Soccer-Women’s World Cup hosts begin with wins and record crowds after shooting rocks Auckland

By Alasdair Pal and Irene Wang

SYDNEY/AUCKLAND (Reuters) -Co-hosts Australia and New Zealand opened the ninth Women’s World Cup with wins and record crowds on Thursday, after a shooting near the Norwegian team hotel in Auckland that left three dead and six injured.

Police said the shooter was among those killed and the danger from the incident was over, while New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said there was no risk to national security.

After an opening ceremony celebrating traditional Maori culture including the famous Haka war dance, a slick team goal finished off by Hannah Wilkinson at Eden Park was the difference in New Zealand’s 1-0 victory over Norway, their first ever at a World Cup.

The crowd of 42,137 beat the host nation’s previous record for an international soccer match.

“To get their first win at home while they’re hosting… it’s a moment in history, for women’s football and for New Zealand women’s football,” said Kirsten Johnson, a 39-year-old New Zealand supporter from the United States.

Authorities deployed extra police and security outside the stadium following the shooting in New Zealand’s largest city.

A statement from football’s governing body FIFA said it was supporting teams in the vicinity of the incident.

A fan park in the city will remain closed on Thursday, organisers said.

“Everyone woke up pretty quickly when the helicopter hovered outside the hotel window and a large number of emergency vehicles arrived – at first we didn’t know what was going on, but eventually there were updates on TV and the local media,” Norway captain Maren Mjelde was quoted as saying by newspaper Verdens Gang.

Australia’s Matildas began their campaign with a scrappy 1-0 win against Ireland in front of a crowd of 75,784 fans at Stadium Australia in Sydney – a record attendance for a women’s soccer match in the country.

“It was really entertaining match, fast paced and intense, it was great,” said Australia supporter Jacinta Hayde.

“I think we’ve just got great momentum at the moment, really looking forward to seeing the rest.”

They were dealt a blow before kick-off, however, when talismanic striker Sam Kerr, arguably the face of the tournament, was ruled out of the first two games with a calf injury.


Women were banned from official facilities in England, the home of the game, until 1970, and female players faced similar discrimination in many other countries.

But the sport has achieved greater prominence in recent years, with large increases in female players and spectators globally.

Tracey Taylor, a professor of sports management at RMIT University in Melbourne, said many members of grassroots football clubs expected the tournament to have a transformative effect for participation in women’s sport in Australia.

“They say it’s such a game changer for them in positioning the sport, not only globally, but also within the local community and raising awareness,” she said.

Still, conditions for female footballers still remain well behind those for men in many countries.

The Matildas released a video this week criticising the “disrespect” for the women’s game that forced teams to play on artificial pitches in the 2015 tournament and prize money that still lags the men’s World Cup.

Several participating nations, including tournament heavyweights England and Spain, have been in dispute with their administrators over working conditions and pay in recent months.


Players like Kerr are household names in sport-mad Australia, with tickets for matches involving the home nation selling out months in advance.

“I think that Australians are really realising just how big this event is,” Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said in a radio interview with state broadcaster ABC on Thursday.

In New Zealand, whose sporting culture is dominated by rugby union and its famous All Blacks, demand has been lower, with tickets remaining for many fixtures.

Fatma Samoura, FIFA’s Secretary-General, said tickets sold had already exceeded the total number sold for the last tournament in France, but sales in New Zealand had lagged its much larger neighbour.

“We know that Kiwis are late ticket purchasers when it comes to tournaments that are played on their shores,” she told a news conference in Auckland on Wednesday.

“We still have tickets available for some matches. So my only plea is don’t wait until the last moment.”

(Reporting by Alasdair Pal and Cordelia Hsu in Sydney, Irene Wang and Nathan Frandino in Auckland, Rohith Nair in Bengaluru and Philip O’Connor in Stockholm; Editing by Lincoln Feast, Jacqueline Wong, Miral Fahmy, Peter Rutherford and Toby Davis)