Meet the Match

A Pioneer for Women's Basketball in Papua New Guinea

Karo Lelai grew up in the culturally rich and exceptionally diverse country of Papua New Guinea (PNG). With more than 800 languages and as many different cultures, Karo developed an appreciation for diversity at a very early age. Her father and mother both served as high school teachers. As teachers, her parents were relocated every 2-3 years, serving a number of different students throughout the country. Sometimes her family lived in a city, but other times, they lived in the bush, on the coast, or in a remote village. Although the transitions were difficult at times, it allowed Karo to see and appreciate all of PNG and to develop a passion for improving her country.

As a child, Karo loved playing outside. There were no televisions at that time, not even in the capital city. Radios were available, but very few owned them, and there were no telephones. To stay in the house meant chores or homework, so most all of the neighborhood kids begged to play outside. As a result, Karo developed her athleticism by playing silly neighborhood games, like ‘Chasey-Chasey’ and ‘Dodge-ball.’

Although Karo’s family was very athletic and supportive of Karo’s passion for sports, education was the priority of the household. As the eldest child, it was important for Karo to set the bar high for her younger siblings. After graduating high school, Karo earned her undergraduate degree in law from the local university. During that time, she also represented the PNG National Basketball Team and led them in several important international victories. After law school, she began her private practice before moving into her current corporate position at Petromin Oil, specializing in commercial and resource law. Last year, Karo completed her MBA, while juggling her full-time work at Petromin, her family (4 children), and the creation of a semi-professional women’s basketball team.

Through this program, Karo hopes to gain advice on how to manage her newly developed semi-pro league for women. She also hopes to increase the number of girls participating in youth leagues, not only to improve the overall sport infrastructure but for the values and lessons sports can teach.

“I strongly believe that sports have the power to unite the different people and cultures of PNG in a way that not many other things can. It can teach important life skills such as teamwork, self-discipline, and leadership, all important attributes for females. If implemented correctly, sport can also serve as a source of income for females in our country. PNG is a very communal society – whatever decision I make affects my entire family. Without pay, it is difficult to keep girls and women in sports. Girls are turning to prostitution at really young ages in order to bring home some form of income to their family. Through basketball, I believe we can help address these societal issues in some small way.”

We believe Laurel and Donna at the WNBA will be outstanding mentors to help Karo achieve her professional goals. The WNBA has been in operation for 15 years and has found its niche in the sports world. Together, we can’t wait to see how Karo and the WNBA creatively problem-solve ways to grow the sport of women’s basketball in PNG and find ways to professionalize the game.

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