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Japan ‘to exit race’ for 2023 Women’s World Cup

Japan midfielder Hina Sugita dribbles the ball as USA midfielder Tobin Heath closes in during the 2020 SheBelieves Cup game (by Matthew Visinsky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Australia and New Zealand appear poised to land hosting rights to the 2023 Fifa Women’s World Cup amid reports that Japan will drop its bid for the national team football tournament.

Japanese news agency Kyodo said the Japan Football Association (JFA) will confirm the decision at a board meeting today (Monday). Earlier this month, Fifa released its evaluation report assessing the three bids for the Women’s World Cup. Australia and New Zealand’s joint bid scored highest at 4.1 out of five, while Japan scored 3.9 and Colombia scored 2.8.

While Japan’s bid was praised for the quality of its infrastructure and commercial potential, world football’s governing body also noted that its preferred July-August window for the tournament would tie in with the hottest part of Japan’s summer.

The JFA has identified the 2020 to 2023 period as an opportunity to develop the women’s game, with the Women’s World Cup in mind and Tokyo now due to host the summer Olympic Games next year. Indeed, earlier this month the JFA unveiled plans for the country’s first-ever women’s professional league, which will be known as the ‘WE League – Women Empowerment League’.

The news out of Japan today comes after Fifa countered criticism from South American officials over the low marking of Colombia’s bid, stating all efforts were taken to conduct the process in a “highly objective matter”.

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” outlined in the report on the country’s bid to host the next edition of the Women’s World Cup.

The winning bidder is due to be announced on Thursday, with the evaluation report raising questions over the financial backing of Colombia’s bid, stating that it would need “a significant amount of investment and support from both local stakeholders and Fifa in order to elevate organisational conditions to those of the other two bids”.

In response to Conmebol and the FCF’s concerns, Fifa secretary general Fatma Samoura has moved to answer criticism of the evaluation report in a letter issued to members of the ruling Fifa Council. “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, according to the Reuters news agency.

With regards to the report’s apparent criticism of the security situation in Colombia, Samoura admitted that that there had been improvements but said that “all sources reviewed by experts indicated an elevated level of risk” compared to other bids.

Conmebol and the FCF also questioned the report’s “offensive” assessment of Colombia’s medical services. Regarding health and medical facilities, Samoura said that “a medium level of risk was deemed appropriate” and that serious incidents may require international evacuation. Samoura also pointed to the altitude of Colombia’s capital city Bogota, which stands at 2,644m, as another factor taken into account.

On a commercial standing, Samoura said projected revenues from a Colombian World Cup were “modest”, highlighting that projected ticketing revenue of $22.4m (€20m) would be significantly lower than that generated by the 2019 tournament in France.

Ahead of the release of the report, Brazil withdrew its bid for the 2023 Women’s World Cup, citing the financial impacts of Covid-19. The Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) said it would be supporting South American neighbour Colombia’s bid to host the competition.

The 2023 World Cup will be the first edition of the tournament to feature 32 teams.