by Sasha Pei-Silovo – EM TV Online
The Tongan women’s soccer team awoke to a huge surprise on Sunday morning, 26 October, to find that their properties had been stolen overnight at the Queen Emma Lodge in Kokopo.
The Tongans, here for the Oceania Football Confederation women’s soccer qualifier currently being staged in the picture-square town of Kokopo in the East New Britain province, are camped at the lodge owned by prominent Tolai businessman Eremas Wartoto.
The team had hung their sporting gear on a makeshift clothes line outside their rooms on Saturday night, to dry overnight for wear the next day but were shocked to find their belongings gone the next morning.
When speaking to the Assistant Team Manager, Laita Tu’ivailala, who is also the Head of Women’s Soccer in Tonga and General Secretary for Tongan Women in Sports, she revealed that they (the team and team officials) had been told by the liaison officer that Kokopo was a safe and friendly area and were assured that they were in a good place.
“We were told it was safe so we did not expect this to happen to us. We thought that nobody would steal from us so we hung our things out to dry. We also had our blue esky-cooler stolen and groceries in a bag outside my room that were purchased earlier that afternoon. I put the bag outside my door with the groceries inside, these were all stolen”, said Tu’ivailala in a phone interview.
The assistant team manager stated that the thieves had stolen the team’s esky-cooler, two pairs of running shoes and official Tongan women’s soccer team wear which include – two caps, a total of 18 team Adidas shirts (white in colour), two blue Adidas tops, five black shorts and one blue Puma short, and a bag of groceries.
She further revealed that police had visited the team and crime scene area yesterday morning but had yet to get back to the team officials on the progress of their investigation.
“We don’t know what’s happening so far. The police haven’t been back to tell us anything. We haven’t heard from anyone about our stolen things”, said Tu’ivailala.
But apart from the theft, Tu’ivailala said that they love the place and people, and are enjoying the games so far.
Tonga suffered a loss on Saturday to New Zealand and today’s match saw them draw with the Cook Islands, one-all. They are now preparing to meet the host nation (PNG) on Wednesday.
“We find Kokopo to be a beautiful place with lovely people. Yes, we are shocked by the actions of these thieves because we never expected it from the people here but we still love it here”, said Laita Tu’ivailala.
The incident has stemmed public outrage on social media, with many calling upon the owner of the Queen Emma Lodge, Eremas Wartoto, to intervene and find the culprits’ who committed the crime. Wartoto is also owner of Sarakolok West Transport (SWT) Group, airline company Travel Air and hire car company, Travel Car.
It is still unknown how the thieves got access to the lodge’s grounds without being seen by staff or security.