Hamilton turns on charm for Fifa's venue scouts
City's bid to host 2015 Under-20 World CupELTON SMALLMAN
Waikato Stadium turned on the charm as a delegation of football officials looked over Hamilton's bid to host games for the 2015 Under-20 World Cup.
With the turf immaculately mowed, lines marked out on the pitch and netted goals at either end, the seven-member contingent was "very impressed" with the bid and the city.
"Very positive so far," Fifa senior competitions manager Rhiannon Martin said. "It is a beautiful city."
The event is expected to cost $24 million with funds coming from the Government, host cities and a "significant amount" from the football federation.
The Fifa group is travelling to nine New Zealand cities to assess them and cut the number of host cities to "six or seven".
They will assess stadium facilities, training sites, media, marketing and accommodation and will make a decision in the next two months.
After New Zealand's success at hosting the inaugural Under-17 Women's World Cup in 2008, Fifa is back to make sure cities can meet the needs of players, officials and fans.
"Obviously the under-20s is a bigger event with 24 teams and so we are happy to have the opportunity to come here today to assess the stadium."
With 24 countries and 52 matches, the Under-20 World Cup is Fifa's second biggest event behind the men's premiere tournament and it rivals that of the Fifa Women's World Cup.
"It is a massive event in its own right. In the past we've had some world-famous players taking part. We see it as a great springboard for the under-20s to play in the main World Cup two years afterwards," Ms Martin said.
The local organising committee's interim project manager, Peter O'Hara, said Hamilton's bid was "quite attractive" after it initially declined to put forward a proposal.
"Hamilton did a very brave thing reversing the decision to bid for the event and I think it was fantastic leadership by the mayor and business and sportspeople in the town."
The change of heart came after local businesses came together to raise $400,000 for the Hamilton bid to host eight games including matches in the second part of the tournament.
"We were delighted when Hamilton came back in and it was a strong bid and Hamilton knows how to host these events."
The Under-20 World Cup is broadcast to more than 200 countries with an audience of about 500 million. The 2011 tournament in Colombia drew a record-breaking 1.3 million spectators.
After the previous success of hosting Fifa events, New Zealand was proving its worth on the international stage, Mr O'Hara said.
"We'd like to think that 2008 and 1999 proved to Fifa that New Zealand is a great place to come," he said. "This event is a significant step-up for us to the under-20s. This is massive."
New Zealand qualify for the 2015 tournament as the host nation.