By Reginald Renagi
Well is rugby league our national game or not? It depends very much on who you ask. The response can be an interesting one.
Nevertheless, today many Papua New Guineans feel very passionate about rugby league than any other team sports over the years. Rugby league was first introduced in the country over sixty years ago, and before Independence.
It's the one sport where the local people from certain regions of the country take very seriously; like their constant tribal fights. These tribal rivalries at times spill onto the field of play during games of rugby league in both local and national competitions.
The players in both teams spurred on by their passionate spectator supporters do get very physical with each other in ‘bloody matches’. This passion for the game (whether for better or worse) makes seasoned players want to fight each other a lot during games, despite penalties by referees to keep games as fight-free as possible.
Many a times, such sport-related fights continue on after games with unhappy spectators willy-nilly joining in the melee. These game fights are usually started by frustrated players of losing side teams, aided and abetted by their equally unhappy supporters.
Generally Papua New Guineans are very sore losers in any sport. They don’t like losing in any game, especially in a game of rugby league. The people will find any number of reasons why their favourite team got trashed by a big margin and show their frustrations by taking it out on the other team, or the “one-sided” referee during the game; and after the final whistle has blown.
We like to openly express our loss of self-control; both as players and spectators alike when our favoured team fairly loses in a fair game. The spectators may then find some lame excuse by squarely blaming the match referee’s poor control of the game costing them, their team’s loss.
At times, the poor referee gets seriously assaulted by players and spectators if they think he has been a ‘one-sided’ referee during a game. This is one main reason why the general standard of our rugby league has not even improved at all, despite sports commentators and the media tagging rugby league as PNG’s national sport’.
Therefore, despite many short-comings of rugby league, many citizens now regard rugby league as 'our national sport'. This can be attributed to rugby league’s mass-appeal and popularity nation-wide over other major team sports codes like: rugby union, Aussie rules, soccer, cricket, basketball and netball to name just a few sports that came after rugby league in PNG.
For many years; the standard of rugby league has not improved at all despite efforts by many people to see some big changes in rugby league in PNG. More so, with PNG’s Kumuls constantly losing big international-match games over time, we now need to ask ourselves: “How can rugby league be our national game when we have many things wrong with the development of the code?”
So how can rugby league be our national sport when we keep losing too many times to big international league teams and worse still, we can’t even improve the game’s standards to higher levels that the whole country can really believe that rugby league has come of age, and is now widely accepted as truly “our national sport”.