Tonga Rugby working with govt on financial 'rescue package'
The Tonga Rugby Union has approached the government for help after being unable to service debts incurred in the past three years.
The Tonga Rugby Union says it is working with the government to address debts of more than $US300,000 that has left it unable to pay staff and World Rugby to suspend all financial support.
The Union's Interim CEO, Chair and President, Fe'ao Vunipola, told Vinnie Wylie that money from rugby's governing body has been withheld from Tonga since the start of the year.
FE'AO VUNIPOLA: It has been suspended due to reasons beyond our control. First and foremost is the debt that we have accumulated for the last three years has come to a head. That's why World Rugby is withholding or freezing the grant to Tonga's High Performance Unit and development fund.
VINNIE WYLIE: So how much does World Rugby provide Tongan Rugby and how long has that been withheld?
FV: World Rugby provides 600,000 pounds sterling a year to Tonga, starting from January to December every year, and they have been withholding that amount since the first of January this year.
VW: So Tonga has received no money from World Rugby for close to three months now?
FV: Correct, yes.
VW: And from what we can gather, the TRU currently has debts of about 700,000 Pa'anga?
FV: That's correct.
VW: These are debts that you say were already in place when you took over and obviously the former chairman resigned. What have you done, since you've been elected to try and remedy that and what sort of plans are there going forward to try and address the situation?
FV: We've been looking at options available to us. (When) I came in the Union was already in receivership since October of last year. The arrangement made by the former chairman (Epeli Taione) and the former CEO (Fuka Kitekei'aho) was to repay all of it by the 15th of this month but by the 15th there was no money coming from anywhere and there was no funds available in the TRU's bank account, so in fact there was no money to pay the debt. I was concerned about it when I first came [to the Union] so I made the approach to our Prime Minister and informed him of TRU's situation and started asking for help from our government. The only option available other than that is to sell the land that we have so that we can pay the debt and then re-establish ourselves by buying another, cheaper piece of land.
VW: Did they take you up on that offer?
FV: Yes...and at the moment they are drawing up a plan - shall I say a rescue plan or takeover plan. It sounds good, it sounds favourable and we are currently talking of the best way forward for Tonga Rugby, in association with our government helping us out in the long run, It's about first trying to settle the debt and then it will be treated as a soft loan through our government and then our government helping us out to move out of this crisis and moving forward.
VW: If that situation appears to be moving forward why have World Rugby suspended the funding - have you been communicating with World Rugby?
FV: There will be a World Rugby delegation coming over to Tonga the first week of April (April 5-7) and we will be discussing the situation. Hopefully by the end of this meeting they will release the funds and we can all move forward in a positive way.
VW: Those companies do still have money outstanding from TRU: Carinat Sport Marketing, Mount Smart Stadium (in New Zealand) and (former 'Ikale Tahi international) Finau Maka and you said that payments stopped at the start of this month. Have they understood that situation? Are they all prepared to wait until April?
FV: Yes, I have been putting them in the loop. I have been informing them constantly of our situation and they are aware of what is going on. Once money is available for us then debts will be settled...It must be paid.
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