YOUTH FOOTBALL ANOTHER OPPORTUNITY TO PUT NZ ON WORLD STAGEPrime Minister
The FIFA Under 17 World Soccer Championship will once again put New Zealand and all we have to offer on the world stage, Prime Minister Jenny Shipley said tonight, officially opening the champs in Auckland.
For the first time ever, New Zealand is hosting the U17 World Championships.
Sixteen countries will battle it out on grounds throughout New Zealand from tonight until 27 November.
"The tournament will be televised in 60 - 70 countries, and be seen by an audience estimated at 280 million.
"The U17 tournament builds on the opportunities this year to promote New Zealand as a tourism destination, and our strategy is clearly working as we have seen tourism numbers hitting 1.5 million for the first time ever. This has created jobs and prosperity for thousands of New Zealanders in our cities and the provincial regions.
"The Under 17s are traditionally fertile ground for future world soccer stars and could launch the next Ronaldo. It is called the tournament of dreams, and for so many soccer stars it most certainly has been.
"Its most celebrated graduate would arguably be Ronaldo. Just two years ago he was playing for Brazil's Under 17 team - now he is a household name around the world.
"They say soccer is the beautiful game and this is certainly a beautiful opportunity for New Zealand.
"Many of the games will be broadcast live in their home countries, giving New Zealand huge international exposure. This can only be good, not only for the development of the game here but for our country.
"The champs have brought more than 2000 players, team support, referees and supporters, plus over 150 international sporting media to New Zealand. It will also build on the international exposure that New Zealand has gained from hosting APEC and the America's Cup.
"Football continues to be the dominant world sport that transcends language barriers, cultural barriers, economics and brings countries together in championships like the U17s.
"These young players are striving for excellence. They are firmly on the road to stardom and realising a life-long dream. I hope that one day we might see one of them scoring the winning goal for their country in a future World Cup.
"New Zealand has its own soccer stars, and I'm pleased to see our very own Kingz are making more than a few Australians eat their words," said Mrs Shipley.
Four New Zealand cities will host the matches: North Shore (Auckland), Napier, Christchurch and Dunedin.