It’s rare to see a Papua New Guinean woman instructing 11 men on the sidelines of a football match but Rachel Wadunah is proving that it’s possible.
Wadunah said words from Bob Morris – former head coach of Papua New Guinea’s (PNG) national men’s team – were the encouragement she needed to kickstart her professional career in coaching.
“He told me I had great potential to be a coach,” she said.
“Bob then introduced me to the PNG Football Association to attend and complete coaching courses which led me to my international head coaching debut with PNG’s U-20 women’s team in 2014.”
Since then, Wadunah has been an assistant coach for the national women’s team in the 2015 XV Pacific Games and assisted Lisa Cole in the 2016 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup campaign.
Wadunah spends her days as a Business Teacher at Tusbab Secondary School before travelling down the road to take charge of the Tusbab Stallions, a premier men’s team who play in PNG’s Kumul Petroleum National Soccer League.
The club was founded in 2019 and this season – that is scheduled to start on July 17 – will mark their second spin in the country’s top league after their first campaign resulted in a sixth-place finish.
Wadunah said it’s been a rewarding yet challenging experience as a woman in her leadership role.
“For us women here the reality is that men undervalue our abilities saying things like we belong in the kitchen, making it tough to be a female in a profession that is male dominated,” she said.
“I remember when I first started coaching men, people would say things like, ‘a woman is going to coach?’
“At times there can be negativity in the air, but I reassure whoever I meet that not only men can do it women can too.
“I’m lucky my players are respectful, they got used to the idea and so did the people around us.
“One of the things I appreciate most is that I’ve received positive support from the media, they cover our games and normalise the narrative of a female head coach.”
Gender-equality and exposure of women in her culture gives Wadunah purpose in her chosen career path.
“For those reasons alone, I feel so privileged to have my partner [Conrad Wadunah] who is at the forefront of empowering women,” she said.
“With his help and guidance behind me I have the courage to step out and take on my role.
“I believe I am unintentionally changing mindsets. I do what I do because I have a passion for football and if it’s through coaching that I can make a difference, then coaching football it is.”