Today, a press release from the Papua New Guinea Football Association confirmed the fears that had been brewing all week: the National Soccer League would be delayed for a third time; and this time, the PNGFA have not given a potential start date for the country’s flagship competition.
The reason given was that only four teams have fully paid their dues ahead of the planned kick-off date: reigning champions Lae City, eight-time winners Hekari United, last year’s debutants FC Bougainville, and newcomers FC Kutubu.
With the PNGFA and the NSL board expecting at least eight teams, this has forced a further delay, with the new start date as yet undecided.
With the debate raging fiercely on social media, we decided to take a look at the potential options that the PNGFA, alongside the NSL board, might have moving forward, as well as some opinions shared about each potential option.
- Stand firm and insist clubs pay their fees
“The PNGFA and NSL should stand firm in their decision to organise and run our top league, and not revert under pressure go back to the conference format, because the conference league level is very low, and it isn’t that competitive.”
The first option is simply to continue what they’re already doing. It appears that in previous seasons, the NSL board has allowed the competition to go ahead, despite not all the clubs paying their full affiliation fees. It seems that they are taking a firm stand on that this year, in order to stamp out clubs enjoying a ‘free ride’ in the competition.
Pros: This would enable the competition to be of the highest possible standard, with all the clubs taking part enjoying enough financial muscle and a level of professionalism which would ensure that all matches are competitive.
Cons: This denies access to high-level football to countless regions and areas of the country, which new PNGFA President John Kapi Natto championed at the start of his reign and during his time with the Football Federation Papua New Guinea. Plus, with so few teams playing top level football, development of future players for the national team will be stunted.
- Lower the fees
“I think it’s too much to register, compared to previous years.”
One option might be to lower the fees required to enter the competition. This year, clubs must pay a registration fee of 80,000 kina, which is around €20,000. Last year, the registration fee was 45,000 kina. That said, last year, the competition was split into the four regions, meaning travel and logistics costs would have been lower, but even so: asking clubs to pay almost double what they paid for the previous season seems to have been a stumbling block, with only four teams managing to raise the funds required.
Pros: This would allow slightly smaller clubs to take part, giving the NSL a little more variety, and giving those smaller clubs a chance to prove themselves and develop young players for the national team.
Cons: This doesn’t solve the problem of football taking place in all regions, unlike last year, and lower fees could mean the NSL might be unable to afford to help with travel costs for clubs to away games, as well as create a number of other financial problems.
- Reinstate the conference system for clubs who can’t afford the fees
“The conference system is the way forward when you talk about development of soccer throughout the country, and the NSL board should reconsider. The Premier League is just too much and will greatly affect clubs seeking sponsorship. Where is the development of soccer when registration fees are too high?”
It would be a walk-back, but one suggestion might be to go ahead with the planned conference system, allowing some of the 12 clubs who originally applied for the Premier Division to drop down into the Conference Division (perhaps having an extra two make six in the main NSL division), while including the 11 teams who originally applied for the Conference Division. That would leave 17 teams across a potential four regions; with an extra couple of weeks to apply, that could be made up to the required number. There has also been a suggestion that this conference system should be administered by an entirely new governing body, in a similar way to how the Premier League and the Championship are organised in England.
Pros: A two-tier system would be properly established. This would invite the idea of promotion and relegation, as well as maintaining a top division for the elite players across the country. It also solves the problem of the previous two solutions in that football would be spread across the whole country.
Cons: There may not be enough interest for this. 17 teams might not be enough to fill four regional conferences, depending on where the clubs are coming from. You may well end up with 6-7 teams from the Northern and Southern regions, but only 2-3 from the Highlands and Islands.
- Go back to the conference system of last season
“Where is the pathway to the NSL? You can’t expect a team from grassroots level to go straight into an NSL Premier Competition. There has to be a pathway and that is the conference competition. Focus more on development for players in the country; that should be the first priority.”
One option might be to revert back to the system used last season, which some have argued was a good first step in the right direction, and perhaps shouldn’t have been changed so quickly.
Pros: Football returns to all four corners of the country, and the maximum numbers of players and teams get to show what they can do.
Cons: No elite league where the top clubs can really test themselves, and they may not get competitive matches until the last few matches of the season. Would also be seen as a step backwards.
Which of these four options do you think would be the best way to go for the PNGFA and the NSL? Share your thoughts below!