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A football tournament in New Zealand? That will be met with a shrug of the shoulders, surely?
Absolutely not. The awarding of the 2023 Fifa Women’s World Cup to New Zealand and Australia must be greeted with a glorious sense of delight and anticipation.
This is big, mega big, so big we can forgo the usual scepticism about outlandish viewing figures and economic impact and global attention being on New Zealand and just accept its, well, big-ness.
More than one billion viewers watched the most recent tournament in France, an astonishing number that places the women’s world cup in elite territory alongside its men’s equivalent and the Olympic Games.
Those viewers will see images of stadiums and scenery from five New Zealand cities, including Dunedin, so it is a priceless opportunity to show off to the world and, hopefully, entice visitors here with (fingers crossed) the Covid-19 pandemic being a distant memory.
Government predictions for the tournament, which expands from 24 to 32 teams, opening a path for thousands more members of the football community and supporters to travel here, are that it will pump $180million into the New Zealand economy.
That is the business side of the tournament. Equally exciting is the sporting side, and the chance to make this an occasion that transforms New Zealand football and women’s sport in general.
How exciting to hear the prediction that women’s and girls’ football in New Zealand — participation numbers sit at about 30,000 now — could double.
Football South chief executive Chris Wright summed it up nicely when he said the world cup would "boost participation, but will also drive equality, diversity and inspire more female leaders to be an active part of the game."
In the Guardian newspaper, Samantha Lewis wrote that the successful joint bid from the Pacific neighbours — this will be the first women’s world cup to be held in the southern hemisphere, and the first to be hosted across confederations — had "emphasised football’s most profound offering: unity."
The joint bid, operating under the "As One" banner, highlighted "the role football can and must play in picking up the shattered pieces of our post-Covid world; recognising football’s responsibility not just to itself but to the rest of society," Lewis continued.
We can be confident New Zealand, which has already hosted two Fifa men’s tournaments, will do a good job of hosting the senior women’s event, and we can be especially certain Dunedin’s stadium will play its part.
The country gets some practice next year when it hosts the best female cricketers and rugby players during their respective world cups. Then, in 2023, the world will really be watching.
AND ANOTHER THING
At its heart, there is something rather beautiful about First XV rugby, soaked as it is in tradition and spirit and romance and competitive spirit.
When it involves two teams of fine young men (young women now, too) playing their hearts out for each other and their school, winning with class and losing with grace, there is almost nothing else like it in sport.
When it involves utter stupidity, potentially criminal acts and thuggishness in the name of rivalry? Then we have a problem.
It was disheartening to hear a gang of former Waitaki Boys’ High School pupils had rampaged through the grounds of fellow Oamaru school St Kevin’s College, hospitalising a man and "traumatising" families that live on campus, in some sort of moronic hazing attempt ahead of Friday’s popular Blood Match.
We applaud the comments from the respective school rectors, both of whom made it clear the future of the annual fixture was endangered by such events.
The game itself is a marvellous occasion for the whole North Otago community. But if it is unable to be held without off-field chaos, something needs to change.