A third team on the field made history in Navutoka’s 3-2 win against Veitongo FC in the TFA Women’s League Stage 2 final last week, with three Lelenga siblings officiating together for the first time in their careers.
With his sisters Lata Kaumatule as first assistant referee and Paita Lelenga as fourth official, referee Sione Lelenga couldn’t have picked a better crew.
“It was a great moment when we were called to officiate the final match between Veitongo United and Navutoka. It was the first time it’s happened since I started refereeing,” he said.
“I was so excited when they announced the trio, and that I would work together with my two sisters.
“I felt very secure and confident knowing that I’m with them.”
His confidence doesn’t stem from family ties alone.
Both Lata and Paita have proven their high competence and commitment as referees in multiple international matches over their careers.
Lata has been a FIFA Assistant Referee for more than seven years and inspired Paita to have a crack at the same path in 2015.
‘’I was an athlete when I grew up, and I also loved to play touch rugby. When I realised what my sister Lata went through being a referee I asked her if it’s possible for me to join,” Paita said.
“She did not give me a yes or a no, but the smile on her face invited me to come and try.”
Since picking up the whistle, Paita has officiated at the 2015 XV Pacific Games in Papua New Guinea and the 2016 OFC Women’s U-17 Championship in the Cook Islands.
Lata’s record includes three FIFA Women’s World Cups, two FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cups, two Algarve Cups as well as numerous OFC competitions.
The experienced match official is humbled by the opportunities she has been given in the past, and credits her success to the endless support of her father, Inoke Tuífutuna Lelenga.
‘’He has a fitness programme for us every week making us run three miles early in morning while he follows us in his car,” she said.
‘’My father advised us that if you do something with all your heart, you will succeed, but the first important thing is to sacrifice and obey.
”Whatever our father says, we listen and we do. No matter what.”
Tuífutuna Lelenga has five other children with his wife Fifita, two of which are also involved in futsal refereeing, and the 55-year-old couldn’t be prouder of his family’s work ethic and determination.
‘’I am so proud of my children, as they really listen to me, whatever amount of running or work I command, they follow quietly,” he said.
Tonga Football Association Head of Refereeing Tevita Vea has witnessed Lelenga’s irrevocable support for his children and believes it has helped motivate the siblings to continue further in their refereeing careers.
“I really appreciate their parents as they did everything to support their children,” he said.
“Since Lata’s recruitment in 2008, Inoke has always been around and when Paita and Sione were recruited, their father has stood behind of all of them.
“I met them several times at Teufaiva Stadium, when he would bring his children and make them run and train.’’
TFA General Secretary Lui Aho has also noticed Inoke’s tireless involvement, and expressed his gratitude for the Lelengas’ commitment to the game in Tonga.
‘’I am very pleased with Inoke for being the number one supporter of his children,” he said.
“Every time I see him here at the football academy, he is following his children to their trainings or games.
‘’His children are aware of his presence and I believe that urges them to put in more efforts so they can achieve their goals.”