Tonga Prime Minister Aihilsi Pohiva has come out and said his country has withdrawn as host of the 2019 Pacific Games (formerly the South Pacific Games). The reason Tonga has withdrawn is because of the expected negative effect on the national economy, though the Pacific Games Council believes the competition will ultimately go ahead in the Polynesian sovereign state.
Pohiva went on Radio New Zealand International and told them that his cabinet came to the conclusion last week that they couldn’t afford the games. Their decision came based off of a 2013 World Bank report, which showed the likely impact the event would have on the economy. Pohiva stated “I was convinced there was no other option” (than to withdraw) after reading the 2013 report.
However, according to Pacific Games Council president Vidhya Lakhan, they hadn’t heard of an official decision from Tonga, just that they learned of the withdrawal through media reports, he told Radio New Zealand. The head of the Tonga Amateur Sports and National Olympic Committee, Lord Vaea, also went on Radio New Zealand and delivered the same message.
Head of the games organizing committee Lord Savele told Radio New Zealand that the majority of the cost of hosting the games would be met by foreign donors, and that Tonga would only face a small financial deficit. Despite the prime minister presenting the world bank report to their committee, Savele mentioned a more recent report showed Tonga’s economy was growing and economic activity from the games would add to that growth.
“On the recent reports from the IMF as late as March as this year, they are painting a very rosy picture of the Tongan economy,” Savele said. “The report the prime minister referred to at our meeting last week was one dated 2013. It’s out of date.”
Lakhan added that he believes the games can go ahead in Tonga at a small cost to the community.
“If we can’t have the full complement of the games, and if we cut some corners and downsize a little bit…we could keep the games in Tonga,” he said.
Back in April China agreed to fund a $24.8 million sports complex which would be able to host many of the events at the games, including swimming, gymnastics and rugby. New Zealand then agreed to fund an upgrade of the Teufaiva Stadium which will host athletic events.
However, former finance prime minister Lisiate ‘Akolo believes it was a mistake for Tonga to bid for the games in the first place.
“I thought it was not appropriate for us to consider building facilities and other things like that for the games while we have been living under the mercy of our donor partners,” Akolo said. “Issue No. 2 of course is the question of our affordability to continue to maintain these facilities after the games.”
Tonga was awarded with the games in 2012, beating out French Polynesia. The competition occurs every four years, with the 2019 event set to be the 16th edition.
The event consists of a maximum 26 events and 12 compulsory events, including both indoor and beach volleyball. At the 2015 version of the games in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, the island of Wallis and Futana won the men’s indoor title, while the American Samoa women won both the indoor and beach gold medals. The hosts won gold in men’s beach over Fiji.