Infrastructural legacy key to 2023 Women’s World Cup planning

Full story first published for SBS’ The World Game:

With host venues announced, Football Australia chairman Chris Nikou says long-lasting, physical infrastructure for football is the biggest priority heading into the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

Ten host venues for 2023 were unveiled on Thursday; Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth, and Sydney set to host games in Australia while Auckland, Dunedin, Hamilton and Wellington will stage games in the Land of the Long White Cloud.

Auckland’s Eden Park will host the tournament’s opening game, while Stadium Australia in Sydney will be the scene of the World Cup final.

The tournament is the first since FIFA expanded its field from 24 to 32 teams – the eight groups of four mirroring the format seen in the men’s iteration (although prize money still lags significantly behind).

Those extra teams not only create more games but also more training bases and other infrastructure required to house, train, and support competing nations, playing into what Nikou believes must be the biggest strategic priority for his federation heading into 2023.

“I think the big-ticket item for the sport is the legacy piece this time – physical infrastructure,” Nikou said.

“I don’t think anyone inside the sport is not aware that the growth of the sport has been phenomenal but the growth of the infrastructure – be that at the grassroots level or at the stadia level – needs to catch up.

“We need to be working with governments to make sure that they can support the biggest participation and the most multicultural sport in the country and what is the world’s game. So that’s going to be a major challenge.

“I have little doubt that Australia and New Zealand will put on a wonderful tournament but for me and head office, it’s really about the legacy piece, be it physical, the programs about women’s sport, leadership – all those sorts of issues are really important.

“A circa 400k [boost in participation from the World Cup] is our estimate. Our combined ambition with our member federations is to get to a 50/50 participation by 2027.

“We saw a spike with the Asian Cup but this is certainly much bigger and should leave a much greater legacy.

“The biggest issue is not necessarily attracting the participants, it’s the infrastructure. We need local, state and federal governments to help us solve that issue because there’s no point attracting them if we can’t accommodate them. So the infrastructure needs to keep pace.”

Where that money is set to come from, however, remains a contentious point.

In remarks made to a Football Victoria Community in Business function and reported by The Age, Football Australia CEO James Johnson revealed that the federal government had only committed to partially funding the federation’s $275 million ‘Legacy 23’ plan.

“The response that we have got from government at the moment is that your legacy ask is ambitious and you won’t get everything you are asking for. But you won’t get nothing, you will get something,” Johnson said.

According to Nikou, lobbying will continue towards not just federal but also state and local governments to ensure that the coming tournament leaves the kind of long-lasting impact that was so sorely lacking in the wake of the 2015 Asian Cup.

The announcement of the 2023 hosting cities, the Football Australia chairman said, would allow that process to be further targeted.

“Now that we’ve got the host cities, we can fine-tune the financial requirements,” Nikou said.

“There is a detailed legacy piece or gaps analysis that’s been done on infrastructure so we know what is missing.

“We won’t get everything but I think we can make a compelling case as to why more needs to be done.

“Only one in five facilities are female friendly in this country and in good conscience that can’t be allowed to continue.

“We’ve articulated what we think is an appropriate amount, we understand you don’t always get what you want but we would be trying to push as close to that number as possible.”

Efforts will also be taken to ensure that areas such as Newcastle and Launceston – which were both put forward as possible host cities but eventually missed out – as well as other locations around Australia will reap the benefits of the World Cup even if they’re not a host city.

“We’ve already started to brainstorm with those cities that missed out and even those that weren’t in the bid book,” he added.

“Because this is a tournament for the whole of Australia, we won’t be successful unless we maximize the outcomes throughout Australia.

“Now that we know the venues, the emphasis goes on base camps – and some of those cities are very well positioned to be base camps – host training facilities and other legacy type initiatives. [That’s] where the conversation moves to now.”

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