Sydney Olympics and Asian Cup laid groundwork for Women’s World Cup win, bid leader says

Players from USA lift the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup Trophy following victory over the Netherlands. (Photo by Naomi Baker - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

Hosting the Olympics in 2000 and the AFC Asian Cup in 2015 helped Australia develop expertise that was instrumental in winning the 2023 Fifa Women’s World Cup hosting rights along with New Zealand earlier this year, the Football Federation of Australia’s Jane Fernandez has said.

Speaking at the All That Matters Online 2020 conference, Fernandez, head of the Fifa Women’s World Cup 2023 Office at the FFA, said, “The seed was planted back in 2015, when we were hosting the Asian Cup, and it was such a great tournament…that really made us consider and start thinking about what it would look like to host the Fifa Women’s World Cup in Australia.”

Fernandez began her major events hosting career working on the Sydney Olympics in 2000, which she said was a seminal event for the country’s events industry. The 20th anniversary of the Sydney Games was celebrated in the city this week.

“I feel the Sydney 2000 games really started the major events industry,” Fernandez said. “So many people, so many of my former colleagues really learnt about this industry and how to deliver these amazing events at the top level. And, from that, we’ve all grown, we’ve all developed and we’ve all learned together. I think it’s almost an entire industry that we’ve been able to export to other Olympics right around the world, and other major sporting events.”

The joint bid by Australia and New Zealand was awarded the rights for the 2023 Women’s World Cup by Fifa in June, beating rival bids from Japan, Colombia and Brazil. Australia and New Zealand aced the technical evaluation, scoring ahead of its rivals in all categories. But Fernandez said there were still plenty of last-minute nerves at FFA headquarters when the result was being announced.

“The tension in the room was, my goodness, you could cut it with a knife…you could hear a pin drop, everyone was on the edge of their seats as we waited for the decision to be taken.

“We knew who was going to support us. But we also knew who wasn’t going to support us. And so it always comes down to the wire. And it was a moment of absolute joy when we were announced as the winning bid.”

Trans-Tasman win

Australia had been planning a solo bid before joining with New Zealand. The decision to join came in the wake of Fifa’s announcement in the wake of the successful 2019 Women’s World Cup in France that it would be expanding the tournament from 24 to 32 teams in 2023.

Fernandez said the decision to join with New Zealand resulted in the bid book being rewritten “in record time” – the partnership was announced in September 2019 and the bid book was submitted in December. The outcome was “a compelling proposal”, she said:

“Australia and New Zealand have a really strong history of delivering major sporting events together…we’ve done those over a number of years and we’ve done them very, very successfully. And I think we are the bridge between two confederations and I think that’s a really compelling story.

“We developed our hosting vision together as one, but whilst we’re very similar, we have our own cultures and I think that’s the opportunity that both New Zealand and Australia are going to have, to really tell the story of football in our countries.”

The 2023 Women’s World Cup will be the first co-hosted by two countries and confederations – the Asian Football Confederation, of which Australia is a member, and the Oceania Football Confederation, which houses New Zealand – as well as the first in Asia-Pacific and the first in the Southern Hemisphere.

Growth targets

Audience growth for the tournament and women’s football participation growth in the aftermath are key targets for the event, Fernandez said.

“We want to grow the audience. We want more than a billion watching. I think what’s really important is that the Fifa Women’s World Cup, the tournament itself, continues to grow…

“In 2019, we launched the gender equality action plan, which really spoke to why we wanted to host the Fifa Women’s World Cup. We talked about aiming to get 50:50 in participation by 2027. And we know that participant participation rates always grow when [we] host major sporting events. After the Asian Cup, we saw a 20-per-cent increase in participation.”

The event is target a total attendance at matches of over 1.5 million, up from 1.13 million at the 2019 tournament.