Australian Jillaroo Tiana Penitani hopes the premiere of ABC’s That Pacific Sports Show will help bridge a gap and shed light on Pacific Islander athletes dominating in sports around the world.
Penitani has joined forces with former Kiwi international Dene Halatau to co-host the new production, which will profile athletes with a Pasifika heritage in a 15-episode series continuing into 2021.
A rugby sevens convert who returned to rugby league last year, Penitani is of Tongan descent through her late father, Solomon, who was tragically murdered in 2008.
Documenting her story since returning to the code, Penitani hopes to work with other athletes across various sports over the next 12 months.
“I love the whole initiative behind it, it’s all for a good cause and is a really positive show,” Penitani told NRL.com.
“A common saying in Pacific Islander culture is there are five Fs – fun, faith, family, food and footy.
“So there will be a lot of footy chat but we’ll also cover all sorts of sports whether it be weightlifting, rowing or swimming – wherever we can find some stories.
“It’s about getting an insight into these athletes’ lives with their background stories.”
The NRL has one of the highest representation of players with a Pasifika background in sport with a 45% figure recorded in 2019.
However, Penitani noted most players are not given a platform comfortable enough to let them tell their stories.
“I’ve always had that at the back of my mind, that there is a bit of a lack of attention solely towards Pacific Islanders,” she said.
“When you look at the stats of players involved in the NRL, that’s massive, and even in the women’s game the majority of players are of a Pacific Island or Indigenous background.
“There’s some awesome coverage for our Indigenous athletes so it’s been a long time coming to shine some light on the Pacific athletes too.”
At 24, Penitani is setting her own goals off the paddock with ambitions to work in the media a long-term goal once she hangs up the boots.
“I’m not an experienced presenter but hopefully will get there one day,” she said.
“I’ve had a bit of experience co-hosting with some experienced broadcasters so this is jumping in the deep end for me.
“Dene is awesome and great value, I hadn’t had a lot to do with him previously but he’s been really helpful and it’s great to be able to bounce ideas off each other.
“If I want to progress my career in this world it’s the right opportunity to jump at. The good thing is there is a team behind the scenes that have made the transition quite seamless.”
The premiere featuring PNG and Rabbitohs winger Alex Johnston is available to watch on ABC iview.