'Dream come true' as women's World Cup heads Down Under
Tameka Yallop of Australia (L) and Paige Satchell of New Zealand pose for photographs at Eden Park in Auckland. AFP
Football lovers in Australia and New Zealand offered rare praise for FIFA's transparency Friday after the southern hemisphere neighbours won hosting rights for the 2023 women's World Cup.
The decision, announced by Switzerland-based FIFA in what was the early hours of the morning in Australia and New Zealand, sparked emotional reactions among sleep-deprived players and fans. "I will never forget this moment," New Zealand captain Ali Riley tweeted alongside a close-up selfie showing tears in her eyes.
Australia's women's captain Sam Kerr posted footage of her trademark tumbling backflip goal celebration, saying playing in a home tournament was "a dream come true". "We have seen great progress in the women's game and Australia-New Zealand will take the game to a whole new level," she said.
Socceroos great Tim Cahill said he was "lost for words", while Hollywood star Russell Crowe -- who has links to both Australia and New Zealand -- tweeted "Let's do this". "I haven't slept, I'll have to do that another night, it's worth it though," New Zealand Football chief executive Andy Pragnell told AFP between what he called "well-timed coffees".
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern promised the ninth edition of the tournament would be the best ever. "It will be a historic tournament of firsts that will create a profound and enduring legacy for women's football in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond," she said in a statement.
The 2023 tournament will be the first co-hosted by cooperating nations, the first in the southern hemisphere and the first with 32 teams. The bid's success completes a trifecta for New Zealand, which has already secured rights to host the women's cricket and rugby world cups next year.
It also helps ease painful memories in Australia of the failed bid for the 2022 men's World Cup, when the Australians lost out to Qatar after a process that triggered allegations of corruption. Recalling that decision, made in 2010, football commentator Craig Foster offered commiserations to Colombia, which ended up being the joint bid's only rival for 2023 after a string of other countries dropped out.
"We know full well how it feels to lose," Foster said. "The tournament is an important and timely boost for Australia and NZ soccer and enhances the truly global nature of football."
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison hailed a "landmark decision" for sport in the region. "For the first time in history, Australians and New Zealanders will be able to experience a global football tournament, right here on home soil. How good!" he tweeted.
The Sydney Morning Herald said the result was "a triumph of merit over politics". "That the majority of FIFA's council members from all corners of the globe voted on the grounds of merit is a major boost to the organisation's damaged reputation," it said. "After allegations of collusion and corruption, (FIFA president Gianni) Infantino embarked on the most transparent process seen with the voting of a major tournament."
Pragnell also praised the transparency of the bid process, saying it showed FIFA was moving in the right direction. "This should be seen as a huge success for the reforms that have been made at FIFA and the global football community should be encouraged by the outcome," he said.
Amid reports ahead of the vote that Colombia was gaining support, he revealed that Ardern had personally hit the phones lobbying to get the bid over the line. "We were cautiously optimistic but knew it could go either way... she made the calls and underlined the key messages of the bid," he said.