By Angela Christian-Wilkes
In the wee hours of Friday morning, FIFA President Gianni Infantino announced that Australia and New Zealand will host the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup. Emotions are still running high.
But in the months leading up to the announcement, the bid occupied a grey and shapeless space in my mind—a football fog, if you will. COVID-19 has affected any plans further than next weekend. While sport is one of the biggest industries affected, women’s sport is especially struck by the pandemic’s ramifications on resources. At both elite and grassroots levels, clubs and leagues are in survival mode, with no concrete path forward.
For me, dealing with this uncertainty meant not thinking about the bid. I wasn’t ignoring the conversation, but I wasn’t engaging either. I didn’t read the bid reports, didn’t read the technical review, didn’t try to understand the different alliances of FIFA voters. To consider the possibility of winning, I would have to consider the possibility of losing—something that would not be taking up any of my mental real estate, thank you very much.
Then, on Monday, Japan withdrew their bid. Brazil had already quietly bowed out. Only Australia and New Zealand’s joint bid and Colombia’s remained. What was this strange emotion I was feeling? Hope? The football fog thinned. It was still several days of nerves and doubts before the fog lifted completely: June 26th, at approximately 1.45am. After a few too many glasses of Passion Pop, I allowed myself to think about what hosting the 2023 WWC means.
The importance of securing the World Cup was summarised by Australia’s announcement of their formal commitment to the bid in 2018. The initial launch in October was framed around what we already share: passionate fans, a football culture to brag about, some of the best players in the world. The campaign captured wide grins and kitschy jerseys from across the country and requested that others #GetOnside.
By March 2019, eight federations had declared a formal interest in bidding–a record number of bidders indicating that hosting a Women’s World Cup is now more attractive for federations than ever before. A spectacular tournament in France for the 2019 WWC further symbolised a positive shift for the women’s game. This growth in women’s football—both locally and globally—didn’t happen overnight, nor can it be attributed to one moment. In December 2019, Australia and New Zealand consolidated their positions as forerunners by pairing up #AsOne. A persuasive case for Australia and New Zealand, together and separately, was made possible by the hard work of pioneers on and off the field across decades. Hosting 2023 means Australia and New Zealand’s football communities will be sharing this history of toil with the rest of the world.
I will be sharing and experiencing this world cup with everyone who makes up my own football community. I’m going to share 2023 with my dad, the OG women’s football fan in my life. I’m going to share it with the many wonderful people I have met by writing about women’s football, sharing the experience not just across timezones on Twitter but actually alongside them in their hometown stadiums. I’m going to share it with my fantastic community club, Melbourne University Soccer Club, the biggest women’s club in Victoria. I’m going to share it with friends who will make the trip over oceans, maybe for their first visit to Australia, maybe some of those who I met in France in 2019. I might even get my football-agnostic partner to a few games.
Once again we face uncertainty, but now an uncertainty that has energy and direction. There are many questions we don’t have the answers to: about the growth at grassroots and elite level, about Asia-Pacific relations, about the possibility of regeneration and renewal in our men’s game as well. Yet while the cynic in all of us sports fans may long to creep out, the magnitude of this moment is hard to stultify. There’s so much work to be done (it’s making me a little sleepy just thinking about it). But by securing the World Cup, one thing is certain: no longer will women’s football be secondary in conversations about the game in Australia and New Zealand. 2023 means that women’s football is the conversation.
Some more articles recommended by Angela around the Women’s World Cup: