Australia-New Zealand's Winning Bid and the Reasons Behind FIFA's 2023 Women's World Cup Vote

Australia and New Zealand's victorious joint bid was by far the more attractive of the finalists, but that didn't stop UEFA from fully backing Colombia's.
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After emerging as the clear favorite in recent months, the bid from Australia and New Zealand was selected Thursday to host the next Women’s World Cup in 2023. Australia-New Zealand outpolled Colombia, its only remaining competition, in a vote by 35 eligible members of the ruling FIFA Council, as opposed to the every-FIFA-member votes system that sent the 2026 World Cup to the USA, Mexico and Canada.

Australia-New Zealand won the vote, 22-13, with Colombia receiving its non-South American support from Europe. Long-time U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati, who still sits on the FIFA Council, voted for Australia-New Zealand. FIFA president Gianni Infantino announced the winner in a brief online statement, during which he promised $1 billion in FIFA funding for the development of women’s soccer over the next four years.

The 2023 Women’s World Cup will be the first with two hosts and the first with 32 teams. The Australia-New Zealand bid proposed 13 stadiums in 12 cities—seven in Australia and five in New Zealand. The opener is expected to be played at Auckland’s Eden Park stadium and the final at Sydney’s Stadium Australia, which seats around 70,000. There, the four-time champion U.S. women’s national team will be hope to play for an unprecedented third consecutive title.

While this will be the first senior FIFA event held in Australia and/or New Zealand, both countries have experience hosting world championships. New Zealand has hosted three youth World Cups, including the men’s U-20 event in 2015, while Australia has welcomed the world four times. The most recent global soccer event in Australia was the 2000 Summer Olympics, where the American women lost the final to Norway on a golden goal.

Australia and New Zealand will host the 2023 Women's World Cup

Australia and New Zealand also have a long tradition supporting women’s sports. Australia launched its professional league back in in 2008, and its national team was Asian champion in 2010 (and runner-up in 2014 and ’18) and is currently ranked seventh in the world. New Zealand is a five-time qualifier for the Women’s World Cup.

The Australia-New Zealand bid also was the clear choice based on FIFA’s own technical evaluation, released two weeks ago. After initial interest from South Korea, Argentina and Brazil faded, FIFA studied World Cup bids from Australia-New Zealand, Colombia and Japan. Each was evaluated based on stadiums, team/referee facilities, accommodation, broadcast infrastructure, event sites and commercial potential, and then graded on a five-point scale. Australia-New Zealand ranked first at 4.1 out of 5, with Japan at 3.9 and Colombia trailing at just 2.8. In FIFA’s chart of of risk assessments, Colombia’s bid was deemed to be a high risk commercially and a medium risk in a host of areas, from facilities and event services to legal compliance.

"The Australia-New Zealand 2023 bid provides a variety of very good options in terms of sporting and general infrastructure. It would also appear to present the most commercially favorable proposition, taking into consideration the financial commitments made by the governments of both countries towards the operational costs of the tournament,” FIFA said.

Those contributions could rise to $75.7 million, according to the report.

Meanwhile, FIFA’s evaluators wrote that Colombia’s bid “provides a level of infrastructure that meets the minimum requirements but would need a significant amount of investment and support from both local stakeholders and FIFA in order to elevate organizational conditions to those of the other two bids. Based on the documentation submitted and the information provided, it is not clear if this level of investment will be available. Since the tournament is due
 to take place in three years’ time, there would be clear risks that the necessary improvements would not be carried out.”

On Monday, Japan withdrew from consideration, citing the costs associated with the one-year delay to the 2020 (now 2021) Olympics among its reasons. That unified the Asian vote behind Australia-New Zealand, making it an even more prohibitive favorite.

There was an argument to be made for Colombia, however, beyond concerns over TV schedules and whatever political issues might have been motivating the Europeans. Like a lot of Latin America, Colombia’s commitment to women’s soccer has been historically and relatively scant. The national team didn’t even enter the first two Women’s World Cups and finally qualified for the first time in 2011, before advancing to the round of 16 four years later.

FIFA acknowledged, however, that a World Cup can be a catalyst as much as a reward. Promote and provoke, instead of punishing. If women’s soccer in Colombia and Latin America needs a boost (and it does), then an event such as this could be an excellent catalyst. Just like MLS was launched in the USA as part of its bid to land the 1994 World Cup, so Colombia’s Liga Águila Femenina began in 2017. It has been criticized by players for its lack of professionalism, but it remains in business and in 2018, a Colombian club (Atlético Huila) won the Copa Libertadores Femenina for the first time.

“Should the tournament take place in Colombia, it would have a tremendous impact on the development of women’s football locally and in the region,” FIFA wrote in its evaluation. “This is a clear focus of the Colombia 2023 bid, which recognizes the tournament’s potential to heighten girls’ participation in football and to retain talent throughout the player development pathway, while also acting as a trigger for broader cultural and social change in the country and across South America.”

Growing the game surely is in FIFA’s interest, but in the end the Colombian bid appeared to have too many holes to warrant the risk (it didn’t even have a website). Meanwhile, the infrastructure and experience in Australia and New Zealand is proven, as is their commitment to women’s sports. It also represents somewhat of a new frontier for the senior women's game. With the added complexity of a 32-team competition, the choice seemed to be relatively easy in the end.

FIFA’s policy of rotating World Cups among confederations means an Asian nation won’t be eligible to host the 2027 Women’s World Cup, while Europe will have had its most recent shot last summer in France. Prior to his resignation, former USSF president Carlos Cordeiro said the USA hoped to host in 2027. It previously played host in 1999 and 2003.