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Sporting diplomacy on show in Tonga

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 16/06/2017 Karen Sweeney

Sports diplomacy has long been a feature in New Zealand politics and rugby fan Bill English is making sure it continues on his Pacific trip.

The Prime Minister talked up his love of the game as he opened the almost redeveloped Teufaiva Stadium sports field.

For eight years the stadium was banned from hosting international games because of its poor quality surface, but next month will host Fiji on its refurbished field.

New Zealand contributed $1.9 million to the upgrade, a project announced by former prime minister John Key during the 2014 Pacific Mission.

The work was supposed to be completed in time for the opening but while it's match ready, work isn't expected to be finalised until the end of the year.

Mr English donned a Tonga jersey with his name on it and gave his counterpart Prime Minister Akilisi Pohiva - who was ready for a game in his cleats - an All Blacks jersey

The only awkward moment of the day came when he booted the ball to Prime Minister Akilisi Pohiva in a friendly kick to kick but overshot the mark forcing Mr Pohiva to chase down the ball - one of a bag full donated by New Zealand to celebrate the opening.

His catching skills were better than his kicking accuracy, running in to scoop up a return kick from Mr Pohiva, earning him cheers from the school kids in the crowd.

It was the second in a series of events for Mr English with Mr Pohiva during the Tonga leg of the annual Pacific Mission.

The pair held formal bilateral talks with cabinet ministers, including Pacific People Minister Alfred Ngaro, on Friday morning.

During that meeting Mr Pohiva apologised for the "uneasiness" caused by allegations Tongan recognised seasonal employment (RSE) workers had paid girls as young as 15 for sex while working in New Zealand.

Mr Pohiva also hosted a formal reception for Mr English and his delegation of business, community and NGO leaders on Friday night.

The sporting theme continued with formalities making way for representatives from each country to cheer on their national rugby teams in the Tonga v Wales and New Zealand v Samoa matches.

The delegation is expected to return to New Zealand on Saturday.

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