Outrage after competitive national tag football tournament turns friendly-only

Families of children who took part in a national tag football tournament in south Auckland have labelled its organisation a "shambles".

The competitive side of the event was abandoned on Saturday night, leaving teams in with a shout of winning a gold medal frustrated and angry.

The tag football game is similar to rugby league, but instead of tackling someone, you rip off the tag that's attached to them.

"One of our parents, they've got five or six kids that play in this tournament, and it's expensive," says coach Cristo Tofa, who is also part of the Black Ferns.

The tag tournament started on Friday, but late on Saturday night, organisers decided to keep Sunday's games as friendly-only, because of a shortage of referees. Organisers say some had suffered injuries while reffing and others couldn't fill in.

"This is the first big tournament we've had since the last two lockdowns," organiser Lisa Iusitini says. "Getting back to it has been a bit nerve-wracking for everybody." 

One of the referees took to social media to say that they're paid $100 for five games, but they had to oversee 10 games, most of them back-to-back.

The decision for final games to be friendly-only has angered many. Players say they paid $100 for the uniform, a $60 registration fee and travelled from all over the country to attend.

Tofa and  partner Jason Taufua coach the Pasifika Kava Brothers. They've trained up to three times a week for this tournament, and won all their games on Friday and Saturday.

They should've been in the final on Sunday, but are now just playing for fun.

"Our kids going through injuries, our parents sacrificing stuff financially to be here," Taufua says. "They've taken time off work, the sweat, tears, blood they've put in..." 

NZ Tag Football admits this event didn't go to plan. It says it gets no proper funding and the sport has grown so much in popularity, so by hosting an event of this size, perhaps it has bitten off more than it can chew.

"We have to charge our people a fee to come in and it's really tough, because the people we charge are the players that can least afford it," Iusitini says.

Adding to the troubles, it says some of the refs were abused by players and their families.

"Many people are anxious," Iusitini says. "They are not working, they have lost their businesses, and the outcome is that the children and the adults are feeling really stressed, and it's come out on the field."

Some games were also abandoned.

"Unfortunately, the last game ended up pretty roughly, with some shoulders that ended up what we'd probably call 'biffo' on the field and the game was abandoned," parent Jo Redfern says.

Organisers say they will refund each player $20.