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Jack Tame: Kiwis stepped up for the FIFA Women's World Cup

Author
Jack Tame,
Publish Date
Sat, 5 Aug 2023, 1:37PM
Zambia's Lushomo Mweemba celebrates the first goal of the match during the Women's World Cup Group C match between Costa Rica and Zambia in Hamilton. Photo / AP
Zambia's Lushomo Mweemba celebrates the first goal of the match during the Women's World Cup Group C match between Costa Rica and Zambia in Hamilton. Photo / AP

Jack Tame: Kiwis stepped up for the FIFA Women's World Cup

Author
Jack Tame,
Publish Date
Sat, 5 Aug 2023, 1:37PM

For all the angst heading into the tournament, Kiwis have absolutely stepped up for the FIFA Women’s World Cup.

I’ll admit I was a bit nervous for the tournament’s local organisers as kick-off neared. There wasn’t really much buzz. No real sense of occasion. And I worried that for what is a massive tournament in the context of global sport – arguably the biggest tournament ever hosted on New Zealand soil – we might show ourselves to be a bit miserable.

Don’t forget, just days before it officially began, FIFA’s boss Gianni Infantino paused a press conference, picked out the New Zealand media in attendance, and made a direct plea down the camera barrels for their audiences to get out and actually buy tickets. To the best of my knowledge, he didn’t feel that was necessary with the Australians.

The nature of the tournament meant that some of the pool games were the likeliest to have small audiences. It’s an exciting time because there are games almost every day, but if we’re honest, Zambia vs Costa Rica is unlikely in this part of the World to drum up the same kind of enthusiasm as it might elsewhere. Once you get to the knockout stages, the drama is greater, the games are closer, and it’s reasonable to expect the crowds are consistently big.

But get this. Of the twenty-four pool games played in New Zealand, the average crowd was more than 21,000 fans. More than half a million total fans. That’s fantastic. For the big games we’ve had record numbers in attendance. But even Zambia vs Costa Rica drew more than 8000 people to Waikato Stadium. And anyone who has attended a game will attest to how much fun it’s been. I live within walking distance of Eden Park. Fans are constantly making their way to the stadium with flags and face paint and jerseys for their respective countries. It feels properly global in a way that few events here ever do.

We should thank the Football Ferns for their part in this. That opening night was thrilling. Although they didn’t progress to the knock-out stages, they played a major role in igniting our collective excitement.

But it’s funny, I went back and looked at that Gianni Infantino press conference, where he effectively begged Kiwis to go out and buy football tickets.

He said one extra thing I hadn’t noticed at the time.  

“Do the right thing.”

He needn’t have. My experience at the FIFA World Cup is that fans haven’t attended out of charity. They haven’t attended out of a sense of duty to try and promote the women’s game. They’ve attended because it’s been really exciting, skillful, high-drama football. We might have left the ticket-buying to the last minute, but there’s no doubt New Zealanders have wanted to be there.

Now, we’re at the knockout stages. Some of the biggest names in World football are struggling or have already been knocked out. The tournament feels like it’s anyone’s.

And I for one, don’t want it to end.

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