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Tonga sued over Pacific Games withdrawal

The Pacific Games Council (PGC) and the Tongan Olympic Committee (TASANOC) have lodged a claim for damages against the country’s government following its withdrawal of hosting rights for the 2019 Pacific Games multi-sport event.

Tonga had initially been selected to stage the Games but was forced to withdraw its bid last year due to financial concerns. The PGC later announced Samoa as the replacement host of the event.

Last May, the PGC received a letter from the Tongan government expressing the country’s wish to withdraw hosting rights, a move the body described at the time as a “confusing decision”.

Tonga was awarded the Games in 2012. The PGC made a final effort to ensure the Games remained in the country as planned by granting a one-month window for local organisers to demonstrate they could still host the event, but that window expired on June 30 last year.

Following the expiration of that window, PGC chief executive Andrew Minogue said that a solicitor in Tonga had been engaged and that the Council would pursue damages through the courts. Radio New Zealand has now reported that the PGC and TASANOC have filed a claim for “millions of dollars of damages”.

Radio New Zealand said the Supreme Court has given the government 28 days from May 15 to answer the claim.

Minogue told Radio New Zealand: “The first (part of the claim) is unpaid fees that were due to us over that four-year period, that were owing to us that we obviously now won't receive from Tonga; the cost of finding an alternative host, which was a process that we were forced to go through in the second part of last year.

"Travelling around to the various locations, putting documents together and so forth, were costs we didn't expect to have to face and also supporting the new host who has to now organise the Games at very short notice.

"And the third component to the damages is simply the brand damage. The brand damage in the market place with commercial sponsors and partners, seeing that we have had a Games had to be moved in this way with no real consultation and cooperation about it. That is actually a real cost to us in the long term and to our brand."

Although Minogue did not confirm the exact details of the claim, he said that reports of $3m (€2.6m) were “in the ballpark”, when both the PGC’s and TASANOC’s claims were combined.

Minogue added: “We wanted an opportunity to sit down with the government and work through whatever cost or financial issues they might have had.

"As the owners of the event we have got the ability to scale it down, reduce the size of it, possibly cutting some sports or limiting the entries by athletes.

"(There) are all sort of methods we could have employed to keep the costs down and to keep the Games in Tonga where they should have been."

The Pacific Games take place every four years. Papua New Guinea hosted the most recent edition in 2015, with the Solomon Islands due to host in 2023.