Tonga's move to ban girls from sport deemed 'worse than pathetic'

Critics have been swift to condemn Tonga's Education Ministry after it told a school not to allow female students to play rugby or boxing. 

The decision was made because, in the mind of some government officials, women competing in such sports goes against Tongan customs. 

Rugby and rugby league have a keen following in the Kingdom - not just among men but women of all ages.

A letter to the principal of state-owned Tonga High School states a decision has been made that female students are not to play rugby, boxing or other sports that undermine the sacred nature of women. 

Melino Maka, Tongan Advisory Council chairman, has called the ruling "worse than pathetic".

"We are in 2018. Women need the respect they deserve, and they can decide what they can and can't do."

Manu Fotu, who fosters Tongan sport in New Zealand, says women should continue to pursue all sports, including contact sports.

"Some of our top athletes, like Valerie Adams, [are at] the pinnacle of their sports. My message is continue to live your dreams."

Ethnic Affairs Minister Jenny Salesa, who was raised in Tonga, firmly disagrees with the ruling. 

"As a Tongan woman who is here in Parliament, I firmly believe that girls can do anything."

So what about the argument that women boxing or playing rugby goes against tradition? 

On a visit to Tonga in 1773, Captain James Cook noted: "If unoccupied, Tongans entertained themselves with boxing and wrestling, women sometimes as well as men."

Even Tonga's Prime Minister, Akilisi Pohiva, appears to be at odds with his own ministry. 

Asked whether he agreed with the letter, a spokesperson told Newshub Mr Pohiva has a different opinion as sport has become a significant source of income for Tonga.