Pictured: Lata ‘Isitolo and Mele Kei (Tonga). Photo Credit: Paul Foxall
Tonga were last seen on the international badminton scene at the VICTOR Oceania Championships 2020 in Ballarat. Three years later, they have sent a contingent to compete in the Continental Championships once again.
While they had to contend with the global COVID-19 pandemic like the rest of the world, they also had to overcome natural disasters after a volcano eruption and tsunami devastated their islands in January 2022.
Their tiny remote homeland sits in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, meaning that there are already several hurdles to jump when looking to compete internationally. However, the last year in particular brought extra challenges and the players are relieved to be competing once more.
Badminton Oceania spoke to the Tongan Team in Auckland this week to find out more about thier journey and what it means to be competing again.
“When the eruption happened I was on home home island of ‘Atata, I was very afraid, I’ve never seen big waves like that tsunami. I was holding my two younger sisters and running for higher ground. We’d never seen any eruption in our lives and we were really scared. Our house was washed away in the waves, nothing was left. With help from the Government we had to rebuild in a new location. Now badminton is giving us hope, and relief, I’m now back to training and playing after a big break while recovering from the eruption & tsunami. Badminton brings hope to me, I love to continue to play badminton and teach children Shuttle Time, as that’s how I got involved in the sport & it has been a big part of my life”, says Lata ‘Isitolo (player)
“During the COVID pandemic there was no flights in or out of Tonga we were cut off from the world. The indoor sport venue closed for sport and instead was used as an isolation facility, and then later as a shelter for people who had lost their homes in the eruption & tsunami. So every sport stopped while the country reorganised itself, and we’ve only been able to organise regular practice in the last 6 months, since August 2022”, says Lauti Na’aniumotu (coach and player)
“Badminton for me is a career pathway in life, we love to represent Tonga. Badminton gives us goals and keeps us focussed, it keeps us away from many of the youth pathways of smoking, drinking and drugs. Every competition we attend we learn new things & make new friends. We enjoy watching the top players on court, it motivates us to improve, when we go home we practice especially improving our footwork – moving faster. We try to train more often so we can improve”, says Siale Molitika & Taniela Ngaue (players)
On day two of the Mixed Team Championships, Tonga celebrated a 4-1 victory over Northern Marianas, their best result yet. Their campaign was later followed by a narrow 3-2 defeat to Tahiti.
ALL REUSLTS FROM DAY TWO – OPEN MIXED TEAM
Check out all results from the second and penultimate day at the VICTOR Oceania Open Mixed Team Championships 2023 on Tournament Software.
The final day of the Championships begins at 10am tomorrow (local time, GMT+13), with Australia and New Zealand playing off for gold; New Caledonia and Tahiti for bronze. Watch all the action from courts one and two on the live stream, via Badminton Oceania’s YouTube Channel.