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Global football stars on show in Northland


peter ohara-125Northland shared in a celebration of global football talent in May and June, when the FIFA U-20 World Cup 2015 was hosted by New Zealand.

Northland Events Centre was the scene of four matches, with teams playing there including the United States of America, Myanmar, Ukraine and Fiji. Whangarei’s part in the three week-event culminated in a Round of 16 win by Uzebekistan 2-0 over Austria on June 11.

Personal satisfaction
For Mangawhai’s Peter O’Hara, the football extravaganza was a satisfying end to a four-and-a-half year project playing a leading role in organising the event for New Zealand.

Peter led the project for New Zealand Football for several years, setting up funding and host city arrangements, after another sports administrator with Mangawhai connections, then NZF chief executive Michael Glading, had spearheaded the hosting bid to FIFA in 2010.

By the time the tournament was held recently the Local Organising Committee had 170 employees across New Zealand (in addition to 290 FIFA employees who were in the country for the tournament), with Peter in the role of Leverage and Legacy Director, and holding the responsibility of delivering benefits from the event to New Zealand.

“Travelling to all our seven host venues (Whangarei, North Harbour, Hamilton, New Plymouth, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin) during the event and seeing the individual skills of some of the world’s best young players on show first-hand was an exhilarating experience,” Peter said. “Just as rewarding was seeing the local spectators getting a big buzz out of the skills, and the atmosphere that the fans brought to town.”

A highlight was the Uzebekistan support, including a colourful character in national costume and wielding a very loud drum who got the crowd on his team’s side in venues including Whangarei.

The World Cup was won by Serbia, who beat Brazil 2-1 in front of a capacity crowd of 25,000 including their own exuberant supporters in North Harbour Stadium on June 20.

Benefits to local football
Peter said Serbia were a deserved winner, a well-organised and coached team which always looked like they could go the distance in the tournament. But he reckons the big winner is Football in New Zealand, which will have gained followers because of the skills that have been on display. This will have added to the momentum for the sport that has been built by a comprehensive development plan for football led by New Zealand Football’s Whole of Football Plan which has been providing a new skill base for junior players over the last five years.

Other lasting benefits that Peter notes are new and improved sports fields in cities including Christchurch, Hamilton and Whangarei – where the Springs Flat development at Kamo was brought forward to provide training fields for FIFA.

“Springs Flat has two new international standard fields plus configuration for an additional two new junior sized fields – great legacy for Northland and football.”

Three new sand-based fields were built to assist the revival of Christchurch, and two sand-based fields established in Hamilton – grounds which will be of major benefit in wet weather.

Enthusiastic Whangarei support
Peter, who managed the New Zealand Football process to decide which cities hosted the event, said Northland’s part in the tournament was a great credit to Whangarei District Council and leaders including Cr Phil Halse and Pete Gleeson, the council’s economic development manager.

“They understood the benefits of hosting such events and showcasing the city and region to the world, taking advantage of the massive television audiences that watch this global sport around the world to further tourism and economic aims.

“Some cities missed out in the bidding process, but Whangarei demanded a place in the tournament. We probably would have chosen six cities (convenient because there were six pools of four teams each) but Whangarei were such enthusiastic supporters that we expanded the hosting model to seven cities.”

Mayor Sheryl Mai was elected after the event was awarded to Whangarei, and she became a great public supporter of the tournament, leading the hosting during May and June and giving the Football visitors a warm welcome to Northland.

BIG PROJECT: Mangawhai’s Peter O’Hara played a leading role in organising the event.

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