International court confirms expulsion of Tonga National Rugby League

Kuo 'ikai tali 'e he Fakamaau'anga Fakavaha'apule'anga ki he Sipoti' (CAS) e tangi 'a e kautaha Liiki 'a Tonga' ne tataki 'e he Sea Siaosi Koloamatangi mo loea Willima Clivve Edward Jr 'o pehē ne ta'efakalao hono tuli kinautolu ki tu'a 'e he IRL. Pehe 'e he CAS ne 'ikai fie ngāue fakataha 'a e kautaha liiki ni ia mo e IRL pea ko ia ai kuo 'ikai tali 'enau tangi'.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) on Tuesday confirmed the International Rugby League’s (IRL) dismissal of Tonga National Rugby League (TNRL) from the international sport body.

William Edwards. Photo: RNZ Pacific/Koro Vaka’uta

IRL suspended TNRL in 2019 after the Tongan governing sport body sacked the Mate Ma’a Tonga coach Kristian Woolf citing leaked information which contained what it described as “inaccuracies”.

The information was allegedly part of a letter of concern written by a group of players to the International Federation, the National Rugby League (NRL), the government and other stakeholders in August 2020.

The group including key players Jason Taumalolo and Andrew Fifita sent the letter in support of Woolf and wanting him to stay.

The dispute divided the country, international and local rugby league players and fans as well as two governments – the current Tu’i’onetoa government and the outgoing government which was led by former Acting Prime Minister Sēmisi Sika.

Two rugby league bodies were established and existed as a result with one under the Mate Ma’a Tonga banner supported by the disgraced TNRL, and the Tonga Ma’a Tonga (TMT) with its new international rugby league team known as Kau To’a, under the control of newly appointed president Lord Speaker Fakafanua and Chairman Sika.

The TMT was appointed by an IRL implementation committee.

The Tu’i’onetoa government supported TNRL and following TMT appointment it released a press release saying,  it held strong reservations regarding the Implementation Committee, “including the appropriateness of the proposed governance structure, the composition of its membership and the institutional arrangement.”

It also said it still recognised the TNRL as the governing body in the kingdom and was awaiting the outcome of its appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

The appeal

TNRL, through its Secretary and lawyer, William Clive Edward, appealed its expulsion before the sport’s highest court in Switzerland in December.

CAS made its decision and said yesterday in a statement that TNRL had refused to cooperate with the IRL’s investigation and failed to consider good governance recommendations.

“The panel of CAS arbitrators … established that expulsion was a proportional disciplinary sanction for TNRL’s failure to comply with its IRL membership duties,” Reuter reports.

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