Equal Playing Field in PNGWhy use Junior Leagues?

Across both Papua New Guinea and the eastern states of Australia, rugby league holds widespread popularity across male and female youth. However, affordable junior competitions can often be difficult to come by – especially across the developing areas of Papua New Guinea.

Given recent research by The Smith Family about the value of team sport for youth development, it comes as no surprise that a lack of non-familial positive role models can often lead to social problems across the youth of disadvantaged communities. Reaching an age where they begin to look outside of family for guidance, young adolescents may undergo unsafe experiences through contact with negative role models or through a lack of guidance altogether. This of course can result in poor decision-making and problems later in life.

RLAV attempts to address these needs and go further. The introduction of junior leagues to such areas – integrated with valuable life lessons – may play a key role at an important stage of youth development, altering attitudes for the future. In early 2013, therefore, RLAV launched its first youth-focused junior league program: Equal Playing Field.

How it works

The Equal Playing Field (EPF) Project is an eight-week course that aims to encourage both behaviour and attitude change around issues of gender inequality and violence.

Over the eight weeks, 12 and 13 year-old boys and girls take part in a mixed tag competition that weaves respectful relationship education with integrated training and game days. While approximately two thirds of teams compete in recreational matches and refine their on-field skills, the remaining teams undergo education from facilitators in more of an interactive classroom environment – known as “The Sheds.”

It is in these classes that Equal Playing Field differentiates itself from other sport-related youth education programs. Rugby league is not just used as a carrot in attracting participants, but a vehicle to help teach, discuss and understand these vital life lessons. Education on gender equality and respectful relationships can therefore be delivered in a way that is sensitive, appropriate, effective and, just as importantly, enjoyable.

Equal Playing Field – Papua New Guinea

Morata Settlement, in Port Moresby, has long been established as an initial focus area for all of RLAV’s Papua New Guinean Programs. According to data from the region, the vast majority of perpetrators of gang rape and sexual assault are younger than 19 years old – often under 14 years old – so Equal Playing Field provides an ideal access point to this particular age bracket. Healthy discussions about gender issues and respect at the young adolescent stage of development may promote respectful relationships in years to come.

March 2013 saw RLAV begin delivering a pilot Equal Playing Field program to 200 boys and girls from Morata. 26 local and predominantly youth volunteers underwent formal training in sports conduct and coaching, child protection and advocacy, including expert instruction from Oxfam PNG staff, RLAV staff and the coach of the Port Moresby Vipers. Fully equipped to independently facilitate the program, the hope is that Equal Playing Field will eventually become largely self-sufficient. The pilot program received widespread positive feedback from participants, volunteers, and the Morata community.

Following the initial pilot, RLAV engaged with an an experienced program writer to make alterations for an improved version. RLAV has divided the finalised Papua New Guinea project into four topics:

  • Understanding Violence and Abuse
  • Rights and Responsibilities
  • Gender
  • Positive Self-talk

All topics maintain a strong focus on positive reinforcement and promotion of positive behaviour. Aspiring volunteers for the Papua New Guinea project (ideally PNG residents) are welcome to contact RLAV directly. Current and additional mentors will undergo further training in the improved program.

Equal Playing Field – Australia

Following the success of Equal Playing Field Morata, an Australian installment was announced on the 14th of August, 2013. The project, which will launch in October, will target 12 to 13 year-old boys and girls from disadvantaged communities in the New South Wales region of Illawarra as they are educated about gender equality and respectful relationships. As with the Papua New Guinean program, participants will be rewarded for respect and good sportsmanship, rather than athletic skill demonstrated through the free weekly tag rugby league competition.

An Australian first, EPF will continue to be based around an eight-week course and it will be unique in its use of rugby league as a tool for discussion. Presented by trained volunteers, topics will include:

  • Respectful Relationships
  • Rights and Responsibilities
  • Empathy
  • Staying Safe

A partnership with Relationships Australia has been facilitated by The Smith Family Partnership Brokers and Wollongong Police Lake Illawarra LAC have also given their support - meaning both organisations will support the newly-trained facilitators. Details about Equal Playing Field’s southern Wollongong venue, player registrations and volunteer applications will be announced at later dates.

  Download the Media Release detailing the Australian announcement here, or download the fact sheet about EPF Morata below.

"Junior League: An Equal Playing Field"

“Junior League: An Equal Playing Field” Fact Sheet.

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