Plan change takes players to Doha
Earthquakes and tsunamis had not deterred Oliver Wright from heading to Japan to pursue his football dreams but while he was mid air radiation levels escalated, changing his plans.
The Matamata 17-year-old is a part of the New Zealand U17 football team, the Young All Whites, and was on his way to Japan to represent New Zealand in the Sanix Cup, an international football tournament.
As the team was flying over, New Zealand football officials decided to relocate them to Qatar’s Aspire Academy in Doha, where they are now completing football training.
Many of the tournament games are being organised for later in the week. If Oliver does well in this tour he may be selected for the U17 New Zealand team which is set to travel to Mexico in June for the World Football Championships – a rare opportunity.
Before he left last week, Oliver assured the Matamata Chronicle he would be safe because they would be some distance from the earthquake zone but it was the radiation that kept them from Japan.
Oliver said he was looking forward to the games in Qatar because of the skill level and expertise the players there have.
‘‘They are some of the best U17 players from around the world, so I am very excited to compete against them,’’ he said. ‘‘ I am happy the tour has gone ahead. ‘‘When the tsunami first appeared on television I though the tour would definitely be cancelled but later received a letter from the Football New Zealand saying it was still happening.’’
New Zealand football sought advice from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and tournament organisers before confirming the team’s participation. ‘‘There are no safety concerns for us or the tour wouldn’t be going ahead,’’ New Zealand coach Steve Cain said.
‘‘ We are looking forward to playing but we will do whatever we can there to empathise with the Japanese people. ‘‘ Both countries have suffered and hopefully we can show some sort of solidarity with them,’’ he said.
Japan has withdrawn its U17 team from the Sanix Cup.