HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii could be the next home for the hard-hitting Major Meague Rugby, North America’s professional rugby league.
Tracy Atiga is the chief executive officer of Kanaloa Hawaii Rugby, an ownership group formed in New Zealand.
She said the group has been awarded a license to begin competing next year in Major League Rugby.
"We'll be the first professional rugby team in the world coming to Hawaii. That in itself is a huge feat," she said via a Zoom interview.
MLR has been in existence since 2018.
“Major League is obviously the Premier rugby competition across the states at this moment. It includes 13 other states, and it includes Toronto from Canada as well,” she said.
Former players from New Zealand's well-known All Blacks team that popularized the haka own the club. They've selected a coach and a manager.
But there’s some skepticism surrounding the news.
State Sen. Glenn Wakai said Kanaloa Hawaii’s announcement that it plans to start play in 2021 is premature. He refutes several claims the club has made in media interviews on the forming of its franchise.
"They had mentioned in their announcement four relationships: one with the Hawaii Tourism Authority who's never heard of them; the Stadium Authority, never talked to them; the University of Hawaii which denied them their practice facilities; and for Hawaiian Airlines they said they had a sponsorship agreement. Hawaiian Airlines has no sponsorship agreement with these folks," Wakai said.
Atiga insists the team is a go and it would like to eventually build its own stadium for home matches.
Former USA and international rugby player Joshua Rice believes there is a fan base in Hawaii for a pro team.
"There's definitely people who like rugby and are aware of rugby and watch rugby. They just have to see if they can make all the numbers work," he said.
Atiga said in the weeks and months ahead Kanaloa Hawaii Rugby will announce a competition to design the team’s logo and player signings.
"We definitely know that there is local talent that can play at this level," she said.
The goal is for the roster to include players with Hawaii ties and players from across Polynesia, where rugby is popular.
"It's more than just a game. It's more than just a team. It's a movement for us," Atiga said.
“They’ve got less than a year to put this together. The fact that they haven’t actually contacted the Stadium Authority is very concerning to me,” Wakai said.
MLR teams play an 18-game regular season schedule that runs from February through June, with 9 home and 9 away matches. Training camps open in January.
After this story aired, Kanaloa Hawaii provided the following statement:
Kanaloa Hawaii has engaged all of the organizations that we have referred to in our interviews. Contrary to what has been suggested our relationships with the organizations have been formed on the basis of Kanaloa, giving back to the community.
The CEO of Kanaloa wishes to make it clear that our approach has been to offer support to these organizations during what has been a difficult COVID period.
Kanaloa Hawaii has not requested any other financial support from any local entity or authority. Rather we have offered an opportunity to get behind the local tourism organizations because Kanaloa can bring significant growth during a time when tourism is struggling.
If anybody from the community, especially our political leaders, would like to better understand the support mechanism in place, Kanaloa’s CEO is more than happy to address any inquiries.