Australia, Kiwis land FIFA Women’s World Cup™



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FIFA Women World Cup 2023 decision Image: FIFA

The 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup™ promises to be eventful at multiple levels.

On June 25th it was announced that Australia and New Zealand will stage the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup™. This means that this edition of the Women’s World Cup will be the first in the Southern Hemisphere, and the first to feature in the Oceania Football Confederation. It will also be the first edition to boast 32 teams, up from 16 teams as recently as 2011.

The Oceania Football Confederation is one of the six continental confederations of international association football, comprising New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Tonga, and other Pacific Island countries. It promotes the game in Oceania and allows the member nations to qualify for the FIFA World Cup™.

Recently, the Japan Football Association withdrew its candidacy to host the sporting spectacle.

“We’ve discussed this multiple times as a board this month ahead of our decision,” Japan Football Association Chairman Kozo Tashima told an online press conference recently.

“Everyone involved in the bid is very disappointed but they’ve all supported this decision. I hope everyone understands that we’ve made this decision for the benefit of women’s soccer around the world, and that our fans will continue to support Nadeshiko Japan and the many women’s club teams in the country.”

The unexpected move by Japan comes just over one week after FIFA released its bid evaluations, scoring Australia-New Zealand highest out of five points with 4.1, followed by Japan at 3.9 and Colombia at 2.8.
 

On cloud nine

Australia and New Zealand soccer team captains were delighted.

Stated Samantha Kerr, captain of the Australia women’s national soccer team Matildas, “The opportunity to play in a home FIFA Women’s World Cup™ is something every footballer dreams of and I am looking forward to seeing those dreams come true. Playing for the Matildas in Australia will be the highlight of my career and an opportunity to inspire girls, both in Australia and New Zealand, and all over the world to play football.”

Exulted Alexandra Riley, captain of the New Zealand women’s national football team, “I just broke down when I heard. This will be a chance of a lifetime to connect with fans. We barely play any home games – because we are so far away from everywhere else – so this is so epic.”

Remarked Football Federation Australia Chairman Chris Nikou, “Our pledge to the FIFA family is that no stone will be left unturned to produce the best World Cup and grow the women’s game globally and in the Asia-Pacific region.”

“Women’s sport has been growing at an exponential rate. This (decision) is as much about sport as it is about gender equality and broader society. Australia and New Zealand have been leaders in that regard for a number of years. Gender equality was a key part of this bid. (The decision can be used) to utilize this as a tool to what things should look like – genuine, substantive commitment to equality in football,” former Australia captain and SBS TV football analyst Craig Foster asserted.

Australia’s first women’s national team captain Julie Dolan put in, “For me, the images on the Opera House sails last night represented the 40-odd year journey from early pioneers to current stars and everything that really matters in between, (grassroots, fans, volunteers, admin). A fantastic tribute to all who have contributed along the way.”

“I woke up at 4 o’clock on the dot and turned on my phone and it was just amazing news, and I couldn’t go back to sleep. I think it’s important historically to acknowledge those that came before, because without them, we wouldn’t be here today,” said New Zealand’s first women’s national team captain Barbara Cox.
 

Bend over backwards

Football Federation Australia (FFA) and New Zealand Football (NZF) have pledged to “unlock the huge potential” for women’s football in the Asia-Pacific region after edging out Colombia for the hosting rights to the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup™.

Football Federation Australia and New Zealand Football had submitted a joint bid which received 22 of the 35 valid votes cast by the FIFA Council members in the first ballot, with the Colombian Football Federation (FCF) settling for 13 votes.

New Zealand Football President and FIFA Council member, Johanna Wood, noted, “Australia and New Zealand will not only host a FIFA Women’s World Cup™ that is the largest tournament ever run, but it will also be a catalyst for ensuring the development of women’s football continues in the Asia-Pacific region and globally.”

“Our two nations have worked together to deliver an exceptional, historic bid and I would like to thank FIFA and the whole football family for giving us this opportunity. The 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup™ will bring us all together in a celebration of our shared love of football,” Wood added.

Nikou believes that Football Federation Australia and New Zealand Football’s unique geographical location led to them landing the hosting rights as he observed, “The 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup™ in Australia and New Zealand will be ground-breaking in many ways. Not only will it be the first ever co-confederation hosted FIFA World Cup™ and the first ever FIFA Women’s World Cup™ in the Asia-Pacific region, but we will unlock the huge potential for growth in women’s football in the Asia-Pacific region.”

The bid’s stadium proposal provided FIFA with 13 venue options in 12 potential host cities across Australia and New Zealand. A memorandum of understanding (MoU) entered into between Football Federation Australia and New Zealand Football creates a partnership that proposes the allocation of match content to a minimum of five stadiums in each of Australia and New Zealand. Stadium Australia in Sydney has been proposed to host the final and opening game.

Australia Venues: Stadium Australia, Sydney, Sydney Football Stadium, Melbourne Rectangular Stadium, Brisbane Stadium, Perth Rectangular Stadium, Hindmarsh Stadium, Adelaide, Newcastle Stadium York Park, Launceston, Tasmania, will be hosting the fixtures.

New Zealand Venues: Eden Park, Auckland, Wellington Stadium, Christchurch Stadium, Waikato Stadium, Hamilton, and Dunedin Stadium will be hosting the fixtures.

Football Federation Australia and New Zealand Football noted that the financial commitments by each country’s Government towards tournament operating costs played a key role in securing the “most commercially favorable proposition accolade”. They also pointed out the two countries’ history of working in tune on major events and inter-Governmental coordination on areas including security and transport.

Japan’s decision allowed the Asian Football Confederation to fully position itself behind Australia and New Zealand, while Brazil’s exit shortly before the evaluation report was released positioned Colombia as South America’s sole candidate.

FIFA rubbished criticism from South American officials over the low marking of Colombia’s bid, stating all efforts were made to conduct the process in a “highly objective manner”. The South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL) and the Colombian Football Federation (FCF) had earlier written to FIFA over what they deemed “erroneous and discriminatory conclusions” outlined in the evaluation report on their bid.

Though it was understood that the race to host the sporting showpiece will be almost like pip to the post affair, however, FIFA chief Gianni Infantino expressed his satisfaction that the result aligned with the evaluation report, hinting at the hugely controversial 2010 process that saw Russia and Qatar awarded hosting rights to the 2018 and 2022 men’s World Cups.

Infantino averred, “These reports have to mean something. It was not the case in the old FIFA.”
 

Disadvantage Japan

Japan’s logistical details including soccer-specific stadiums in seven of the eight proposed host cities drew applaud. However, assessors at the sport’s governing body was not open to the idea of Japan requesting to reschedule the prestigious event from FIFA’s preferred July-August window to earlier in the summer, so as to avoid the too humid summer of the island nation.

Tashima praised the substance of Japan’s bid revealing that despite positive responses from officials in Europe and North America, the bid committee sensed a change in the mood after the rescheduling of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics to the summer of 2021 — a move which increased the possibility of the world’s two marquee women’s tournaments taking place in the same country within a two-year period.

“Because the Olympics and World Cup women’s tournaments have the same teams (in contrast to the men’s under-23 tournament at the Olympics), there was concern over whether hosting the women’s tournament twice in two years would be perceived negatively,” Tashima observed.

A Japan Football Association statement signed by Tashima noted that neither Colombia nor Australia or New Zealand have hosted a senior-level FIFA tournament, writing that the two remaining bids “would have the advantage of being able to promote the spread of the women’s game by hosting the first Women’s World Cup™ in South America or the Southern Hemisphere.”

A FIFA spokesperson confirmed the receipt of a letter from the Japan Football Association withdrawing its bid, telling that the organization “would like to thank Japan Football Association for their participation in the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup™ bidding process, their excellent cooperation and strong commitment towards women’s football. We fully share Japan Football Association’s view on the game and will work hard to stage a magnificent FIFA Women’s World Cup™ 2023 in cooperation with the host(s).”

The announcement is a huge blow to the Japan Football Association’s planned “hop-skip-jump” strategy — consisting of Tokyo 2020, the formation of the country’s first professional women’s league and the 2023 Women’s World Cup — for building the momentum of women’s soccer in Japan.

Nevertheless, Tashima said that they were firm on growing women’s soccer at the grassroots level, noting that 2022 will feature the first under-16 women’s tournament at the national athletic meet. He stressed that the decision to withdraw would go on to benefit the recently christened WE League, which will begin play in September 2021 as the country’s new top women’s league.

“(Withdrawing from consideration) will allow us to focus on our priority of making next year’s Tokyo Olympics and the WE League a success. We want to continue focusing our efforts to promote grassroots women’s soccer. We want to succeed next year at the Olympics, create a WE League that girls will want to join as players, and then win the World Cup again,” Tashima affirmed.

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