LYON: This file photo taken on July 7, 2019 shows US’s players celebrating with the trophy after the France 2019 Women’s World Cup football final match between USA and the Netherlands at the Lyon Stadium in Lyon, central-eastern France. Australia and New Zealand’s joint bid to host the 2023 women’s World Cup, using the slogan “As One”, is up against Colombia, with the decision due on June 25 after the field was whittled down from 10. — AFP

SYDNEY: A decade ago Australia spent millions of taxpayer dollars on a disastrous quest to host the 2022 men’s World Cup, but its football boss is quietly confident that crushing defeat will not be repeated this week. 

Australia and New Zealand’s joint bid to host the 2023 women’s World Cup, using the slogan “As One”, is up against Colombia, with the decision due on June 25 after the field was whittled down from 10.

Japan, whose ‘Nadeshiko’ women’s team won the 2011 World Cup, withdrew on Monday, a move seen as taking Australia and New Zealand’s biggest rival out of the race. Thursday’s announcement by the FIFA Council comes with women’s football, and women’s sport in general, on an upward trajectory. The last women’s World Cup in France was a big success, watched by 1.12 billion people globally.

The next edition will have 32 teams for the first time, up from 24, with pressure on to take it to another level. Australia and New Zealand both have experience in hosting major events and their bid was regarded as the frontrunner after scoring strongly in FIFA’s evaluation report.

“When you look at our bid, we think it ticks a lot of the boxes,” Football Federation Australia chairman Chris Nikou told AFP.  “Whether that’s infrastructure, or the facilities, whether it’s the legacy or the commercial outcomes for FIFA. 

“Or just our genuine engagement with women’s sport and women’s issues… and Australia and New Zealand are great places to visit too, so as a package we hope it’s a compelling proposition.”

There was also optimism in 2010 when billionaire Frank Lowy, then FFA chairman, vigorously pursued hosting rights for the 2022 men’s World Cup, only to win just a single vote as the event controversially went to Qatar. It was a humiliating outcome for Australia, and was followed by bloodletting at FIFA as allegations unfolded of corruption at the world body’s highest levels.

Nikou said it was a different ball game now, with FIFA having a new president in Gianni Infantino and a new constitution, while each vote will be public as opposed to the previous secrecy.

“Comparing the two eras, the previous bid to this one, I think it’s like comparing apples to oranges,” he said. “FIFA have been very adamant about a transparent process, a fair and open process, and it’s been very comprehensive.”

If Australia and New Zealand win, it will be the biggest sports event to be held by either country since the Sydney Olympics 20 years ago.

Their bid has already won public support from the ASEAN bloc, with initiatives to not just promote football in the host nations but also Southeast Asia, where it is hoped increased female participation can act as a driver for social change.

“A joint World Cup would also send a clear message to the Pacific islands about the rise of women’s sport and certainly give them role models, and give us something to work with them to advance women’s issues generally,” said Nikou. Australia and New Zealand’s prime ministers, Scott Morrison and Jacinda Ardern, promised the World Cup would “embody our passion for women’s football” and attract record crowds. “Football is the game that connects us all,” they wrote in a joint letter to the FIFA Council.  “We sincerely hope that an Australia-New Zealand FIFA Women’s World Cup will bring us all together again in 2023, when we can all celebrate humanity, community and unity through football.”

Australia and New Zealand have been ahead of the curve in promoting equal pay and gender equality in sport, which should sit well with FIFA’s vision of having 60 million women and girls playing football by 2026.

Nikou said he hoped the achievements would not go unnoticed.

“Those who delve into those details will genuinely see two countries committed to women’s sport,” he said. “When you look at it, we are living the values that are part of FIFA’s broader game plan for sport.”

The two countries plan to share the tournament between 12 cities. 

Stadiums — a combination of boutique and large — already exist, with the opener in Auckland and the final in Sydney. Tickets will cost as little as US$5 with officials confident up to 1.5 million spectators will attend.

Nikou pointed to Australia and New Zealand’s previous success in hosting top events, including cricket and rugby World Cups and Commonwealth Games, as well as the Olympics.

“We’ve got a strong track record of putting on world-class events so I’m very comfortable that we would produce the best ever women’s World Cup,” he said. —AFP