Christchurch on New Zealand’s south island is the latest city to benefit from FIFA’s Goal Programme, following the official opening of ASB Football Park on Sunday.
The state-of-the-art all-weather football facility is the second FIFA Goal Project completed in New Zealand following the opening of a similar pitch at North Harbour Stadium in 2007. Work on a third FIFA Goal Project is due to commence in Wellington later this year.
The opening of ASB Football Park, partly also funded by Christchurch City Council, is a timely boost for a city struck by a devastating earthquake earlier this year and is one of the first major construction projects to be completed since then. The new venue, which will help speed the Canterbury region’s football recovery, is another significant milestone in a plan to improve football facilities around New Zealand.
FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter sent his best wishes to the people of Canterbury. “I am honoured and delighted that – after these very challenging times – the Christchurch pitch is being inaugurated,” said Blatter. “It is an outstanding centre, one that is ready to be used and of great value to both New Zealand’s national teams and the country’s youngsters, who need new pitches and infrastructures to play the game they love.”
The new facility, which will also house New Zealand Football’s Southern Region Technical Centre, Mainland Football offices and act as the home ground of national league club Canterbury United, was officially opened by Oceania Football Confederation President David Chung and Mayor Bob Parker before a day of junior football displays, celebrity matches and presentations to former internationals.
“This is a milestone for football in Christchurch and for New Zealand Football,” said Chung. “It is my sincere pleasure to represent FIFA and Oceania Football Confederation to officially open these tremendous facilities that will be of significant benefit for the development of football in the region, particularly for the grassroots and youth.”
An investment of $1.065 million from the Christchurch City Council and a $535,000 grant from FIFA, administered by New Zealand Football, funded the project, with Mainland Football also a key partner in the joint venture.
Mainland Football Federation estimates that over 50 teams and upwards of 700 players and coaches were not involved in football in 2011 as a result of widespread damage caused to grounds by the earthquakes in September and February. The availability of an all-weather park will alleviate some of the pressure on other grounds, while providing a hub for the roll out of key development programmes.
New Zealand Football Chairman Frank van Hattum said working with local bodies to improve availability and access to facilities underpinned New Zealand Football’s Whole of Football Plan, a wide-ranging blueprint for improving the quality of New Zealand’s largest participation winter sport.
“Facilities remain football’s biggest barrier to growth and success,” said van Hattum. “Projects like this don't ‘just happen.’ They take vision, commitment and perseverance – attributes shown by all partners here. The results will speak for themselves. ASB Football Park is an outstanding facility and a model for other cities to follow.”
ASB Football Park, which was formerly known as English Park, has been the home of Canterbury United since the New Zealand Football Championship began in 2004. Local use of the venue begins on 10 October, while Canterbury United will commence their national league campaign at their new home early next month.