A traditional Māori ball game similar to rugby is on a resurgence, promoting te reo and tikanga along the way.

Kī o rahi is a traditional Māori sport played on a circular field, involving two teams both attacking and defending in different ways to outscore their opponents.

More than 50,000 people - mostly schoolchildren - play it across the country, there is a dedicated playing field at Waitangi, and teams are even springing up in Europe.

In Auckland a new body, Kī o Rahi Tāmaki Makaurau, has been founded to further grow the game here.

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"We're focused on growing kī o rahi throughout Tāmaki Makaurau (Auckland), targeting both Māori and non-Māori, with te reo Māori me ona tikanga (customs) at the forefront of our delivery," director Danica Walker said.

The game was steadily growing in popularity, she said, with around 40 to 50 schools across Auckland playing it.

Before the arrival of Europeans, it was played by Māori throughout Aotearoa, with different tribes having different adaptations of the game.

It was discouraged by European missionaries in the 18th century, but since the 1940s had undergone a gradual revival and now was played at school level throughout the country.

It requires imaginative handling and swift passing of a "kī" (ball), originally made from flax. The sport was traditionally contact, but variations include using ripping tags from opponents.

Along with promoting physical activity and ball-handling skills, kī o rahi also ensured te reo Māori and tikanga were taught.

"It is based on a Māori legend of Rahitutakahina and the rescue of his wife, Tiarakurapakewai, and made into a game," Walker said.

"It teaches the reo Māori and tikanga that go along with that."

There were regional championships across the country and national championships at secondary level, but no league for adults.

"There are a good handful of adult teams though, so the idea behind this forum is to develop spaces for more adults to play and grow the sport."

The 28th Māori Battalion played it over in Europe during World War II, and it was still known in parts of Britain and France where clubs had been established, Walker said.

The world's first international kī o rahi tour took place in 2010 when a largely Northland team, accompanied by legendary All Black captain Buck Shelford, played tests and demonstration games in the UK, France, Germany, Holland and Poland.

Kī o Rahi Tāmaki Makaurau was supported by Auckland sport and recreation body Aktive, and a range of community networks including local marae, Papatuanuku, Mātaatua and Makaurau Marae.

Aktive CEO Dr Sarah Sandley said the forum would mark a significant opportunity for kī-o-rahi.

"The establishment of Kī o Rahi Tāmaki Makaurau will connect more people to the game of kī o rahi and help grow and strengthen its presence in various community settings including primary schools, secondary schools, tertiary, iwi, hapu, and marae."