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Why Australia-NZ could miss out on the 2023 Women’s World Cup

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Roar Guru
24th June, 2020
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1131 Reads

Having read over the lengthy and arduous bid evaluation report, Australia and New Zealand should earn the rights to host the 2023 Women’s World Cup.

But it’s no fait accompli. It never is with FIFA.

First things first, it’s worth noting FIFA, under new leadership in Gianni Infantino, will award this World Cup host with unprecedented transparency, with all 35 votes to be made public.

But a valid argument could be made for voting either Australia/NZ or Colombia, so don’t expect that to mean our bid is home. Infantino may preach he wants the winner determined on merit not politics, but the other 34 FIFA Council voters may have other agendas, as they have in the past.

We’ll find out in the early hours of Friday morning (AEST) when the announcement is made from an online meeting.

From reading the bid evaluation report and assessing the technical evaluation it’s clear that Australia/New Zealand’s case is extremely strong. Our bid out-ranked Colombia in 12 criteria on the risk assessment. Five criteria of the 17 were equally graded and in none were Colombia ahead of Australia/NZ.

But FIFA doesn’t award hosting rights purely based on risk assessment or technical evaluations. The key objectives are maximising FIFA’s women’s football strategy alongside sporting and commercial values.

Sam Kerr of Australia Matildas

(Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)

Australia/NZ’s bid is comprehensive, professional and backed by government funding, with a sound commercial basis. Colombia’s bid lacks detail and is short on committed government support. It makes promises without concrete targets.

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Clearly if Colombia’s bid wins, there’s a pile more work to do to bring the event to life than if Australia/NZ’s bid succeeds. FIFA would likely need to hold Colombia’s hand through the process, but it is not an insurmountable task.

That won’t deter FIFA, particularly on the front of achieving their women’s football strategy, which is the joker in Colombia’s pack.

In eight editions, the Women’s World Cup has never been hosted in South America.

The Women’s World Cup has been played three times in the Americas timezone, but on all occasions up in North America – the United States in 1999 and 2003 and Canada in 2015. Strategically, holding the event on South American soil is vastly different.

Colombia’s bid has plenty of flaws but it talks about changing South American society and redefining the female’s role within it. That’s a trump card.

South America is the sleeping giant of women’s football. No South American team has ever won the Women’s World Cup and besides for Brazil, remarkably only one CONMEBOL team has ever reached the knockout stages: Colombia in 2015.

The FIFA Council members will ask would hosting the event in Colombia help awaken it to the whole continent?

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Colombia is not the first CONMEBOL member to bid to host the event either, with Peru putting their hand up in 2011 before voluntarily pulling out, along with Brazil in the 2023 race.

Colombia’s bid has its issues, so on paper it doesn’t feel like the breakthrough bid for the continent. But it’s also the first to make it this far. There may be unquenched appetite.

Lacking for Colombia are precise figures on female participation growth and details on how it’ll support FIFA’s women’s football strategy. There’s the issue of a low revenue forecast thus commercial risk for FIFA. There’s a lack of government contribution, plus the nominated international broadcast centre isn’t up to standard and the stadium in the capital Bogota, nominated to host the opening game and final, is 15,000 seats short of the required capacity. The issues are lengthy, but they’re not insurmountable. And FIFA will look at the upside.

Australia/NZ presents the low-risk option. Like Colombia it is groundbreaking in that it is the first ever joint and cross-confederation bid too, but in some ways that separates it from the rest of the region, impacting potential legacy in Asia and Oceania.

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Costs may be high due to co-hosting and geography but that’s offset by strong revenue forecasts based on higher estimated ticket sales, corporate hospitality, sponsorship plus significant government funding. Twelve of the 13 stadiums are built, with the Sydney Football Stadium underway, while team facilities and accommodation options are good.

The downsides are the multiple and confusing time zones, which don’t lend themselves well to TV audiences in European evenings but neither does South America. There’s also the two countries’ sheer vastness, creating travel headaches for teams, officials and fans, but that won’t decide the bid.

The key question is what’s the legacy within the FIFA women’s football strategy beyond Australian and New Zealand shores? Will it actually grow women’s football in the Asia-Pacific and Oceania?

Compare that to Colombia’s potential impact in South America, and you’ll ask is the latter worth the risk?