Poignant welcome for FIFA U-20 World Cup trophy

The FIFA U-20 World Cup trophy has received a poignant welcome as New Zealand readies to host the football world in 2015.

Sought after prize

Held in the hands of New Zealand football legend and Oceania Player of the Century, Wynton Rufer, the much-sought after sporting prize arrived at Waitangi - the birthplace of modern New Zealand - at dawn aboard a 30-paddler Māori waka (canoe).

"When I got into the waka, I really felt like I was representing my own whanau (family) Ngati Porou. There were a lot of emotions coming out - this is the FIFA U-20 World Cup Winner’s Trophy. It’s amazing," said Rufer.

"We really are privileged because FIFA can give the tournament to anyone and they have given it to us. It’s huge for New Zealand," added Rufer, a player who was an integral part of the All Whites team that captured the imagination of the world when they made it to their very first FIFA World Cup finals in 1982.

The striking Māori pōwhiri (welcome ceremony) marked the beginning of a nationwide tour of the trophy - a tour that will visit 50-plus locations, including seven-host cities, as it makes its way from the top of the North Island to the bottom of the South.

It was a fitting welcome for the coveted trophy as the emotion displayed during its arrival on the shore is an indication of the heart and passion that is set to fill stadiums across New Zealand when the tournament comes to town.

Special welcome

From the shore, the trophy was carried to a sacred meeting house on the Waitangi National Trust grounds where it was welcomed by a series of guests, including the New Zealand U-20 football team - all of whom will be vying to hold-aloft the trophy for the very first time, and FIFA U-20 World Cup ambassadors Mike McGarry and Andy Boyens.

From Northland, the trophy will travel south through the North and South Islands giving New Zealanders and international visitors the chance to get up close and personal with a sporting trophy that has been in the hands of some of the most famous football players in the world.

The tour will conclude with One Year to Go celebrations in New Zealand’s capital city Wellington on Friday 30 May, and in Auckland as a precursor to the international friendly match between the All Whites and South Africa at Mt Smart stadium

Major global reach

Hailed as one of the biggest sporting events in the world, the FIFA U-20 World Cup will see 24 international teams take part in 52 matches, in seven host cities around New Zealand in a bid to be crowned champions.

Broadcast to more than 1000 countries, with a global reach of around 170 million people, the tournament has been a launching pad for some of the biggest names in the global game and offering spectators the chance to experience their own ‘I-was-there' moment.

It will also give overseas visitors the chance to explore New Zealand, with plenty of action and entertainment on and off the pitch. Public sales for tickets to the tournament open on June 13, coinciding with the start of the FIFA World Cup 2014 in Brazil.