Contributed by: Aaron Richard
Australian Football in Papua New Guinea has had a number of successes in recent times through the implementation of junior and lifestyle programs structured to get people playing competition sport. A major advantage has been that the country's main spectator sport, rugby league, has not had any real competing structures - though this may soon change with a big push planned by Rugby League and supported by AusAid. World Footy News talks with Scott Reid about how the PNG footballing landscape currently looks. Papua New Guinea has the largest contingent of Australian Football players outside Australia and one of the longest histories of the game. For some time, the code was the most widely followed of any football variety - though the advent of Queensland television in the 1970s brought with it a large upsurge in the popularity of rugby league, north-eastern Australia's largest spectator sport.
In spite of Rugby league's status as national game in PNG, it has never really put the structures in place to really build itself from a grassroots level - but there are now plans being made from the Australian rugby league community which could see big programs competing directly with Aussie Rules in the junior and sporting-lifestyle market.
AFLPNG Executive Director Scott Reid has stated that there is now a real need for mobilisation of political forces to push the AFLPNG to the next step, particularly as the rugby league push has specifically targetted the Australian goverment and aid agency AusAid for assistance.
"We need to mobilise our senior people at the AFL and AFL PNG Patrons like Ron Barassi and Doug Hawkins, both of whom have been up to PNG several times, and better still our own Mal Michael who is so strongly committed to our efforts.
"They need the opportunity to meet with Alexander Downer and others in AusAid & the Australian Government. We need them to explain that AFLPNG have been successfully running exactly these type of community development programs in PNG for 4 years, which are based on highly successful AFL programs in Indigenous Australia, and AFLPNG could definitely use some financial support.
"We had 30,000 boys and girls from all across PNG through our programs last year. We tried to put forward a proposal for AusAid/ECP to assist us to deliver our proven and highly successful community development programs, which use AFL as the hook but deliver health and law & order messages in schools across PNG, but nothing got concluded. Now Rugby League are running with that idea, but without any runs on the board whatsoever and an embedded culture that sends a very different message.
"This type of sustainable funding is the key to the growth of AFL in PNG but we really need a push from Australia. AFL PNG is the only sport running true development programs here, and our highly successful PJV Raitman program with its focus on lifestyle rules and selection criteria does exactly that which the Bennetts are talking about. Our plans to start programs such as Footy Aid and in particular the Mal Michael Foundation would benefit greatly from this type of funding and would fit aid type criteria.
"On top of that our Oil Search Pathway is offering real opportunities for PNG players to progress to the elite level. Our strong links to AFLQ have already seen 11 players currently on scholarships in Moresby and Brisbane, playing at a high level as part of our development efforts. It will not be long before one of our boys goes the next step to join Mal in the AFL.
"The Bennetts and AusAid would not be aware that Rugby League here is simply not equipped to run these type of development programs across PNG. They do not have the structures, the personnel, the experience or the governance and corporate disciplines in place to manage and coordinate this type of program and they have no history or culture of community and sports development.
"In 2000 Aussie Rules was in a similar situation. It has taken us 5 years of hard work with very good committed people involved to get here, but we are now ready to receive support like this.
"If AFL PNG is to get the funding we need to grow and flourish in PNG, this is the sort of support we need. We have the structures in place to utilise funding, we have programs ready, tested and successfully operating and most importantly we have the right people in place. We need funds and resources to deliver our programs to more PNG kids across the country."
While the relevance of the health of Australian Football in PNG may not be immediately clear, PNG is the country currently in the best position to produce draftees to the AFL in the near future. The factor which will most change the AFL's and the Australian general public's perception of international footy's importance remains seeing overseas players starting to appear in the AFL.
A success for some young PNG footballers in the near future may well open a few people's eyes to the possibility of good young Americans, Danes, Japanese, Pacific Islanders or anyone else making the grade, and then the sky's the limit.
In the meantime, the success of programs like those from the AFLPNG need to get a firm foothold. Maybe with a headstart they will continue to push ahead, but as with anything in football, the future is very hard to predict.
World Footy News