Around 16:00 BST today, we will finally know who will host the 2023 FIFA World Cup, one of the most eagerly awaited decisions in the women’s game.
We have certainly been made to wait! With a hugely successful tournament in France under their belt last summer, FIFA opted to expand the competition from 24 to 32 teams, requiring bidders to re-consider, re-format and expand their submissions. An initial list of around ten potential hosts has now been whittled down to two – Australia/New Zealand and Colombia – with Japan dropping out of the running just a few days before decision day.
There has been a considerable buzz around Australia hosting a World Cup for a while. The Football Federation Australia has backed the sport significantly over the last few years, with a strong domestic league attracting some of the world’s biggest talent and the strengthening reputation of the Matildas who have featured in every edition of the tournament since 1995.
New Zealand joined the bid officially in December 2019 as the two nations joined forces to produce the slick #AsOne campaign. 12 potential hosts cities were submitted – seven in Australia (Brisbane; Newcastle; Sydney; Launceston; Adelaide; Perth; Newcastle) and five in New Zealand (Auckland; Wellington; Dunedin; Hamilton; Christchurch) that would see the tournament span two nations for the first time in its history.
They passed the technical evaluation with the highest mark (4.1 out of 5) with a bid that “would appear to present the most commercially favourable proposition”. With generally strong infrastructure and facilities, they scored as low risk across all categories bar one (“legal government support documents” were medium) and provided plans for “highly innovative post-tournament legacy programmes” to boost development of the sport across the Asia-Pacific region. There were, however, questions around the heavy focus on air travel, high running cost and a couple of the host cities accommodation and facilities.
Colombia submitted their bid in December 2019, stating that it would be “the most important sporting event that the country will receive historically”. Their vision is to increase participation of women’s football at all levels, create a true culture around women in football, and promote women’s sport across South America with a tournament that would have a huge local impact.
Women’s football is certainly at a developing stage in the country. Since 2017, a professional league has been running (it is a requirement for a World Cup bid) but it isn’t without its problems (including lack of structure, funding and support). The national side has previously appeared at two FIFA World Cups (2011; 2015) but failed to qualify for the 2019 edition, and there have certainly been many questions about Colombia’s true commitment to the sport.
The tournament would be held across 10 host cities – Armenia; Barranquilla; Bogotá; Bucaramanga; Cali; Cartagena; Cúcuta; Manizales; Medellín; Pereira – with Estadio Nemesio Camacho El Campín in Bogotá the venue for the opening game and the final.
The technical evaluation gave the bid a score of 2.1 out of 5, the lowest of the three bidders at the time. While the infrastructure met the minimum requirements, it is thought that significant investment and support would be needed to host a high-quality tournament with stadia falling short on technical requirements and a low forecast of revenue. As with the #AsOne bid, the reliance on air travel between host cities was also noted.
On reading the technical evaluation report and with the withdrawal of Japan, the Australia/New Zealand bid are the clear favourites ahead of today’s FIFA Council meeting.
However, it may not prove that significant in the decision-making. 35 of the 37 FIFA Council members choose where to put their vote (9 votes from UEFA; 4 from CONMEBOL; 5 from CONCACAF; 7 from CAF; 7 from AFC; 2 from OFC; 1 from the FIFA president). Where some of these members, including England’s Greg Clarke, will place their vote is still anyone’s guess, making the suspense and tension grow even stronger ahead of this afternoon.