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Why sports can transform PNG?

Sports in PNG. image credit; Christopher Papiali

‘We deposit money in the bank for safety and to generate profit. We deposit money into people to grow PNG’. This was part of a sermon delivered by one of the pastors in a remote local church in Raicost District Madang. This sermon can be seen as bizarre but it does demonstrate what we are capable of achieving.

So then I have been asking the best way where our people and our country can be seen as a successful emerging and vibrant democracy in this part of the world.

I finally decided it has to be sports development.

Sports are all forms of physical activity that contribute to physical fitness, mental well-being and social interaction. These include: play; recreation; organized, casual or competitive sport.

Great nations all around the world invest more in sports and their investment plans are sustained with consistent plans, wide sectoral support programs from governments and corporations. And for this reason, a lot of professional athletes and footballers are born, some contracted in other countries revamping millions of kina back into their host countries.

As Papua New Guinea is experiencing unprecedented growth, people have been talking about how money generated from our natural resources will be put into good use. Money does not grow on trees but through sweat and labor therefore a proactive and sustainable measure has to be put in place to avoid the notion of ‘big spenders’ and of course our friends outside of PNG still think we have big mouth, and we sometimes knowingly or unknowingly stamp our feet with hilarious appetite for greed, publicity and power.

We cannot deny this view. Due to our inability to understanding the real interests and mass participation of our people into something they want or like, successive governments have not pinned down core areas of development.

When we are talking about development and growth, we are also relating those concepts to people involvement and people can actively involve in two things: sports and church.

All Papua New Guineans are members of certain churches or denominations and their lifestyles revolve around it. Although many young people are leaving church nowadays, churches still become the main place for meeting and worship and whatever new ideas on government policy or anything is more likely to be heard and received by the people.

Meanwhile, Sporting activities are everyday lifestyle of our people and because this social activity can be participated by all gender and age groups, we are more likely to disseminate the kind of information we want to those people.

The core fabric of our society is communal living and our development models should be factored around it so that all people feel ownership of what is there and feel confident in what is provided for by the national government.

Through sports, we could influence many of our young people to become equal partners to development and continue on working towards progress and peace.

And this is exactly Joe Lera, Governor of Autonomous Region of Bougainville stated in of the dailies on the 19th December 2012; ‘…..this sporting event will help address in some respects the effects of the crisis. It will provide our youth the opportunity to get outside of Bougainville and see what life is like out there. There is bound to be a change of attitude after such encounter and experience’.

Even Sir Rabbie Namaliu, the Chairman of 5th PNG Games that was held in East New Britain Province stated: ‘People of 22 ethnicities converged in East New Britain Province at one time not only to compete in sports but to enjoy each other’s company, learn from each other and forge an indomitable friendship’.

The gathering at East New Britain province was literally a ‘youth power movement’ and each one endowed with various gifts and talents in respective sports demonstrated what they could do, excel high if provided opportunities.

And the basic purpose of any sporting code is to build and raise sporting stars and possibly build a career in sports. The instinct to participate at the world stage in that particular sporting code is everyone’s dream.

For PNG to move forward we need to engage our troubled youths into active sports because they will not have time to involve in drugs, marijuana and commit all forms of criminal activities. We could do that by following some of the following ambitious plans.
1. Strengthen and fund the Sports & Recreational or Social Community development offices in each provincial centres;
2. Develop sporting fields in each provincial/district levels;
3. Conduct skills training to coaches, mentors etc….through consultation from other countries that are doing very well with sports development;
4. Pay those securities/field keepers with some form of payment fortnightly;
5. Identify potential sporting stars and put them on ‘elite’ training programs in various sporting codes;
6. Negotiate with overseas feeder clubs for further training and development and this could be done with countries that we conduct trade with;
7. Draw a strong government policy where companies operating in PNG should have an effective and achievable ‘corporate community responsibility programs’ where these companies should directly fund the operation of district/LLG sporting programs in partnership with the National Government.

At the national level, successive governments continue on putting more money into police and just hear what the community is saying whether or not police have vetoed the increase in criminal activities. There is absolutely no win-win situation despite millions of kina funded operation of police force in PNG and what we get is the brutality of the police force leading to deaths and destructions.

The answer to curbing law and order does not come from complex and high powered politicized police operation neither the involvement of foreign mercenaries in PNG. The inner strength, the real call to solving our country’s problems come from within PNG and virtually the potential time bomb that may explode so soon has got to do with how our youths (ages between 11 – 26) are actively engaged in very authentic and genuine activities.

Some time ago, I wrote a sporting article which appeared in this paper in which I shared about a country called Jamaica. Great Britain had a big influence on Jamaica like what Australia did to PNG. Jamaica tops the world as the leading country in Sprinting and we have seen that through Usain Bolt who is the 100 m record holder at the 2012 London Olympics.

Jamaica gained Independence in 1962, almost 10 years before PNG. It is also ravaged by poverty and experienced the similar developmental path to PNG.

Jamaica government was more determined to push its country forward by putting more money into sports and now enjoys its reputation as the world leader in Athletics.

There were leaders in PNG who were very much determined to push for the view that Rugby League is the number one sport in PNG. The success level in this sport is phenomenal. However, why are not many young Papua New Guineans beginning to play rugby? Rugby League is a political gimmick and the success rate in most rural villages and towns is appalling.

The establishment of National Soccer League by former chairman John Kapi Natto should be seen as a parallel sport to Rugby League because of its popularity in all provinces in PNG.

We cannot deny true patriotic Papua New Guineans to go out of their own ways to promote sports and I pay great respect to them for their bravery although there are limited funds to do what they think is right.

And there are many more success stories on sports development and I cannot pen them in here.

One thing for sure is our inability to manage and coordinate with many stakeholders and strive to make sports (whatever code) the driving force to eradicating moral/social decays or upheavals.

My line of argument for any government to give priority to sports is simple. Through sports we reduce disease, stay healthy, reduce crime as more of those youths will be actively engaged in those sports . But what some of us want is to aggressively sell our players to overseas sporting markets and the national government partnering with established bodies like National Youth Commission, PNG Games Council and PNG Sports Foundation should have the upper hand to see where the future lies for most unemployed, dropped out and socially unacceptable youths in PNG.

It is my fervent wish that a government is for the people if it identifies where the time bomb is in the population pyramid and as much as possible give hope to many thousands of our youths. To me that is democracy at work and certainly we will stand tall if our oil and gas depletes.

You can contact the author on 72111918, or [email protected]

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