Keeping Papua New Guinean athletes in the game

3 min read
Sport in Papua New Guinea
Image: WaterAid/Tom Greenwood

Can you imagine an Australian sporting landscape without the likes of Ellyse Perry, Lance Franklin or Dylan Alcott? What if these superstars never got the chance to pursue their sporting dreams because the toilets and water facilities at their local club were not up to standard?

Those are the potential implications for Australia’s closest geographic neighbour Papua New Guinea, where inadequate water, sanitation and hygiene facilities are holding back athletes from participating and attending sport. This is according to a report launched last week by WaterAid which could influence the PNG Sport Foundation’s national sports policy.

The report found that teams participating in the 2017 PNG Games in Kimbe had no choice but to bring their own drinking water to the event; that athletes were so disgusted by the quality of toilets that they defecated in the open instead; and that women didn’t have access to sanitary napkin disposal bins in their toilet blocks. Furthermore, only one of six host venues had accessible toilet facilities for people with a disability.

WaterAid, with support from the Australian Government through the Papua New Guinea-Australia partnership, also learned that only 59% of toilets at the sporting were venues were functional, only one-third of toilet blocks were clean, and only one venue had soap in their handwashing basins.

The poor quality of the facilities are emblematic of poor facilities across the country, which are preventing athletes – particularly women and people with disabilities – from playing sport. During interviews, female athletes reported feeling unsafe when toilets weren’t available or clean, explaining that defecating in open spaces increased their risk of being the target of assault. On the flipside, one female athlete explained that having access to toilets, handwashing basins and showers would “really boost women to take part”. Meanwhile, people with disabilities raised concerns around dignity, calling for toilet and shower blocks that accommodated their needs.

Spectators are likewise affected by poor facilities, with a third of interviewees stating that they avoid watching live sports if there are no toilets at the venue.

Improving sports facilities not only has the potential to improve the safety, comfort and convenience for athletes but can directly improve health outcomes. During the PNG Games, athletes complained that poor facilities contributed to the spreading of illnesses such as diarrhoea. This can be particularly dangerous in Papua New Guinea; dehydration caused by diarrhoea combined with the high temperatures can put people at an increased risk of heatstroke, which can be life-threatening.

In collating these findings, WaterAid recommends that the PNG Sports Foundation develop a set of minimum standards to raise the requirements of sporting venues across the country. This would force sporting venues to raise the standard of their facilities, would remove barriers for athletes and spectators and would increase health outcomes.

Sport is a vessel in Papua New Guinea for promoting change. It can improve health, social cohesion, gender equality and inclusion of people with disabilities. But people require clean water and toilets to participate. By advocating for improvements to facilities at sporting venues we’re helping sportspeople and spectators realise these health and social benefits, and hopefully helping Papua New Guinea’s next superstar pursue their dream of sporting success too.

Read WaterAid’s report and suggested list of minimum standards here.