By Mary Lyn Fonua
Two rival groups using the name of the “Tonga Body Building Federation” and vying for control of the national sports body, are set to clash before Tonga hosts a regional South Pacific Body Building Championship in 2020.
One group led by Talaiasi Nau is recognised by the Tonga Amateur Sports Association and National Olympic Committee (TASANOC), while another group led by Tofavaha Tuifua is recognised by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Sports. The latter has recently won significant government funding.
After months of skirmishes on social media the rivals may be heading to the courts to resolve their dispute.
Mary Nau, secretary of the TASANOC-recognised TBBF board, said today they wanted to file a lawsuit to prove that a meeting requested by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Sports on June 4 had unconstitutionally formed a second TBBF group, under former president Tofavaha Tuifua.
“If they set up a different body there would be no issue. It's just that they are using the registered name of the TBBF to get funds to advance their planning and that's the issue,” Mary said.
“It feels like they've hijacked our board. We have been running around firefighting, especially on social media, since then,” she said.
The TASANOC-recognised board also planned to file a complaint to the Ombudsman claiming that $10,000 in national sports funding was paid by government to the wrong board.
“We tried to collect the cheque but were told that the Ministry had signed an agreement with Tofavaha Tuifua to go to with the Tonga team to the South Pacific championships,” she said.
A team organised by Tuifua under the name of TBBF had participated in the 25th South Pacific Body Building Championships held in New Caledonia, from 23-27 October 2019, where they won seven medals including three golds.
Mary acknowledged that Tofavaha had been the first president when the TBBF was first established as an incorporated body in 2009. However, when Tofavaha left to live in Australia, a new board was elected and had continued to run the TBBF under its constitution. She said that Tofavaha had returned to Tonga after 10 years away and wanted to use the name of the TBBF.
There are assets involved, and the rivalry extends to the gymnasium equipment that TBBF has acquired over the years.
She said that Sione Finau Lauti in of the Ministry of Internal Affairs had requested the TBBF executive attend the 4 June meeting, following complaints given to the ministry. But the TASANOC-recognised TBBF executive had responded by stating that approval was required from the Executive Committee to conduct such a meeting and that the meeting called for was, therefore, unconstitutional. She said the meeting had gone ahead and elected another board, which the executive committee of TBBF did not recognise.
In a letter dated 16 August 2019, TASANOC Secretary General Takitoa Taumoepeau invited the TBBF executive committee to a mediation meeting with the “former president Tofavaha Tu'ifua and his members” as well as Sione Lauti from the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Sports. He stated that Vice President Viola Ulakai was to chair the mediation meeting.
But Mary Nau said the mediation had never happened.
“It's been postponed since August, and for what reason I'm absolutely not sure.”
She complained that a press release issued yesterday under the name of the “Tonga Body Building Federation” was not issued by the legitimate TBBF.
The press release was sent out on a TBBF letterhead announcing that Tonga would host the South Pacific Body Building Championship in 2020.
It also acknowledged the assistance of the “the Tonga Government through the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA), and Tonga Sports Association and National Olympic Committee (TASANOC) for their support of TBBF representing Tonga at the 25th South Pacific Body Building Championships.”
TASANOC Secretary General Taumoepeau told Matangi Tonga today that he “had no idea” if TASANOC had written an alleged letter of support for the new group that had allowed them to approach government for financial assistance.
“I was away,” he said.
When asked “Who is the current President of the Tonga Body Building Federation?” he replied, “There's a bit of confusion here. There are two bodies.”
Takitoa said that, in fact, Talaiasi Nau was president of the body legally recognised by TASANOC, and it had an affiliation with the International Federation of Body Building (IFBB).
“There are two bodies internationally, the IFBB and another group the World Body Building Federation (WBPF), which the South Pacific championship is affiliated to, so the issue is... we have to choose one.”
Takitoa said that there was a chance for mediation between the two groups using the TBBF name but it hadn't happened because people were away.
“The TASANOC board is meeting on Thursday [November 21] to look at this matter. To me, I don't understand why there has to be division,” he said.