PM refutes Ministry ban on girls boxing and playing rugby; former Catholic principal says it would be a disgrace if church agreed

Fepaki e 'Eiki Palemia mo 'ene Minisita Ako hono ta'ofi 'o e fanau ako fefine 'i he Ako Ma'olunga 'a Tonga ke 'oua te nau sipoti fuhu pe 'akapulu. Na’e me’a e ‘Eiki Palemia, Samuela ‘Akilis Pohiva, he ‘aho ni ‘o pehe, ‘oku ‘ikai ko ha tu’tu’uni ngaue fakapule’anga ‘a e tohi ko ia mei he Potungaue Ako mo e Ako Ngaue ki he ‘Apiako Ma’olunga ‘o Tonga ‘o ta’ofi e kau atu e fanauako fefine ki he fe’auhi ‘akapulu mo e fuhu. Taimi tatau me'a puleako Katolika ki mu'a Pātele 'Aisake Vaisima 'o pehē 'oku te’eki ha tu’utu’uni pehe ia ki he fanau ako Katolika pea ‘e 'ikai 'ata lelei ia moe Katolika kapau te nau kau mo kinautolu he tui pehee 'Oku 'ikai ta'ofi foki heni 'a e fanau fefine ia 'o e ngaahi ako 'anga kolisi kehe hange ko e ako'anga siasi mo e taautaha 'a ia ko e meimei peseti e 90 'o e fanau fefine 'oku nau ako kinautolu ai.

Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva has disagreed with a decision by his Minister of Education to ban girls from Tonga High School boxing or playing rugby.

He said the decision was not in line with his government’s policy.

“It is the Government’s responsibility to provide opportunities for all the students to participate in all sports,” the Prime Minister said.

“It is for the individual students and their parents to decide whether or not they should participate in a particular sport like rugby and boxing.”

Meanwhile a former Catholic principal said if Catholic schools agreed with the Ministry’s decision it would be “a disgrace” for the church.

Fr. ‘Aisake Vaisima, who was principal of ‘Apifo’ou College before he left Tonga for Fiji for a new role in January, told Kaniva News the Catholic church’s education authority had not banned its school girls from taking part in boxing and rugby.

The comments came after a controversial letter from the Ministry of Education and Training was leaked to news media, sparking an outrage that polarised international news as far away as New Zealand, Australia and UK.

Majority not affected

It is understood the ban does not affect the  majority of school girls in Tonga, especially the church and private schools which are attended  by 90 percent of all students in the kingdom.

In the letter, an education authority told the principal of Tonga High School, a government sponsored institute, that a decision had been made by the Director of Education to ban its girls from participating in rugby and boxing.

The letter, which was written in Tongan, was dated March 15.

In Tongan it said:

“Ko hono ‘uhinga he ‘oku fepaki ia mo ‘etau ‘ulungaanga fakafonua ki hono tauhi ke molumalu ‘a ha’a fafine, ‘o taau mo e tala tukufakaholo na’e fatu’aki ‘a e fakava’e na’e fakatoka talu pea mei ono’aho ‘o kehe ai ‘a Tonga pea mei ha toe fonua ‘i he Pasifiki pea mo mamani.”

This translates into English as: “The reason is because it is against our culture to keep women dignified so it still upholds the tradition of which its basis had been set out since the olden days making Tonga exceptional in the Pacific and the world.”

“Prime Minister, Hon Samuela ‘Akilisi Pohiva, said the letter from the Ministry of Education and Training to Tonga High School purporting to ban girls from participating in rugby and boxing is not Tongan Government policy,” the Prime Minister’s office said this afternoon.

“Sports is good for the health and the wellbeing of the people and this Government, like previous governments, actively encourages the participation of every Tongan student in all sports without discrimination.”

International reaction

New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, has expressed her disapproval over the ban.

Ms Ardern said New Zealand’s aid support for sports in Tonga would not be threatened, but she disagreed with the directive.

“As a school student I played touch rugby and I would encourage all young women to engage in whatever sporting code they are interested in,” the New Zealand Prime Minister said.

“We provide funding via MFAT to Tonga to encourage children’s participation in sports. A young woman will still be able to do that through their villages, even if this dictate is made by these schools.”

The New Zealand-funded Sports for Health Rugby Programme was launched at Kolomotu’a Community Rugby Field in February.

Known as Quick Rip, it was intended to focus on girls and boys aged 13 – 18 years of age.

New Zealand provided  $4 million to support efforts in four Pacific countries, including Tonga, to reduce the rate of non-communicable diseases in the Pacific.

Some people on Facebook supported the Ministry’s move and said rugby and boxing were sports for men only and Tongan girls should not take part in them.

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