Tonga withdraws from hosting 2019 Pacific Games

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) " Tonga Prime Minister Akilisi Pohiva says his country has withdrawn from hosting the 2019 Pacific Games because of its likely impact on the national economy, although the games organizing committee and Pacific Games Council say they believe the event will go ahead in Tonga.

Pohiva told Radio New Zealand International on Wednesday that his cabinet decided last week that Tonga could not afford to host the games, basing their decision on a 2013 World Bank report which showed the likely impact on the Tonga economy. He said on reading the report "I was convinced there was no other option" than to withdraw from the hosting role.

The president of the Pacific Games Council, Vidhya Lakhan of Fiji, told Radio New Zealand the council had not officially been informed of the decision, although it had learned of it through media reports. The head of the Tonga Amateur Sports and National Olympic Committee, Lord Vaea, also told Radio New Zealand his organization had not been officially informed.

The head of the games organizing committee Lord Savele told Radio New Zealand said most of the cost of hosting the games would be met by foreign donors and Tonga would face only a small financial shortfall. He said the prime minister had presented the World Bank report to his committee but a more recent International Monetary Fund report showed Tonga's economy is growing strongly and economic activity generated by the games would add to that growth.

"On the recent reports from the IMF as late as March as this year, they are painting are very rosy picture of the Tongan economny," Lord Savele said. "The report the prime minister referred to at our meeting last week was one dated 2013. It's out of date."

Pacific Games Council president Lakhan said he believed the games could go ahead in Tonga at a small cost to the Tongan economy.

"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.

In April, China agreed to fund a $24.8 million sports complex at Tonga High School which would include an indoor gymnasium, a rugby field, four outdoor netball courts, an aquatics centre and a lawn bowls venue. Construction was due to begin in August. The New Zealand government has agreed to fund an upgrade of the Teufaiva Stadium which will host athletics events.

But former finance minister Lisiate 'Akolo said it was a mistake for Tonga to bid for the games and it should have withdrawn some time ago.

"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 the games in 2012 after its bid was accepted ahead of French Polynesia.

The 2019 games are the 16th edition of an event which has been held every four years since 1963 and which bring together athletes from 22 Pacific nations or territories.

The games consist of a maximum of 26 sports of which 12 are compulsory " athletics, basketball, golf, swimming, table tennis, tennis, va'a (outrigger canoe racing), beach volleyball, indoor volleyball, and weightlifting for men and women and football and rugby sevens for men only.

This story has been automatically published from the Associated Press wire which uses US spellings

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