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Australia and New Zealand win race to host 2023 Women’s World Cup

The Sydney Opera House lights up in support of Australia and New Zealand’s joint bid to host the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023. (Image credit: FFA)

Australia and New Zealand have secured the rights to host the 2023 Women’s World Cup, beating off competition from Colombia.

Australia and New Zealand won a Fifa Council vote yesterday by 22 votes to 13. The winning bid was the overwhelming favourite, but a surprise decision by Uefa delegates to vote for Colombia created some last-minute tension.

Adding to the suspense were reports that English Football Association chairman Greg Clarke had refused to take a phone call from New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern earlier in the week.

Australia and New Zealand will co-host the ninth edition of the tournament, marking the first time two confederations have joined forces to deliver the tournament. New Zealand is in the Oceania Football Confederation, while Australia switched from Oceania to the Asian Football Confederation in 2006.

It will also be the first Women’s World Cup in the Asia-Pacific region and the first to be held in the southern hemisphere.

The two countries were favourites to host the tournament after securing the highest score in Fifa’s evaluation report assessing three potential hosts in early June. The joint bid scored 4.1 out of five, while Japan scored 3.9 and Colombia scored 2.8.

The Australia and New Zealand bid secured strong financial commitments from each country’s government, causing Fifa to rank theirs as the most “commercially-favourable” bid.

This was not enough to convince Uefa delegates. The European confederation later explained it voted for Colombia because it felt women’s football was in more need of a boost in South America than in Australian and New Zealand.

Uefa said, “Even though the Colombian bid was not the one rated highest technically by Fifa, European members of the Fifa Council felt that it represented a strategic opportunity for the development of women’s football in South America thanks to the legacy and increase of attention for the women’s game that the tournament would bring to the continent.

“It was a choice between two countries – Australia and New Zealand – where women’s football is already strongly established, and a continent where it still has to be firmly implanted and has a huge development potential.

“It’s important to add that European members of the FIFA Council agreed to vote together on major issues as a matter of solidarity.”

Fifa president Gianni Infantino said he was surprised by Uefa’s vote but said it represented “democracy”.

Japan’s withdrawal from the running earlier this week ensured the Australia and New Zealand bid received full backing from the AFC and its seven votes on the Fifa Council. Gianni Infantino is also reported to have backed the bid, as did the Oceania Football Confederation, all members of the council from the Confederation of African Football and Concacaf, which represents North and Central America and the Caribbean.

The votes were cast on Thursday afternoon by 35 members of the 37-strong Fifa Council. New Zealand’s Johanna Wood and Colombia’s Ramon Jesrun were ineligible to vote.

Australia and New Zealand’s joint hosting model is based on minimising travel times for players. In a joint press release ahead of the vote, the Australia-New Zealand bid said their plans to schedule matches across four time zones would “deliver matches at times favourable to broadcasters in established as well as emerging markets”.

Colombia disgruntled

The bidding campaign was not without controversy. The South American Football Confederation (Conmebol) and the Colombian Football Federation (FCF) last week wrote to Fifa over what they deemed “erroneous and discriminatory conclusions” in its evaluation report.

In response to Conmebol and the FCF’s concerns, Fifa secretary general Fatma Samoura moved to answer criticism of the evaluation report in a letter issued to members of the ruling Fifa Council ahead of the vote.

“I am confident that the evaluation process that Fifa has conducted has adhered to the key principles of objectivity, vision, transparency, commitment to human rights and sustainability,” Samoura said, in comments reported by Reuters.

Antipodean elation

Welcoming the award of the hosting rights, New Zealand Football president and Fifa Council member Wood, said: “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 Fifa Women’s World Cup 2023 will bring us all together in a celebration of our shared loved of football.”

NZF chief executive Andrew Pragnell said Prime Minister Ardern had played an important role lobbying for the bid during telephone calls this week. “She was willing to get on and make sure the key messages of the bid were heard and that’s brilliant,” he said. “That’s huge, and that showed in the technical report [evaluating the bids], that the Government was committed to bringing the event here.”

New Zealand sports minister Grant Robertson said the government would be supporting the tournament and surrounding projects with investments worth NZ$25m ($16m/€14m).

Football Federation Australia president Chris Nikou said that the 2023 tournament would “unlock the huge potential for growth in women’s football in the Asia-Pacific region”.

Australian Olympic Committee president and prominent IOC member John Coates congratulated the winning bid, saying, “This decision will deliver what could be a golden decade for Australian sport…I can see a ten year runway taking us from 2023 with the Women’s Football World Cup, a year earlier the Fiba Women’s Basketball World Cup in 2022, potentially the Rugby World Cup for men in 2027 and ultimately the jewel in the crown with the Olympic Games in Brisbane in 2032. The benefits will continue beyond.”

He said the decision confirmed Australia was considered “a sports loving country, capable of delivering the biggest events to the highest standard. We are viewed as a very safe pair of hands and of course, we are a wonderful destination for sports fans from around the world.”

Asian Football Confederation president Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa also welcomed the bid, saying, “On behalf of the AFC – and the Asian football family – I congratulate Australia/New Zealand on being named as hosts of the Fifa Women’s World Cup in 2023 – and thank all the AFC’s Fifa Council Members for their support of the bid.

“Today, we can celebrate a great day for women’s football and a historic moment with a cross Confederation tournament…

“This will be the first time the Southern Hemisphere has hosted the tournament and the benefits for the development of the women’s game in both Asia and the Pacific Region – as well as globally – are enormous.”

Shaikh Salman also thanked the Japan Football Association “for their technically strong bid but also their show of Asian football unity”, and the Korea Football Association for taking part in the selection process.

Additional reporting by SportBusiness staff, Asia