How great has the 2023 Women’s World Cup (WC) been?
Incredible crowds and incredible television ratings with an estimated 4.5 million Australians watching the Aussies defeat the Olympic champion Canada 4-0 and France on penalties.
On one level, I am hardly surprised that Australians have tuned in, and attended WC matches in record numbers given our love of major sporting events.
As a relatively small nation in terms of population (25 million) when compared to the much larger populations of the USA, Great Britain, France and Germany, we do very well when expressing our interest in so many sports.
Just like the Aussie fans turned out to watch the 2003 Rugby World Cup, including crowds of 15,000 in Tasmania and 25,000-30,000 in Adelaide to watch non-Australian matches, so it has been that the 2023 WC has seen all Australian venues host excellent crowds.
In Sydney, four 75,000 plus crowds attended Sydney’s 81,000 seater Olympic Stadium, including for the quarter final between England and Colombia, while four of the five matches at the 42,000 Sydney Football Stadium hosted 40,000 or more.
Brisbane 52,000 capacity rectangle stadium hosted 40,000 for six of its seven matches, including 49,000 for the quarter final between Australia and France and the last 16 match knockout match between England and Nigeria.
Melbourne’s 30,000 venue hosted crowds above 27,000 for all matches bar one, Perth with a 20,000 capacity had 16,000 to 18,000 attending all of its matches, and Adelaide’s smaller 16,500 capacity hosted around 13,000 for all games.
Make no mistake about it. Australia could easily have ten 40,000 plus venues with full crowds with most existing already, although including larger oval fields such as the Melbourne Cricket ground (100,000) and Docklands (56,000), Perth’s 60,000 venue, Adelaide Oval (53,000) and even Geelong’s Kardinia Park soon to have a 40,000 capacity.
And it would not take much to expand Newcastle’s rectangle stadium from 30,000 to 40,000 or more.
Add Auckland alone, and perhaps other New Zealand venues, and bingo our great sports loving region will have a serious mens World Cup bid.
Football in Australia has long arrived as a major sport, and the 2023 WC can only help.
I have never been one to gripe about the mainstream media holding back the plight of football with its regional support for the Australian Football League and National Rugby League at the expense of football.
As a student of society, I have always observed Australia’s evolving and eclectic sporting tastes, as should be common sense in any evolving and dynamic liberal democracy that has become more progressive in many ways.
A larger and more diverse population in a relatively wealthy country should have an interest in a variety of sports, as has proven to be the case in Australia where each football code generates significant public interest in all states and territories.
Australia has come a long way since the 1970s when football was often described as ‘wogball’, Melbournians described the rugby codes as open air wrestling, and the northern states (NSW and Queensland) viewed Australian rules as aerial ping pong.
In the 1970s, few would have foreseen Melbourne hosting a rugby league team, and likewise Sydney and Brisbane having AFL teams.
Of course, attitudes about different sports still exist.
Here at the gym where I work, I have been amazed at the lack of interest in the womens WC, even from the few who like football most.
It is sad that many would have no interest in the female contribution to football (and sport).
However, recognising my own shortcomings and changing attitudes over the years, thankfully overcoming unjustified generalisations as I stay open to learning and new ideas, I fully understand why some people remain tied to one sport at the expense of all others as we can often remain stubborn or diehard with our views and interests.
As humans, many of us still have strong opinions on the importance of materialism, fashion, religion, culture, sexuality, material attitudes, political affiliations, and just about everything.
Yet, even if one acknowledges the obvious reality that women are generally slower and less powerful, the skills demonstrated in the WC have been spectacular and the games exciting to watch.
Many of us, however, have managed to move beyond our ties to the status quo of enjoying one or two sports, one Winter and one Summer.
We recognise the beauty of sport diversity and the natural choice of consumers to support whatever sport and event they like as spectators and/or participants.
I also understand why Channel 7 only televised the Australian matches, a few other select games, and most of the finals with Optus televising the rest.
But the success of the WC cements in terms of ratings will ensure that no major networks will ignore bids for the mens World Cup, big international matches, and perhaps our main domestic leagues in the future.
The reality is that Australia’s support of football has evolved greatly over the years, perhaps reaching its brightest moment on Saturday night when the AFL commentary were almost ecstatic at the success of our Matildas.
Joyous scenes at the rugby league and AFL Matches that night were expressed by thousands of sport loving fans.
Gone are the days when a relatively paltry 20,000 was all that attended a vital WC qualifier, as was the case when Australia hosted Scotland at Olympic Park 1985 with the largely southern European backgrounds proudly supporting Australia in the 0-0 draw, albeit to be mocked by some Scottish fans as ‘wogs’ simply because they could not handle the result against a supposed non-football nation.
Such a WC qualifier match today, and now for several decades, does generate a near sell out at the larger Australian city stadiums.
Australia’s love of football did not happen overnight, and owes much to our changing attitudes and contribution of important players over the years.
I remember World of Sport also giving football some exposure, despite their larrikin digs at the sport.
I loved the kicking for distance competitions between players from Australian Rules, rugby and football.
Sometimes simple tokens of exposure can make a difference to those young Australians wanting to fit in and not being made to feel different because they like a less popular sport.
I, as a little athlete, was wrapped when the famous AFL player and coach David Parkin attended our athletic centre when I was 11 or 12.
There was always exposure of football on mainstream television to support domestic interest in football with the FA Cup always televised as well as a weekly highlight show of English football from the 1960s to 1980s called the The Big Match show which also cover the lower divisions.
Of course, SBS (including Les Murray) over the years did a lot to promote football, as did the globalisation of sport and broadcasting competition between free-to-air and cable television which exposed more and more sports and leagues to different audiences.
No longer did Australians watch just their local and English league, but were exposed to the national leagues of Italy, Germany, Spain, France and more recently the US.
But beyond the southern European and British migrants that kept the sport of football alive in Australia in the immediate post war decades, lets embrace the melting pot of younger Australians who have increasingly embraced the football game, whether it be playing as junior and senior footballers, attending A-league matches, and supporting the national team (men and women).
Football has long been a major sport in this country, and it may well get bigger.
Yes, there will be natural competition between the different football codes and other professional sports, especially in these times of economic difficulty when consumers need to commit more resources just to meet housing and living costs.
But who knows. Despite Australia’s love of many sports, including the four football codes, it may well be that football benefits relatively more in coming years as more Australians become aware of the sport and consider greater side effects from the more dangerous sports notably caused by concussion.
For myself, I will continue to watch all football codes and many other sports, but I am proud that Australia has increasingly embraced football much more over the years as a sign of its own sporting maturity and recognition that the world’s most popular team sport is indeed a great game to watch and participate in.
Well done Australia.