A host of former All Blacks are behind the newest rugby franchise called Kanaloa Hawaii, a team that plans to join the North American-based Major League Rugby (MLR) in 2021.
Ben Atiga, Anthony Tuitavake, Jerome Kaino, Joe Rokocoko, and John Afoa and Benson Stanley have joined forces to become part owners and be the first Māori and Polynesian owned and operated professional rugby club in the world.
The leadership team will be led by chief executive Tracy Atiga, the former boss of Auckland Basketball, while her husband Matt - brother of Ben - will try to build a pathway and academic system at the club. Rugby manager Cam Kilgour will also assist with the program.
Kanaloa Hawaii has 90 days to finalise terms and meet the necessary benchmarks before their MLR membership is formally ratified for the 2021 season.
In a video posted to Ben Atiga's Instagram, which features himself and his former All Blacks teammates, they explain their reasoning for getting behind the team is to try and create a strong pathway for Pacific Island players trying to make it in rugby.
"Our brothers and sisters are performing at a high-level week in week out and are not being treated the same or valued the same as a player from another nation," says Rococoko.
"No other club, I'm sure, would have the same values or point of view in how a club should be run."
Speaking to TVNZ's Tagata Pasifika, Tracy Aitaga said she hopes the team will have a massive influence on the Polynesian rugby community.
"It's significant not only for Pacific Island players but for the community itself," she says. "The movement behind it is really about inspiring our community to understand that we can do whatever we feel we need to do.
"The sky's the limit now. We've done the impossible."
The 2020 MLR season was suspended on March 12 due to the worldwide coronavirus pandemic. On March 18, the league announced they would resume play in 2021.
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