Taskforce to discuss potential of PNG AFL side playing in Australia
(Left) Thirteen-year-old Papua New Guinean AFL player Tommy Ndresanei in action for the Under-13 Wests Juniors in
Croydon Park Sydney, the junior side for the Western Suburbs Magpies. (Right) Mr Ndresanei and his team-mates
celebrate after winning the 2011 grand final. The AFL expansion plan could benefit talented PNG youngsters like Mr
Ndresanei. Pictures courtesy of Annette Bremner and Grettel Ngason.
An Australian Football League (AFL) and Australian and PNG government taskforce will meet next month to discuss the potential of a PNG side playing on a weekly basis in an Australian competition.
The plans are part of an ambitious move by the Australian sport to boost its presence in the Pacific Islands nation. The Australian and PNG governments are backing the idea with the Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Affairs Richard Marles MP and PNG Foreign Minister Ano Pala coming on board as co-chairs of the taskforce.
AFL international development manager Tony Woods said there is potential to increase the number of Papua New Guineans playing the sport beyond 27,000.
“There is fantastic potential in PNG with more than 27,000 participants currently playing the game. By providing a network of programs we know this number will rise and not only will there will far reaching benefits for communities, there will be opportunities for elite players to pursue their football,” he said in a statement released today by the AFL.
Nine Papua New Guineans are currently on AFL international scholarship programs with a number of Australian-based clubs. They include Donald Barry, Brendan Beno and Ezra Kautu (Brisbane Lions); Peter Labi (Carlton); Max Lavai and David Meli (Essendon); Theo Gavuri (GWS Giants); and Nathan Malbak and Gideon Simon (Richmond).
Beno played with the Brisbane Lions reserves for the first time last month. Beno, 17, hails from the Bougainville autonomous region and attends the AFL PNG Academy in Port Moresby.
The taskforce membership will include Woods, PNG-born and three-time premiership player Mal Michael, DFAT representative (and former Richmond player) Ray Hall, AFL PNG Chairman Scott Reid, key PNG government and business representatives and AusAID representatives.
The inaugural taskforce meeting will take place in late October in Port Moresby to coincide with the PNG junior national titles. The taskforce will look at all facets of the game including the implementation of development programs, football programs to assist with social issues, an elite player pathway with an expanded academy program and the possibility of a PNG representative team playing on a weekly basis in an Australian football competition. Recommendations will be made by the taskforce with a view to partnership programs in the coming years.
"We know PNG is a sports-loving nation and this taskforce is an important step in the development of a game much-loved in Australia but less-developed in PNG," Mr Marles said.
"Importantly, it follows last month's signing of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the Australian Government and the AFL which recognises the strength of collaboration in developing the game's export potential."
One of PNG’s most famous exports, Mr Michael said he is looking forward to playing an important role for football in his homeland.
“Back in 2002 I said there will be more players from PNG that are able to play at the highest level and with the support of the taskforce I don’t think this is too far away from being a reality. I know the positive impact Australian football can have on both individuals and communities and I look forward to offering same opportunities that I had,” he said.