In 677 days, a mere 96 weeks from now, Australia’s biggest ever football event kicks off.
The fever that grips the nation next will not be caused by a virus, it will be football fever. Women’s football fever. Grand final weekends, Bledisloe Cups and the Australian Open, major events that consume us all, will be eclipsed by the FIFA Women’s World Cup, and this time we’re in bed with our friendly neighbours New Zealand as hosts.
As football takes a break through the tail end of a lockdown that has interrupted the 2021 seasons of so many clubs and players around the country, there is an undeniable buzz already building, and it’s only going to get bigger.
As football fans, we know it’s coming. The 2023 Women’s World Cup is less than two years away, and it’s going to be played right here in Australia, in our major cities, in our own backyards.
The Matildas’ unexpected success at the Olympic games returned football to the forefront of our minds. A massive 2.32 million Australian viewers tuned in to the semi-final against Sweden that captured the hearts and imagination of the whole nation – quite a contrast to the 300,000 who would catch a Bledisloe Cup game live on TV.
A low-key friendly in Ireland early in the morning of 22 September will bring football back into our consciousness, and should the rumours be validated, two blockbuster friendlies against fierce rivals the United States at the end of November will trigger an avalanche of Matildas jerseys landing under the tree for Christmas.
Our big-game players are sealing massive moves in Europe, most recently Alanna Kennedy to Manchester City, Kyah Simon to Spurs and Emily Gielnik to Aston Villa. They join a host of overseas-based Aussie women lighting up pitches around the world and who are already superstars. They will continue to grow in stature with the exponential growth of women’s football in the United Kingdom.
Now, when they pull on the green and gold to represent their nation, they will be recognised by football fans around the globe. And this is only the beginning.
At home the W-League is doing all the right things. Wellington Phoenix is here, Central Coast Mariners and Western United will be new teams by 2023. This will create a longer season, a deeper pool of players and a better product. The women’s NPL in New South Wales at least has been rationalised into two larger divisions, and we welcome the reintroduction of the missing under-16s level, again giving more games over an extended season for more players at a key stage of their development.
There is no doubt the people now steering football in Australia, with the big picture in mind, are having a dramatic effect on the player pathways with these key decisions. Football Australia, through its impressive five pillars of Legacy ‘23, knows it has one shot at this and is determined to get it right.
The final page of the Legacy ‘23 document calls for “100,000+ content pieces to tell powerful stories of legacy and women’s sport” – a big call. The pool of football journalists remains small in Australia, the opportunities to share stories are limited, and the desperate thirst for women’s football content is not there yet.
In true Australian fashion, the general population and the major media players will cotton on – eventually. In the weeks leading into the tournament the sporting public will be swept up by the juggernaut that is the World Cup, and Australia will be the centre of the footballing world for one glorious month. The mainstream media will finally be interested, women’s football’s stars will be burning brightly.
But it starts now for the real fans and the football media. Football Australia has played its hand to parlay the tournament into a lasting impact, and we need to have the content to underpin our insistence that Australian women’s football is the real deal. As lovers of women’s football, as eager fans of the world game and as willing contributors to its success, even if we are at first shouting into the abyss, we must be shouting about this now.
The final of the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2019 in France was watched by a live worldwide audience of 82 million people. The average live audience across all games was 17 million people per game and the total reach, the total number of viewers who tuned in to the tournament across all platforms, was over a billion people. That is simply incredible and unthinkable, even 15 years ago.
With the increase in popularity of the women’s game as a whole, there is no reason a tournament in less Euro-friendly time zones cannot match or even eclipse those figures. This is a monumental opportunity to showcase Australian football and to show the world our passion and fervour for the women’s game. All eyes are on us. We should be making a fuss right now.
Content writers, journalists, social media gurus, commentators and bloggers, this is a rallying call. Stop pretending that the World Cup is way into the future. Football Australia is fast-tracking major changes to our beautiful game in order to harness the power of the World Cup, and we need to be aligned to this forward thinking.
This is a once-in-a-lifetime event that will shape the game in our country for years to come. With media outlets boasting a football desk of one, the likes of Ray Gatt and The World Game exiting the building with no replacement and football continuing to struggle for column inches, we appear to be doing the exact opposite of what we should be doing right now.
We’ve got 22 months to come up with 100,000 articles. Who’s with me?