A spinoff of rugby league, it is a non-contact sport that president of Cook Islands Tag Football Chrissy Piakura believes is a sport for everyone, no matter your age or shape.
“It originated from rugby league, and so the rules are very similar. You have a set of Velcro tags, and the opponent has to try and rip the tag, and once they do the player places the ball on the ground and then recycles then ball,” Piakura explained.
“Whereas touch seems to be more suited to fit and fast people, tag really is a sport for everyone, because you can thrive just by knowing how to twist your body to avoid taggers.”
Since the first world cup in 2008, the sport’s popularity has taken off around the world
“We were a part of the 2015 World Cup, where it’s really took off for the Cook Islands. We took 15 teams, ranging from U16 all the way to 50s.”
The Cook Islands contingent, made up of players from New Zealand and Australia, was one of the largest groups at the event.
“I do believe that was the largest contingent of Cook Island athletes at one single event, because all-up, including players, coaches and management per team, there would have been about 325 altogether.”
Last year’s Oceania Indigenous Cup highlighted how global the sport has become, as well as what a force the Cook Islanders are, she says.
“Normally it’s just for Pacific Islands, but the International Tag Federation (ITF) invited a total of 23 countries.
“We entered 13 teams, and all our teams made at least the quarterfinals, as well as a few in the semis and finals.
“Overall we were actually the champion nation, because our results were the best out of the 23 competing countries.”
Piakura was awarded the administrator of the tournament prize, due to her tireless work behind the scenes.
“For each team there is a fee of $1,500, to participate in these international competitions, which we fundraised for. And for all 13 teams we managed to pay all of the fees, a week before they were due.”
Due to the success the country has had so far, a number of Cook Islanders want to represent their nation, only to be discouraged by the lack of local organisation, which is why all the teams at the previous tournaments have been from New Zealand or Australia, says Piakura.
“Because the majority of the teams that we took to the last World Cup were from Auckland or Wellington, our committee wanted to give every Cook Islander a chance to participate, no matter where they are in the world.”
“So we’ve set up committees in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. We’ll all be under the same umbrella. It will just be Cook Islands New Zealand and Cook Islands Australia. And we will all be playing at the World Cup.
“We have 11 teams from New Zealand confirmed, and at this stage we believe there are 16 teams from Australia that are ready to go. So that’s 27 teams, the largest-ever.”
Piakura’s ultimate goal is to set up a local competition, something that she hopes to do over the next two years.
“I think the hardest thing is trying to slot it in the sports calendar here, because it’s so busy. There is a bit of a process, but the people here should have the option to play tag.”
In the meantime, Piakura is offering a chance for local Kukis to trial for the 2018 World Cup, to be hosted at Coff’s Harbour, Australia.
“We don’t know if there are players over here who want to go, or take it to an international level, or even if they’re at that level to play yet. But I want to offer them the opportunity.
“All they need to do is drop us an email and us let us know that they’re interested. We’ve got our trial date set in Auckland, so that’s going to happen next month.
“If they’re willing to come to New Zealand to trial, and if they’re good, then we’ll definitely have a serious look at taking them.”