- Papua New Guinea will launch an enhanced women’s national league this weekend
- 2016 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup hosts boast a long tradition in the game
- The 13-team competition is being partly funded by the FIFA Forward programme
Papua New Guinea have long been queens of women’s football in the Pacific. Regular gold medallists at the Pacific Games and silver medal winners at the OFC Women’s Nation Cup, women’s football is strongly embedded in the Melanesian nation.
Host nation for the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup™ in 2016 – the only FIFA women’s tournament to be held in Oceania outside New Zealand – PNG’s pedigree is undoubted. But a range of significant development activities have recently sprouted throughout neighbouring Oceanian countries. Notably too, Fiji surprisingly claimed their first silver medal at PNG’s expense during the 2018 continental championship, with the tournament doubling as FIFA Women’s World Cup™ qualifiers for France 2019.
Mindful that their regional hegemony is under challenge, the Papua New Guinea Football Association (PNGFA) has put a renewed focus on keeping the local game buoyant. With support from FIFA Forward, a revamped National Women’s Soccer League will kick off this weekend, running all the way through to April.
The 13-team competition will feature seven sides based in a Lae City-based hub, a long-time football hotbed sitting in the Highlands region. In the south, six teams will be based in the capital Port Moresby, with some of the Papua New Guinea 2016 venues being utilised.
"There is huge interest in women’s football and it has grown massively over the years,” said PNGFA General Secretary Pius Letenge. "We have seen young women and girls coming out from different settlements, communities, tribes, clans and provinces in Papua New Guinea excel through the sport.
"We also see mothers who regularly attend trainings who bring their children to the games. It's truly amazing to see young women and girls who are focused to grow to become better not only in football, but also in life.”
Accelerating impetus for women’s football in the Pacific is the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 to be hosted by Australia and New Zealand – another first for the region.
"Our aim now for 2020 is to identify talented women and girls in football for development,” said Letange. “These are hugely exciting times for female football and as the country’s flagship women’s competition, the revamped Women’s League will have a key role to play in furthering this growth.”
Neighbours and 2023 Pacific Games hosts’ Solomon Islands recently kick-started their own national competition. Arguably the most passionate football nation in the Pacific, Solomon Islands, along with the likes of Fiji, are demonstrating just why PNG’s run of five straight gold medals at the tournament will be under heightened pressure in the future.
"It is fantastic to see another OFC MA implementing a national women's league in 2020,” Emma Evans, Head of OFC Women’s Football, told FIFA.com. “The new PNGFA General Secretary has made women's football a priority since he started and, coupled with (PNG Women’s Football Development Officer) Margaret Aka's knowledge, passion and enthusiasm to grow the game in PNG, will no doubt inspire a nation to believe in and support women's football again, especially in the build up to the FIFA Women's World Cup."