From nothing to international competition: Tonga takes to handball

Photo: Tongan Handball

Tonga makes its international debut in handball this week after a surge in popularity in the sport in the Kingdom.

The national Under-20 and Under-18 boys’ teams will compete in the Oceania Trophy being held in the Cook Islands, against the hosts, Australia, New Caledonia, New Zealand and Tahiti.

The tournament takes place from Monday to Friday.

Tonga Tritons’ head coach, Sawah Moharram, said it’s a feat for Tonga to compete in its first international tournament.

He said they only started out in July with three players.

“When we started at the end of July, we had one ball and three boys. Four months later we have 18 balls and over 70 boys and girls. Also, we are waiting to receive 300 balls from the International Handball Federation,” he told Matangi Tonga.

Moharram, who arrived in Tonga in May, is a former professional handball player, with coaching experience in England and Australia.

“I started handball in Tonga with Takitoa Taumoepeau, Head of the IOC and the Tonga Handball Federation at the end of July, just in the field next to my house. Four months later, we have two national teams. We had the honour to go to the Royal Palace and met his Highness the Crown Prince and he granted the team with the name Tritons.”

He said if Tonga Tritons U-18s qualify from this Oceania tournament they will go to Croatia next year. If the U-20s qualify, they will go to Germany next year to play in the World Handball qualification.

The two teams have been training hard over the past months since being recruited, he said.

‘Whole world watching’

Handball Cook Islands president Makiroa Mitchell-John told the Cook Islands News he is expecting about 200 people to attend the event and live-streaming of the games will showcase the tournament worldwide.

Handball is popular throughout Europe, with continental sides winning every Olympic gold medal since it was introduced to the Games in 1936.

Mitchell-John said it was not the first time Cook Islands had hosted an IHF event, as the sport, particularly beach handball, had strong support here and across the Pacific.

In 2017, Handball Cook Islands was handed the hosting rights to two regional events.

The nation successfully hosted an Under-17 Oceania meet in May followed by the IHF Trophy Tournament in July and August.

Officials from around the world will be on hand, she said.

In terms of the Cook Islands, Mitchell-John said handball was growing its profile.

“We will have the whole world watching, these games will be live-streamed.

“This all leads to a better quality of life for our people, to train them for a purpose. It’s about seeing the opportunities.”

The event serves as qualification event for the Intercontinental Phase of the IHF Trophy.

Handball players in Tonga Photo: Tongan Handball

Source: RNZ