26 Jun 2020

NZ and Australia Football World Cup bid win 'absolutely amazing'

11:16 am on 26 June 2020

Players, administrators and government officials have labelled New Zealand and Australia's successful bid to host the 2023 Women's Football World Cup a huge success.

The joint proposal from the trans-Tasman countries beat a rival bid from Colombia to host the tournament which is being expanded from 24 to 32 teams.

It's the third major women's sporting event secured by New Zealand in recent years, with both the Cricket World Cup and Rugby World Cup to be held here in 2021.

New Zealand found out the news in the early hours of the morning during FIFA's council meeting. New Zealand and Australia won the vote 22-13.

For New Zealand Football (NZF) chief executive Andrew Pragnell and Football Fern Annalie Longo it was a long night, but well worth the wait.

Longo told Morning Report she sat up all night with some teammates to watch the announcement and celebrated with a bit of champagne.

She said she was quite nervous in the lead-up to the unveiling.

"A little bit of relief if I'm honest, you kind of never know what's going to happen with those things ... just really proud with the efforts and a big thank you to everyone behind the scenes that have worked really hard to make the dream come true for many of us."

While still coming to grips with the reality of the news, Longo said it will be a fantastic spectacle in 2023.

"It's absolutely amazing, the opportunity that it brings for the exposure to New Zealand and as a player you couldn't have a bigger dream as a kid to play in a World Cup in your country.

"[I'm] over the moon to have it go our way and looking forward to the experience and the next couple of years of preparation and getting ready to host the best world cup there's ever been for women."

'A long time coming'

NZF chief executive Andrew Pragnell told Morning Report that New Zealand had been eyeing a tournament of this size since 2015, back when it hosted the Under-20 men's tournament for the first time.

"It's been a long time in the making," he said.

"I think one of the critical moments though was the tournament expanded from 24 to 32 teams and that actually made it largely impossible for New Zealand to host it on its own, so that formed a really important partnership with Australia and one we both got in behind and was founded on a true sense of partnership."

Pragnell said the backing from both the Asian and Oceania federations was also critical to the joint bid's success.

He said while FIFA would give final signoff on the split of the games, New Zealand should get roughly 45-50 percent of the matches and a semifinal.

The matches will be held in Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin, with training grounds for teams scattered throughout the country as well.

Ferns Annalie Longo, Erin Nayler and Hannah Wilkinson pose for pictures ahead af the FIFA Women's World Cup 2023 hosting announcement.

Football Ferns Annalie Longo, Erin Nayler and Hannah Wilkinson pose for pictures ahead af the FIFA Women's World Cup 2023 hosting announcement. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Pragnell said roughly 30,000 women and girls played football throughout New Zealand and that was growing year on year.

He said there was also a legacy programme behind that helping develop female administrators, coaches and referees.

The New Zealand government is providing a support package of $25 million to support the tournament, with $14m going directly to NZF. The remaining $11m will go towards leveraging the event as much as the government can with initiatives such as publicity for the event, as well as promoting football in New Zealand and a focus on women and girls' participation in sport.

Sports minister Grant Robertson told Morning Report the government's spending over the next few years would give the Football Ferns the best possible chance to be competitive in the tournament when it kicks off.

"Tournaments like this are just great opportunities to engage future generations of players, not just girls either but boys as well ... we saw with the tournament in France last year what a drawcard it is, over a billion viewers of the World Cup last year, that was more than the Rugby World Cup had, so this is just a fantastic opportunity for New Zealand."

Robertson said the government would look at whether the Women's Football World Cup would fall under the major events legislation that applied to the Rugby World Cup and upcoming America's Cup.

He also said he was optimistic that Covid-19 would not interrupt the tournament in three years' time.

It is estimated that about $180m will be pumped into the New Zealand economy by hosting an event of this scale, at last year's Women's World Cup in France 30,000 American fans followed the US team on its road to being crowned champions. It also gained the attention of 1.12 billion viewers throughout the tournament.

The Minister of Finance, Grant Robertson, provides his weekly Treasury update.

Sports minister Grant Robertson. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

The first match of the tournament will be held at Auckland's Eden Park, which has a capacity of 48,000 seats and is expected to sell out.

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff said hosting major games in a global women's football tournament supported its vision to be the country's events capital.

"The FIFA Women's World Cup 2023 will bring significant economic benefits to our region, showcase Kiwi football talent, and with football growing in popularity among women and girls, this tournament will no doubt inspire greater participation and following," Goff said.

Goff said major events generated more than $400 million for the regional economy between 2011 and 2018. It is estimated that the event will generate 130,000 visitor nights and boost the region's economy by about $60m.

On behalf of Auckland Council, Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (ATEED) supported the joint bid to host the games.

Its chief executive, Nick Hill, said securing hosting rights was a significant achievement and ensured women's sport was given equal spotlight.

'Get behind us'

With just three years until the tournament reaches New Zealand and Australian shores, both countries now begin preparations for hosting the tournament.

While Pragnell said there's not a huge lead in time like men's events get, there was no time to dwell and work would begin immediately on setting up a governance team to oversee the project.

As for the Football Ferns, Longo said getting past Covid-19 was the first priority.

"This year's obviously been tough with travel restrictions but moving forward I think playing internationals [matches] is key, so as soon as we can do that I'm sure you'll see the team going overseas and preparing and getting ready.

"First and foremost, we've got the Olympics next year for the team and then moving forward obviously into the world cup, so yea I think we take one step at a time, obviously getting in the group stage is a key, is a must for us, and then going beyond that is goal and the dream to win the world cup, everyone wants to do that."

Longo also had a message for any aspiring Football Ferns.

"Get behind it, get behind the team [Football Ferns] and follow the journey and we hope to see you in a few years time and really put on a showcase for the world."