New Zealand and Australia ramped up their final push to host football’s Women’s World Cup in 2023 with the only professional men’s team in New Zealand starting on Thursday (June 11) they were keen to seek a license to field a women’s side as well.
Some 10 years ago, former Fifa president Sepp Blatter took a step forward in Zurich and talked about the importance of football. He says:
It is more than just a game, it has an educational value based on its principles of discipline, respect, and fair play. It gives hope to humanity.
Men’s World Cup Finals
Minutes later, Blatter announced that the hosts for the 2018 and 2022 men’s World Cup finals would be Russia and Qatar, respectively.
The announcement was met with a bewildered silence, stemming from the fact that Fifa’s own technical evaluation reports concluded both Russia and Qatar were the least suitable hosts compared with other bidding nations. They were the only two bids to be given “medium” and “high” risk ratings.
In the decade since, 11 of the 22 voting members have been fined, suspended, banned or prosecuted for their role in these decisions. Both tournaments have been overshadowed by the human rights abuses that have constructed them and the scandalous politicking that awarded them. The trust of the global football community in its international governing body is in tatters.
Fifa now finds itself on its knees, hands clasped and seeking atonement. Their first act was in 2018 when they awarded the 2026 World Cup to the “United” bid, which exceeded its rival (Morocco) in almost every way according to Fifa’s own report.
The governing body now has its second major opportunity following this week’s release of the evaluation report for the 2023 Women’s World Cup. It concluded that Australia and New Zealand’s joint-bid was the strongest of the three, scoring 4.1 out of a possible 5, while Japan – its nearest competitor – scored 3.9 and Colombia 2.8.
For Jane Fernandez, the general manager of the “As One” bid who has worked on its development since 2017, Fifa’s comments are the strongest indication yet that Australia and New Zealand’s bid is in pole position.
“Based on the ratings that came out in the evaluation report, that’s exactly how it appears,” Fernandez told Guardian Australia. “The purpose of the report is to inform the Fifa Council. If you look at the 2026 process, the ‘United’ bid scored the highest. Whilst it’s a bit of a different voting process in that the whole of Congress voted for the men’s World Cup bid which was the way the vote went – in line with that [said the report].
“I was really buoyed by the fact that the overall risk rating is low, and we’re the only bidder that achieved that. So that filled me with confidence that we’ve done all we could do.
“Our job for now is to ensure that we’re pushing forward the strengths of our bid and ensuring the Fifa Council are aware that we’ve presented the most favourable bidding proposal, which we stand ready to deliver with the complete support of all governments, and we’ve proposed the most favourable commercial opportunity to Fifa.”
The evaluation reports are broken into two sections: infrastructure (70%) and commercial (30%). Within these sections are weighted categories such as stadiums, team and referee facilities, accommodation and transport, ticketing revenue, security, scheduling, environmental impact, human rights and technological capacity. Following on from the 2014 World Cup in Brazil in which a number of “white elephant” stadiums were built and subsequently abandoned, sustainability and legacy has also become part of Fifa’s assessments.
According to the 2023 report, “As One” comes out ahead of Japan in all but one of these categories (accommodation). While the two Asian bids received the same score for stadiums – the most heavily-weighted infrastructure category of all – Australia and New Zealand’s bid edges past its nearest rival in several other ways.
It is the only bid that has “a strong overlap” with Fifa’s own long-term Women’s Football Strategy, providing clear objectives for growing the women’s game and using the sport as a platform to drive social change beyond the parameters of the tournament.
The communication and marketing strategy of the “As One” bid is, in Fifa’s words, “very strong”: it leans on various networks including schools, tourism, media, and other ambassadors and provides some “highly innovative post-tournament legacy programmes” that Fifa would consider further engagement with.
By hosting the tournament in winter, the joint bid avoids rescheduling risks due to weather and climate events – a concern Fifa notes regarding Japan’s bid, which may need to be brought forward to avoid warmer temperatures, potentially disrupting the international calendar.
And the biggest score advantage “As One” has over Japan is in the commercial space. Fifa recognises that awkward time-zones may affect European viewership, but the geographical spread of Australia and New Zealand means games can be scheduled across a larger time period and tap into a number of markets – including throughout Asia and the Pacific – and thus reach a wider audience. The financial proposition offered by “As One” is also significantly boosted by guaranteed government funding to the tune of $75m, which neither Japan nor Colombia has secured.
Combined with Australia and New Zealand’s impressive response to Covid-19 – which included Football Federation Australia coming to the aid of the International Olympic Committee by moving the Matildas’ Olympic qualifiers to Sydney in February – the As One bid appears to be the front-runner in Fifa’s own eyes. Now its Council members must decide whether it wants the eyes of the rest of the world turned on them once again.