Tongan ban on girls' rugby sparks outrage in sports community

Letter from Tongan Education Minister
Letter from Tongan Education Minister to Tonga High School. Photo credit: Facebook/So Tongan

Local Tongan sports administrators are outraged at a Government edict that bans girls from playing rugby in public schools.

A letter from Education Minister Penisimani Fifita to Tonga High School has been posted on the So Tongan Facebook page. The directive, written in Tongan, bans females in all public schools from taking part in rugby and boxing, due to cultural restrictions.

Mr Fifita claims these sports go against Tongan tradition and customs for women, but his views have not gone down well with his country's extended sporting community in New Zealand.

Auckland-based Tonga Advisory Council chairman Melino Maka described the decision as "pathetic" and likened it to the Government not allowing Tongans to buy supplies on Sunday due to traditional trading rules, even as Cyclone Gita bore down on the Pacific kingdom.

"We're supposed to be moving forward," says Mr Maka. "Everyone around the world is celebrating the role of women and if women want to play sport, so be it.

"The minister needs to get his head examined."

Penisimani Fifita
Tongan Education Minister Penisimani Fifita. Photo credit: Facebook/So Tongan

Some traditionalists have sided with Mr Fifita, defending Tonga's right to set its culture.

"Glad to see a Minister who doesn't bend over to every little thing the western countries think we should do," says one Facebook commenter. "Cultural erosion should have its limits and our leaders ought to draw the line at some point."

Most seem to disagree though, urging their Government to move with the times.

"The world is always evolving," says another Facebook commenter. "Girls can do the same things as boys do AND still have RESPECT!

"Majority of male players play because it is a source of income. If females are offered the same opportunity, it should be supported!"

New Zealand national rugby and league teams have traditionally selected Tongan players - Tongan Teuila Fotu Moala, playing for the Kiwi Ferns, was named outstanding player at last year's Rugby League World Cup. 

"What. The. Heck!" posted Kiwi Ferns and Tonga teammate Lilieta Maumau Pinomi.

"This is just one of a few things that makes me think 'this is why our little nation won't grow' and I see why some would agree to this, but each to their own opinion, I guess."