New Zealand

The beautiful game kicks off in the most beautiful place on Earth

A football pitch has appeared in front of Aoraki Mount Cook, the tallest mountain in Aotearoa - New Zealand

Aotearoa New Zealand: A full-sized football pitch has been created in the remote southern highlands of Aotearoa New Zealand to mark the one-month countdown to FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023.

The 105-metre long by 68-meter-wide football pitch has appeared on the tussocky plains of Mackenzie Country right in front of Aoraki Mount Cook – the tallest mountain in Aotearoa New Zealand, famed for being used as a training ground for Sir Edmund Hillary before he was the first person to climb Mount Everest.

To mark the one-month countdown until Aotearoa New Zealand kicks off FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023, two teams of local girls were invited to play a once-in-a-lifetime friendly match – officiated by current Referee and New Zealand Football National Referee Development Manager, Lindsey Robinson.

“I came here today to referee the game in the most beautiful place on earth. Aside from the stunning landscape, it was a great game of football,” says Lindsey.

“There’s certainly future talent here and I’m hoping to see some of these girls playing with a fern on their chest in the future. I’m incredibly excited about so many visitors coming to New Zealand to enjoy the game and enjoy this beautiful part of the world,” she adds.

Tourism New Zealand worked with local iwi and the Department of Conservation to ensure the project was executed in a way that respected mana whenua and had no lasting impact on the land.

The jaw-dropping pitch was painstakingly created by hand over six weeks, adhering to the strictest environmental and sustainability principles, with a philosophy of ‘tread lightly’ ensuring the land could be returned to its natural state.

Tourism New Zealand Chief Executive, Rene de Monchy says “We’re proud to take part in this incredible game and welcome the world to Aotearoa next month when the official tournament kicks off.”

“To play this friendly match in the footsteps of Aoraki is important to us. The mountain represents the most sacred of ancestors, from whom Ngāi Tahu (the local iwi/tribe) descends, to provide us with a sense of communal identity, solidarity, and purpose.”

“Aotearoa New Zealand is known all over the world for our manaakitanga – respect, generosity, and care for others. We’ve shown it in our game today, and we’re ready to share it when the eyes of the world are on us for the tournament next month.”

The twenty-two girls who took part in The Beautiful Game were placed into two teams Pukaki and Tekapo after the world-renowned, pristine alpine lakes nearby. After some friendly competition, both teams drew 1-1 with goals scored by Aneira Smith of team Tekapo and Charlotte Fenn of team Pukaki.

Immy Ivey, aged 8 from Twizel Area School was amazed she was able to play beneath Aoraki Mt Cook, saying “it’s cool playing football in the mountains because when you score a goal, instead of just having plain grass, you can see the big mountains instead, which is nice for a change.” Immy adds, “I score lots of goals, I’m a super striker”.

Football Ferns, Katie Bowen and Emma Rolston, were also on site at the Beautiful Game, teaching some of the girls some valuable and nifty skills and drills.

“I’m grateful that we could be a part of this once-in-a-lifetime experience for these young and talented girls in the most beautiful place on earth,” says Emma Rolston.

“New Zealand is going to be the best host country for the World Cup because we have so much to offer. The people are incredible, so kind, and welcoming to anybody that comes through as well as having the most stunning scenery in the entire world. What a privilege it is to play here.”

Tourism New Zealand Chief Executive adds, “This is the biggest women’s sporting event in the world, with nearly two  billion people expected to watch the games from our beautiful corner of the world.”

“In New Zealand, we’re blessed with a special connection between our people and place – we have some of the friendliest and most welcoming people, in some of the most magnificent places in the world.”

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