FIFA president Gianni Infantino called on New Zealanders to support the Women’s World Cup in his first formal appearance on the eve of the tournament.
Speaking at a packed press conference at the Park Hyatt Hotel on Auckland’s waterfront on Wednesday, Infantino asked who of the 30 or so reporters were from New Zealand.
When a cameraman raised his hand, Infantino looked down the barrel of his camera and said, “We love you!”
FIFA says ticket sales met expectations with 1.5 million people scheduled to attend the 64 matches between co-hosts New Zealand and Australia between Thursday and August 20, making it the sporting event greatest female of all time
However, New Zealand has lagged behind in ticket sales with almost three times the sales in Australia. Thursday opening match between Football Ferns and Norway at Eden Park it is expected to be played in front of a crowd of 43,000, a record for a football match in New Zealand.
Games involving some of the low key teams are proving a harder sell, with FIFA giving out 20,000 gifts last week. Two of those games involve Spain who have the best player in the world, Alexia Putellas.
FIFA says this year’s World Cup will be watched by a television audience of 2 billion.
Infantino’s press conference was mainly attended by media from most of the largest outlets in New Zealand and the United States. Ticket sales and prize money were the main topics of discussion.
The first question came from a New Zealand reporter who asked Infantino about the ticket figures. He called on New Zealand to “seize the moment” and released general secretary Fatma Samoura to the right of him, who revealed that overall ticket sales had met expectations.
“We know the Kiwis buy tickets late,” Samoura said. “We still have tickets available for the games and my only plea is that they don’t wait until the last month. As Mr. Infantino says, this is a moment to seize for all football fans in New Zealand. This is already the most attended women’s sporting event.”
The event began humorously with Infantino making fun of himself by referencing the speech he gave at the start of last year’s men’s World Cup in Qatar.
“If you’re waiting to know how I feel today, I feel tired because I just landed but I feel very happy.”
After answering a final question during a 40-minute question-and-answer session, Infantino returned service with a question of his own. “Who will win the World Cup, the United States or New Zealand?”