Australia and New Zealand’s winning Women’s World Cup bid is a moment of optimism for football | Football

In 2015, when France was announced as the host for the 2019 Women’s World Cup, the dramatic reveal of the envelope was met with little more than the gentle tapping of keyboards in an otherwise silent, half-empty conference room.

Fifa could not have expected what women’s football would achieve just four years later when the tournament that preceded that anti-climactic moment attracted 1.1bn viewers and smashed records across the world.

Nor could they have anticipated the 2023 Women’s World Cup announcement – which took place in the early hours of Friday morning – to occur entirely online, with the 35 eligible Fifa Council members casting their votes from their respective homes and offices thanks to Covid-19.

It’s fitting, then – pre-destined, even – that the bid which was chosen to stage the 2023 tournament emphasised football’s most profound offering: unity. Australia and New Zealand’s joint bid, presciently titled “As One”, was selected by the Fifa Council to the tune of 22 votes to Colombia’s 13.

In the final video presentations submitted to Fifa last week, Australia and New Zealand’s message began with an acknowledgement of the moment the world is currently experiencing: a moment of uncertainty, distance and silence brought about by a global trauma.

But that silence is soon pierced by the sound of the world game: the laughter and chatter of a simple football team, working together to achieve a common purpose. The video serves as a reminder – a symbol – of the role football can and must play in picking up the shattered pieces of our post-Covid world; recognising football’s responsibility not just to itself, but to the rest of society.

By electing Australia and New Zealand as the hosts of one of global sport’s biggest tournaments, Fifa and its member federations have recognised and embraced that responsibility, too.

Memories of Australia’s failed bid in 2010 – and the back-room politicking that haunts it – can now be put to bed. Following Fifa’s own technical evaluation report which ranked As One ahead of its rivals, scoring 4.1 out of 5 compared with Colombia’s 2.8 (and Japan’s 3.9, before withdrawing earlier this week), the choice of Australia and New Zealand is not just objectively the right one.

It also signals Fifa’s desire to atone for its past sins; to become a leader in world sport with transparency, accountability and integrity at its core.

This decision, then, is not just an opportunity for Australian and New Zealand football, but for the entire sport to embark on a new era of growth – especially in the women’s space – towards becoming the game it always had the potential to be: a game that is, truly, for everyone.

World football’s next chapter will be written in the Asia-Pacific, and the 2023 Women’s World Cup provides a concrete timeline for Australia and New Zealand in particular to maximise the next three years’ worth of enthusiasm and investment.

There will be an unprecedented boost in the number of grassroots participants – especially for women and girls. Already Australia’s most popular team sport, As One projects that Australia will reach a 50/50 gender split in participation by 2027, while New Zealand will double its current growth year after year.

Australia’s premier women’s league – the W-League – can commit itself to longterm, ambitious thinking: attracting and producing world-class talent, extending its season, adding teams and becoming one of the only fully-professional women’s leagues in the world.

The Matildas will solidify their place as Australia’s favourite sports team, using the international exposure of a World Cup to shine a light on the pathways that produced them. One need only look at the legacy of the United States hosting the 1999 Women’s World Cup to see how it sparked an entire generation of future US women’s national team stars to take up the sport, resulting in the most dominant women’s team in history.

With the current “Golden Generation” of Matildas hitting their physical peaks over the next few years, the possibility of winning a World Cup – now on home soil – has never been greater.

Media interest in the game will surge, providing a level of visibility and accessibility of female athletes to an entire generation of young people who will realise, to turn a phrase, that they can be what they can, finally, see.

Hosting the tournament will also open the door to the greatest untapped commercial market in world football: Asia. Not only will this alignment inject much-needed funds back into football’s global economy, but the hundreds of millions of old and new fans who could be converted to the women’s game may see the tide turn on the international stage.

This decision isn’t just a positive for women’s football in Australia and New Zealand. It’s a moment of optimism for all football: a reminder of what it stands for, what it can achieve, and why it matters to all of us. Whether we’re As One in 2023 or “United” in 2026, the game’s ability to bring people together has never felt more profound nor more necessary. Now is when that work really begins.

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