Football in Papua New Guinea is set to benefit from the recent government decision to allow dual citizenship with several overseas based players eager to pull on the national colours in the near future.
“The Papua New Guinea Football Association fully supports the concept of dual citizenship and we thank the PNG Government and especially the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Immigration, Hon. Rimbink Pato for pushing the concept to be ready by March 2017,” said PNGFA Senior Vice President John Wesley Gonjuan.
With Papua New Guinea set to face Tahiti home and away in their opening Oceania Stage 3 qualifiers for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ next month, as many as four players of PNG descent hoping for their dual citizenship to be approved could be included in national coach Flemming Serritslev’s 23-man squad and fulfil their dream of playing for their birth nation.
“PNGFA also want to thank the Minister of Sports, National Events and APEC, Hon. Justin Tkatchenko for his support of the concept and also in assisting us to promote the concept to identify talent outside of PNG,” said Gonjuan.
Earlier in the month Tkatchenko met with one of the hopeful players, George Slefendorfas, who is currently based in Australia. Slefendorfas was in the country with another Australian-based player, Brad McDonald, in camp with the Papua New Guinea men’s national team with one-eye on the dual citizenship proposal being accepted.
“Dual citizenship has given us the opportunity to identify talented players based abroad with PNG heritage and who are committed to represent our country. These players will add great value and experience to talent that we have already within the team,” said Gonjuan.
Joining Slefendorfas and McDonald in pledging their loyalty to Papua New Guinea are New Zealand-based pair Aaron Spain and Jamie Woodlock.
For Spain – whose mother hails from Central Province – the thought of representing Papua New Guinea is more than just a sporting achievement, it’s the realization of a dream he never thought possible after leaving the country shortly after his birth, and an opportunity to learn more about his culture.
“The desire to return to my homeland to finally meet my family whom I have not seen since leaving Papua New Guinea as a baby in 1997 fills me with emotions that words cannot begin to describe,” said Spain.
“Just the thought of being considered to play for my country gives great pleasure and pride to me and my family. It has been a childhood dream of mine to one day represent Papua New Guinea on the world stage and be seen as a proud Papua New Guinean,” the 22-year-old defender continued.
Spain is a teammate of current PNG international Felix Komolong at Canterbury United, while Woodlock has linked up with Raymond Gunemba at Hamilton Wanderers in the Stirling Sports Premiership in New Zealand.
Lae-born Woodlock spent last season in the Netherlands at youth level with Go Ahead Eagles, making him the second Papua New Guinean player in Europe with David Browne already in a stint at FC Gronigen, before returning to New Zealand.
“We hope that these players are the first of many that will make themselves eligible to represent Papua New Guinea in both men’s and women’s football. The impact that will have both on and off the pitch is huge,” said Gonjuan, “but it’s not just football that will benefit from this decision and PNGFA encourages all national sports organizations to follow our lead in finding passionate athletes of PNG heritage to add to our local talent”.
Papua New Guinea will face Tahiti in the Oceania Stage 3 qualifiers for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ in Port Moresby on 23 March. The PNG team will travel to Papeete for the away match on 29 March (PNG time).