Women's World Cup kicks off with moment's silence for New Zealand shooting victims

Auckland, New Zealand - A moment's silence was held before the first game of the Women's World Cup on Thursday to mourn the two people shot dead in host city Auckland just hours earlier.

Police officers cordon off an area near the site of a shooting in central Auckland on July 20, 2023.
Police officers cordon off an area near the site of a shooting in central Auckland on July 20, 2023.  © Saeed KHAN / AFP

The big kickoff was overshadowed by a rampage that shocked New Zealand, and Norway and the host nation took to the field with all 22 players wearing black arm bands as a mark of respect.

The gunman also died in the shooting, which happened close to the hotels of reigning champions the United States as well as the Philippines and Norway.

Norway captain Maren Mjelde said the team, who are staying 1,000-1,300 feet from a building site where the shooting took place, were woken by a helicopter and "a large number of emergency vehicles."

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"At first we didn't know what was going on, but eventually there were updates on TV and the local media," she said in a statement hours before kickoff.

"Everyone seems calm and we are preparing as normal for the game tonight," she said.

FIFA said in a statement it had been "in constant contact with the participating teams affected by this incident."

"The participating teams in close proximity to this incident are being supported in relation to any impact that may have taken place," soccer's governing body said.

New Zealand's government has said there was no broader national security threat and the tournament will go ahead as planned.

Lynn Williams, a forward for holders the United States, said they were "just thankful that we were safe."

"Unfortunately I feel like in the US we have dealt with this far too many times," she said.

"But there was definitely a sense of like, 'Let’s come together, we still have a job to do,' but also recognizing that there were lives lost and that is very real and very devastating."

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New Zealand and Norway prepare to face off in the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
New Zealand and Norway prepare to face off in the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup.  © REUTERS

The shooting marred what was supposed to have been a day of celebration marking the start of the first 32-team Women's World Cup.

The month-long tournament has expanded from 24 teams in France four years ago and is being staged in two different countries for the first time, in nine cities across Australia and New Zealand.

Australia face the Republic of Ireland in the second game of the tournament, also on Thursday, in front of a sell-out crowd of 80,000 in Sydney.

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While the Matildas are hoping to go all the way to the final in Sydney on August 20, New Zealand's ambitions are more modest.

The Football Ferns are hoping to win a World Cup match for the first time at the 16th attempt.

"Our goal is pretty clear. We want to win our first World Cup match. We want to make it out of our group," captain Ali Riley told reporters on the eve of the Group A game.

Australia are among the favorites to win the World Cup and, in captain Sam Kerr, have one of the best players in women's soccer.

"We are really confident, but for us, it's just about the first game," said the Chelsea striker, the unofficial face of the tournament. "Right now, we are playing that game with no other game in mind, so that's our final at this point."

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Fans observe a minute of silence for victims of a shooting in Auckland ahead of the New Zealand-Norway match.
Fans observe a minute of silence for victims of a shooting in Auckland ahead of the New Zealand-Norway match.  © Marty MELVILLE / AFP

Megan Rapinoe's United States are the favorites to win an unprecedented third consecutive title and a record-extending fifth overall.

They begin their title defense on Saturday against minnows Vietnam in Auckland, with European champions England in action the same day against Haiti in Brisbane.

Women's football is at an all-time high, and the expansion of the World Cup has come with greatly increased prize money.

The total pot provided by FIFA, which also covers compensation for clubs releasing players, is up from $50 million in 2019 to a record $152 million.

It is a vast hike on the $15 million in 2015 but still pales in comparison with the $440 million dished out at the 32-team men's World Cup in Qatar last year.

The Australian team urged FIFA this week to help close international soccer's gender pay gap.

Cover photo: REUTERS

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