By RNZ/Radio New Zealand is republished with permission.
NRL’s Game Development Manager in Tonga, Tavake Fangupo, is hopeful training programs being run virtually by the NRL and Australian Defence Force will boost confidence in coaches in the region.
Over 70 players, coaches and officials in the country participated in a five-day course to ensure participants are exposed to the game and other opportunities despite Covid-19.
This is the third virtual sports programme the NRL have provided virtually because of the pandemic, with sessions covering coaching, refereeing, nutrition, first aid, CPR and strength and conditioning.
While a new governing body for rugby league is still to be established in Tonga, Fangupo said the courses are a great way to educate officials and to provide opportunities to some of the smaller islands.
“We have three outer islands, Vava’u, Ha’apai and Eua. We pretty much try to get the ones in the outer islands to attend because they’ll probably never get that opportunity,” he said.
“Coaches and referees and sports trainers here are able to translate that to to the local coaches or referees and sports trainers [because there is] obviously the language barrier.”
“But the idea is to help coach and educate local coaches and it’s worked really well. Touch wood my biggest concern was that we might have internet issues, but we’re quite fortunate that wasn’t an issue.”
Initially the courses have been for rugby league, but the long-term goal is for other sports to get involved as well, he added.
“We had netball join us this year for the first time, it’s normally just rugby league but we reached out to netball to see if they wanted to participate.”
“A lot of them have never experienced anything like that before so it was quite good for them to be part of it. This is an ongoing partnership that we’ve got with the Australian Defence, so we want other sports to have that opportunity to join also.”
NRL Pacific Program Manager, Michael Asensio, told NRL.com that an increase in trained coaches will create positive role models in the region.
“An increase in trained coaches will create positive role models and give Tongan participants the best chance to be exposed to the game and experience the many social and health benefits,” he said.
“We’re incredibly proud of the important work of the men and women of the ADF and look forward to working together to achieve positive outcomes for Tongan communities.”
Director general of the Australian Defence Force Sports Cell, Brigadier Phil Winter, told the league website the partnership with the NRL has helped strengthen the relationship between Australia and its Pacific neighbours.
“Sport provides a ‘universal language’ and the virtual program for Tonga is designed to teach leadership, gender equality, respect, nutrition and healthy living.”
“The virtual sports program also provides an opportunity to demonstrate the enduring ADF partnership with HMAF of Tonga, and reinforce shared values through sport.”