Thursday 20 July 2023, 07:00

Ali Riley - 'Football is strength'

Football is strength. It accepts me for me.

In a time marked by conflict and crisis, the world is divided. But through the power of football, the FIFA Women's World Cup(TM) will bring people together, allowing them to unite - discovering new cultures, as part of a worldwide community and celebrating together.

FIFA's flagship campaign, Football Unites the World is a global movement that will inspire, unite and drive development through football, with FIFA Legends sharing stories of what football's uniting power means to them. In the run-up to the FIFA Women's World Cup 2023, we caught up with Ali Riley to hear about how football has shaped her as a person and the growing influence it can exert.

Ali Riley

A FIFA Women’s World Cup veteran having represented New Zealand at four tournaments to date – 2007, 2011, 2015 and 2019 – Riley has the honour of captaining her country at the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup as she continues to look optimistically at the growth of women’s football.

And, crucially, the tournament presents another opportunity to encapsulate the global message of unity and equality that football offers.

“I think football unites the world by being an escape for a lot of people,” she said. “It’s something that we’re so passionate about, [that] we love. It’s something that we have in common. When you play a sport, especially football being the world’s game, you can just forget about everything else, you get to play the sport, it’s very equalising.

“Everyone is trying to do the same thing: to win games; to score goals; to make their country, their family, their community, their team [and] their teammates proud.

"As a player it is like just another world that we all get to be in and be seen as equals for those 90 minutes. So, I think it’s really, really powerful.”

Born in the US, Riley has represented New Zealand internationally all her life (her father is a Kiwi) and earlier this year surpassed the incredible milestone of 150 senior women's international team caps. Talking about what fans can expect when they visit the two tournament co-hosts, she made special reference to their heritage.

“New Zealand and Australia have such a rich history, not just in sport, but of indigenous culture. I think it’s two countries where we can learn a lot from, New Zealand and Australia. I think the people coming to visit [and] watching the games I hope will learn and understand how indigenous culture plays such a huge part in the identity of these two countries.”

On the field, Riley is hoping to write a new chapter in New Zealand's history books. "I really hope that New Zealand can win our first FIFA Women’s World Cup game ever. It would be incredible to make history at home, and I really think it could inspire the nation. And I really, really hope that we can get out of the group. I just think it would help so many girls just dream even bigger and believe that they can do anything. “Having the biggest stars in the world in their backyard is something that, I know for me, seeing the 1999 World Cup final here in Los Angeles, it planted a seed. It helped me see strong women doing what they love and living their dreams, and they now have this opportunity to create something similar.

“When I go out, and play, and represent New Zealand, I think of all the little girls who I want to inspire.” The stage awaits.