CONGRATULATIONS! Papua New Guinea claimed their fifth consecutive gold medal at the XVI Pacific Games held in Samoa and I could not be happier for them.
Now, the games wrapped up a week ago and you’re probably wondering why am I only now heralding this success?
Because after the high of the tournament coming to a scintillating close, I needed a little time to let the rage evaporate. Yup, I said rage.
Don’t get me wrong, I could not be happier for Papua New Guinea. We’re susas and they 100 per cent deserve, and work for, every success they have.
What sends me into the red is knowing that despite the potential, despite the consistence of their achievements and despite an incredible desire for more, Papua New Guinea doesn’t even have a national women’s league.
The mere fact that this team manages to stay in the top rungs of Oceania women’s football astounds me.
Sitting in the stands at the final of the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019 and listening to the chants of “Equal Pay” was like an out of body moment for someone who comes from the Pacific. Of course, the dream is to one day be chanting for equal pay.
But right now we’re not even close to having that conversation.
I remember going in to see the Papua New Guinea team in 2016, roughly six months after they’d won their fourth Pacific Games gold and just a few hours before the kick-off of their Olympic Qualification play-off with New Zealand.
Without going into the heartbreaking details, the team had eaten the opposite of what you’d want your elite athletes having before a big match, and there definitely wasn’t enough water available to them given the searing heat.
My heart broke. But what really struck me was there wasn’t a negative word uttered by any of these girls. Not a peep of a complaint. Then they went out onto that field and gave their absolute all. Even after going down in one of their worst defeats in recent times, these women, showed grit, determination, and incredibly resilience.
So how on earth does this team, do these players, keep achieving such astounding results despite the odds being stacked so heavily against them?
I don’t know. I might never know.
What I do know is that in four years time, when Papua New Guinea head to Solomon Islands to once more defend their Pacific Games title, I don’t want them to still be fighting these same fights.
I want a team of players who have had the benefit of a national league to build and develop their skills. I want a team who have the benefit of a development pathway feeding into their ranks. I want a team who are treated like the champion athletes they are.