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2019 Pacific Games, a sad saga

Nuku'alofa, Tonga

Dear all,

Regretfully, I must intrude into your day, and reluctantly make a further comment on the sad saga that is the 2019 Pacific Games (PG2019).

I am compelled to write due to the on going campaign in Tonga and overseas, through social, and regular media outlets,  supporting the  contention that the Games should still be held in Tonga. It seems to me, there is a deliberate polarising of the country in the  hope of somehow changing the cabinet decision. There is division in Tonga, but what share goes to which side, is unknown. What is known is that our nation is hurting. A nation divided, is a nation broken. If you are happy for this to happen, then you cannot readily say you are doing it for the good of the nation.

Therefore, this is an appeal directly to Lord Sevele, his supporters, as well as to the PGC, in the person of President Lakhan. I am being particular, because it is clear that the Government, via cabinet decision has unequivocally forfeited hosting rights. You are all aware of my general position in terms of Tonga not being unprepared to embrace the promise of 2019. Disturbingly, the purported counter view through the media of Lord Sevele supporters, is that riches, both material and spiritual will be poured onto our nation if we continue to host. Which is naive, if not spuriously misleading.

It is well known I have criticised TASANOC in the past for treating sports development like a lottery ticket. It is my opinion that they have done little more than pray for future Olympic medalists to walk through their door. I have come to think they have applied the  same practice with 2019. It is a selfish motive for them to continue with this narrative to sell the nation what amounts to a mere ‘lottery’ ticket. Even if were to be held, I firmly believe that 2019 is unlikely to bring any change now. I say that, for no more reason then the  evidence manifested in front of us. I suggest that we should only host as a celebration in the achievement of change, not in the hope of it.

On a personal level, I was deemed a ‘spearhead’ in the host bid effort in 2012. By 2015, I saw how Tonga was struggling with its commitment. I felt personal responsibility for bringing 2019 to Tonga, so I gave up my career, and its security to my family to be based in Tonga. Unfortunately, for little reward.  So, I will offer any of the above mentioned supporters, to count their wounds and sense of loss against mine in its cancellation. But, more importantly to me, as it should be for all, is the unity of our country

However, that in and of itself is not to deny the prerogative of Lord Sevele and supporters to continue their campaign. But they should consider they are causing greater harm and hurt for Tonga, when there is the choice and opportunity, to help heal our nation. They should also consider, Tonga cannot hold a “People's Games” if half our people are against it, let alone the Government.  Thereby, making the Games into an empty gesture held with a hollow spirit. No Tongan athlete should be asked to perform under that circumstance. 

If this is about patriotism, as is often quoted in the media.Then what greater act is there than to put our Nation before oneself, accept the cabinet decision and work for our healing and unity to begin. 

Finally, I would also ask the PGC by way of personal appeal to President Lakhan, to immediately take the Games to another to host,  According to the media there is a line of countries eager to “take advantage of this, rare economic opportunity”. Director Minogue, and yourself have always said to me, that the good of Tonga is always a priority for the PGC. Sir, I hope you see that Games slow removal, albeit well meaning, is further contributing to my nation's pain, and I ask that the PGC make that move as soon as possible. President Lakhan, it will be your decisive action in removing the games that is also needed for Tongas healing to begin. 

As for future opportunities to host. I say that our point of difference has always been that we are a region with familial ties, and family always forgive, so I am certain, that the Games will return in future, and we will host and be very successful. Under those same ties of kinship I do not believe in the matter bandied in the media that the PGC will seek legal redemption, because of the Tongan Government reneging its obligation. I am sure you already understand this, so it is likely to be idle talk. But I advise as a believer in the Pacific Games concept, that any legal redress will hurt the PG brand more than Tonga, if at all.

Again, I apologise for my intrusion and for any unintended offence. But if you had ever been privileged to fight under our flag...then you would have heard the phrase below from our late boxing boss, Sione Ma’ilei: ‘He who serves the country, commits no crime, nation before self”. 

Respectfully and humbly yours, 

Paea Wolfgramm.


SIONEULI's picture

I note with interest the views expressed publicly over the decision by the PM and cabinet not to host the 2019 Pacific Games. It is true that the government's decision have divided Tonga but this is largely due to the explanation given by the government. At first, they made reference to a previous report issued by the ADB which indicate that Tonga's economic outlook was not in good shape. But the ADB report was not intended as a basis for deciding whether to host or not, the pacific games. There were a number of anomalies in the govt's explanation too. For instance, they then start putting out a new statement that Tonga is not ready to host the games, because Tonga's sporting community, they argued, is not ready for the 2019 games. They continued to use this argument when questioned by the media even though that answer did not correlate with the govt's obligation to host the games, which has nothing to do with preparing the sporting community for the games.

When the govt agreed in 2012 to host the 2019 pacific games, they had 5 - 7 yrs to prepare their hosting obligations. But that agreement did not include a condition for Tonga to prepare its athletes because Tonga will have been expected to prepare its athletes anyway, like all other hosting nations. It is the same for all countries who puts their hand up for the hosting duty. What the PM and his cabinet have done here is that they betrayed the people by restating their argument (falsely) by saying that they need time to prepare the athletes for the 2019 games. Many people were swayed to support govt position because of their argument that the country need more time to prepare its athletes. While I agree that most pacific countries are too small and under funded for this type of sporting event, the govt were allowed 5 - 6 yrs to prepare. Other countries have also offered financial support to Tonga and were willing to negotiate to reduce some events in order to save costs etc. Time to prepare athletes was therefore irrelevant since all pacific nations are in the same boat as Tonga. The debate for Tonga was never or should never have been about preparing athletes, but rather a question over why the govt failed miserably to prepare for its hosting duty? Why did they choose to change their argument that the athletes are not ready, when all pacific countries are in the same situation?

Finally I have always argued that the small island countries are in no position to host games, partly because they don't have the kind of budget to do it. Second, some facilities are too costly and they become white elephants once the game is finished. The govt don't make any revenue from most of these facilities such as stadiums because no one else can afford to hire or rent them after the games has ended. But in Tonga's case, I thought they should have honored their contract instead of running false statements to divide the community.