(Photo Credit: PNGFA – Sir Hubert Murray Stadium, Port Moresby)

Papua New Guinea has proven itself to be powerful force in women’s football in the Oceania region over the past two decades. Now, hot on the heels of qualifying for the FIFA Women’s World Cup playoff tournament in February, Papua New Guinea (PNG) plays host to the inaugural OFC Women’s Champions League in Port Moresby from June 1-10.

A country with a population of over nine million people, PNG is the world’s third largest island country and is one of the most linguistically diverse nations on earth, with over 800 indigenous languages spoken across its’ vast land area.

The mostly rural landscape of PNG provides some stunning backdrops, none less so than the New Guinea Highlands, which includes the Bismarck Range, home to the country’s tallest peak, Mount Wilhelm. (4,509m)

Despite the undoubted popularity of rugby league in PNG, football has been growing at a consistent rate, for both the men’s and women’s game.

The PNGFA became a member of football’s governing body FIFA in 1966 and whilst women’s football in the country has long played second fiddle to men’s football, the balance is starting to shift with more and more women and girls taking up the sport.

Women’s football in the country has already developed a considerable history of success, with the women’s national team securing gold medals at the South Pacific Games on several occasions, including 2003, 2007, 2011, 2015 and 2019. They will start as strong favourite for the upcoming 2023 games, held in Solomon Islands in November and December.

1989 was a landmark moment for women’s football in PNG, with its’ first ever women’s national representative team taking part in the Oceania Cup in Brisbane, Australia. Geraldine Eka wrote her name into the history books scoring the first goal for her country at an international tournament.

In 2016 PNG played host to the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup, a huge occasion for women’s football in the country. More recently incumbent PNGFA President John Kapi Natto has been a big driver of promoting the women’s game and supporting women’s football across Papua New Guinea.

With much needed funding from FIFA, the Women’s National Soccer League was established in 2021 and the following year the PNG National team won the OFC Women’s Nations Cup in Suva, Fiji to qualify for the FIFA Women’s World Cup playoff tournament in New Zealand held in February of this year.

Although Papua New Guinea narrowly lost out to Panama in their semi-final, they put up a huge fight and showed the talent pool is there to help grow the game even further.

In domestic football, Hekari United has a proud history, including as a founding member of the Women’s National Soccer League. Under the management of franchise owner Vonnie Kapi Natto, the team hopes to make its mark in women’s football in the Oceania region and will be the country’s representative at OFC Women’s Champions League 2023.

PNGFA has major plans for women’s football which will see their domestic competition played in four regional conferences across the country: Northern Conference, Southern Conference, Highlands Conference and New Guinea Islands Eastern Conference.

There are also plans in place for a women’s youth competition, which will be played simultaneously with the men’s competition in this upcoming season.

Yvonne Gabong, current Papua New Guinea women’s national team captain is positive about the upwards trend of women’s football in her country.

“Some people think football is for males only and it’s been hard, sometimes I feel like giving up but my mother is always there to encourage and push me to achieve my soccer dreams. Women’s equality is something we feel extremely passionate about. There is a new normal growing in our country: one where women will be safe to walk by themselves and live their dreams.”

For the women of the five teams taking part in OFC Champions League 2023, the opportunity to fulfill their footballing dreams beckons in Papua New Guinea.