neighbouring countries.

"We don't want to stop people from representing Samoa - it's the representation," he said.

"It's not a nice look when the national federation is based in Samoa, we run programmes and tournaments here and we engage with our other Pacific nations and then all of a sudden there's a tournament happening in New Zealand and there's a Samoa team going there."

But for NZTFI National Development Officer Claude Iusitini, the main issue is that Samoa Tag Inc. is not recognised by the international body.

He said a review was carried out following Samoa's "shambolic" World Cup campaign in 2015.

Since then, Samoa Tag Inc. was formed and has been sanctioned under the newly-established Pacific Tag Federation for two years, meanwhile Samoa International Tag Football Inc. continued in New Zealand and have since been recognised as a sanctioned tag nation by the NZTFI and ITF.

"They choose to do it their way and completely disrespected the people that had been in the game and invested a lot of their time and effort in growing the game for Samoa, by Samoa, for the Samoan people and tried to re-invent the wheel without any due diligence or any consultation with the International Board's recommendations and we have the situation that we have today," he said.

Iusitini called the legal threats from American Samoa laughable saying he could not see a relationship between American Samoa, STI and NZTFI from ever being established unless some form of structure was reformed at the top.

"It's just so full of holes, just like the threats we had in 2018. It's just the same rubbish back in Apia. We're ignoring it, unless they can bring some maturity to the table, stop being arrogant in the way they have been portraying the ITF in particular and making slanderous and negative social media posts about our organisation...

"If you want to be tier 1 status you've got to grow the game, you've got to actually show us facts of how many kids are playing, what's the stats on all the tournaments that you're running, do you have constitutions, do you have codes of conduct, show us your audited accounts, data breakdown of your play numbers. It's standard sports business practice."

Australian Oz Tag chief executive Bill Harrigan, who also sits on the Board of the ITF, said it was disappointing to see Samoa and American Samoa deny players of heritage the right to use their country names when competing in NZTFI tournaments.

The door was always open for Samoa and American Samoa to apply for ITF membership but they need to follow the correct procedures subject to the ITF's constitution, he said.

"We just want to make sure that when we accept a particular country coming in with the people running that entity that one, they do create proper structure legally and then two, that they do play the game and grow the game within that country and that's what our consitution says."

Despite legal threats made by Samoa and American Samoa, Harrigan said teams could and would continue to use their country names because that was their country of heritage.