PNG National Soccer League Plans Two-Tier Expansion

Plans to expand the Papua New Guinea National Soccer League to a two-tier competition were confirmed by the Papua New Guinea Football Association (PNGFA) this week, with the potential for a record-breaking 32 teams taking part across two divisions.

PNGFA President John Kapi Natto had dropped hints immediately following the conclusion of the 2019 season in May that the new season may include an ‘elite’ national division with regional conferences on a second tier.

This was confirmed this week after Expression of Interest (EOI) forms were distributed to clubs around the country, with full details of how the league will be structured:

The Men’s Premier Competition is an open category competition for franchise clubs who meet all the prescribed requirements. The competition will be played across the country and there are only eight (8) spots to be filled for the season.

The Men’s Conference Competition is a closed competition geared towards the Member Associations of PNGFA. Member Associations are encouraged to fill a team comprising of players who are registered within their association to participate within their Conference, then qualify to play against other Conference winners.

Member Associations who are not willing and/or prepared to submit an E.O.I. will not be penalised but the offer to participate with be given to another interested stakeholder to take up the spot. There are only six (6) spots per Conference.

There is a fair amount of notable information to be assessed here:

  • The ‘top level’ of PNG football – the ‘Premier Competition’ – will essentially return to the format it has seen for the majority of the time since its inauguration in 2006; that is, there will be a nationwide league of roughly eight teams, the winners of which will probably (although this is unconfirmed) represent PNG at continental level. It’s likely that we will see the likes of Toti City and Hekari United apply to be one of the eight teams in this division.
  • As yet there is no confirmation that the eight teams will consist of two from each region (Southern, Northern, Highlands and Islands) or a less balanced, arbitrary allocation, nor how the slots will be allocated if more than eight teams apply.
  • Interestingly, the rules also state that franchise clubs must have their own stadium, or demonstrate that they will have their own stadium within three years. This is a tough ask, but excellent news for football across the country, as this will further develop the building blocks required to move to the next level – to have professional clubs in a professional league, something which is a target by 2021.
  • The ‘second level’ of PNG football – the ‘Conference Competition’ – will work similarly to the 2019 edition of the NSL: four conferences in the four regions, with the conference winners playing each other for the championship.
  • The ‘closed competition’ rules governing the Conference Competition essentially limits applications to ‘one club per Member Association’, which could mean several of the teams that took part last year may be unable to do so again, especially if they came from the same Member Association as another club that applies. We’re not sure exactly what this will mean for currently existing franchises, so watch this space for more information.
  • It’s as yet unclear whether the two-tier system will include direct promotion and relegation between the divisions.
  • With potentially eight teams in the Premier Competition and 24 in the Conference Competition totalling 32, we should see the NSL break last year’s record of 27 participating teams in a season.
Toti City 2019
Toti City are the reigning National Soccer League champions. Photo: Toti City FC

For the first time ever, there will be a Women’s Competition taking place in the Northern and Southern regions too.

With the tentative start date of November 16th just over a month away, it’s likely we’ll see rapid progress in terms of how the league shapes up, and no doubt the return of some familiar clubs with a long history domestically.

We congratulate the PNGFA and John Kapi Natto for yet more encouraging progress in Papua New Guinean football, and look forward to seeing how the season will unfold.

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