Michael O'Keeffe: Tongan Prime Minister's plea tests credibility of international league

OPINION: We’re about to find out whether the International Rugby League Federation holds double standards when it comes to Tonga.

The sport's world body expelled the Tongan National Rugby League (TNRL) from its membership last week, after an ongoing dispute over governance.

TNRL has since appealed the decision, with its fate to be decided by a special general assembly by IRLF members.

But in an interesting turn of events, the Tongan Prime Minister - Dr Pohiva Tu'i'onetoa - has since written a letter of support for TNRL, asking the IRLF to lift the expulsion, and requesting the two bodies work together to resolve the financial and governance issues.

Why is this important? Because it was a letter from then-Prime Minister Semisi Sika that prompted TNRL's initial suspension. 

Sika told the international federation that the current board had lost the trust and support of its members, clubs and players. The letter was enough to prompt action from the IRLF, which suspended the board immediately.

But there were many caveats to the letter.

Sika was only acting Prime Minister, assuming the office after 'Akilisi Pohiva died. He was in office for less than a month, before losing the election to Tu'i'onetoa.

Sika was also the president of the old TNRL board, which had been dismissed by the Tongan Supreme Court and replaced by  the current one.

Prime Minister Tu'i'onetoa has since revoked Sika's letter.

If the IRLF does not seriously consider this, then it shows that it holds two sets of rules.

If they were so willing to trust the words of someone who was only in an interim position and held a vested interest, then not affording that same respect to the rightfully elected Prime Minister would be a slap in the face.

Most of all, it would risk its own reputation and blatantly show that all it cares about is the happiness of its most prized asset - the Tongan players.

Michael O'Keeffe is a Newshub sports reporter.