Cup on doorstep
AN INTERNATIONAL soccer team could be based on the Northern Rivers if Australia is successful in its bid for the World Cup in 2018 or 2022.
Jaime Gomez, a project officer for Football Federation Australia, yesterday toured soccer facilities at Ballina, Skennars Head, Lismore and Byron Bay.
His mission was to see whether the facilities would be suitable for World Cup teams to use as a ‘base camp’.
Gomez was accompanied by Football Far North Coast general manager Steve Mackney, who said he was ‘thrilled’ with the prosect that local grounds could be used for training purposes.
“It would be the biggest thing that has ever happened for the sport here,” Mackney said.
“I am just thrilled to think that our region is on the radar.
“The facilities here at Kingsford Smith Park and Oakes Oval would be within the scope needed. They are able to be seriously considered as training venues.
“All the stars are aligning to say that this zone and this region has the potential to be the leading football zone in Australia.
“Football Federation Australia contacted us – we didn’t approach them. We are becoming known.”
Mackney admitted that being selected as a ‘home base’ for an international soccer team was going to be a competitive process.
“They don’t accept anything but top shelf,” he said.
“But from what I can see so far, they are impressed with what we have to offer.”
About 64 potential sites are required for ‘team base camps’ and training grounds.
“Australia has a number of very attractive locations for international teams,” FFA chief executive Ben Buckley said.
“When coaches get teams into camp for the biggest tournament in the world they also want teams to be able to relax and enjoy themselves.
“We know that our regional cities can deliver, offering an unsurpassed natural environment.
“The benefits for cities and towns in regional areas of Australia would be unparalleled.”
Lismore soccer legend and former Socceroos captain, Craig Foster, said he was ‘extremely pleased’ that the region was being considered as a training venue.
“It’s a great indication of the natural advantages of the Northern Rivers and the Far North Coast,” he said.
“The proximity of a regional airport is very important. There is also a lot of enthusiasm for sport and, in particular, for football. We are really positive about the passion for football locally.
“This region is starting to gain a degree of credibility at the national level. If the Far North Coast can play a part in the World Cup by hosting a team, then that would be extraordinary.
“It would deepen everyone’s experience of the Cup.”
And Foster says it is ‘realistic’ to think that Australia could win its bid for the 2018 World Cup.
“But it is going to be a fierce contest,” he said.
“Lately there have been some influential powerbrokers, like Jack Warner (FIFA executive committee member), seeming to support our bid.
And the Federal Government clearly agrees, last year injecting more than $45 million into FFA’s bid.
The bid must be submitted by May next year.
An announcement about the host nations for both the 2018 and 2022 World Cups will be made in December 2010.