Women’s football isn’t the future. It’s here, it’s now and it’s attracting scores of new fans to the game.

The fact that Australia’s national women’s team is starting to attract comparable crowds to the national men’s team should come as no surprise to anyone with an interest in the game.

The Matildas lost 3-2 to Chile in front of more than 15,000 fans at Penrith Stadium on November 10, and if the current ticket sales are anything to go by, the Socceroos could find themselves playing in front of a similar crowd against Lebanon in Sydney ten days later.

There’s little doubt that Sydney has Socceroos fatigue. Having qualified for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia courtesy of back-to-back playoff wins over Syria and Honduras – both of which saw the home legs played in Sydney – the Socceroos are back in the Harbour City for a friendly against Lebanon as part of the build-up for next year’s Asian Cup title defence.

But with Football Federation Australia having signed a lucrative five-year deal with tourism board Destination NSW in March 2016 to play 11 men’s and women’s internationals in New South Wales, administrators now find themselves caught between a rock and a hard place.

Having committed to playing Socceroos games in Sydney, officials are now struggling to sell tickets to residents of a city not particularly interested in watching them.

They’d be better off concentrating on the Matildas. 

And with the women’s game bringing in new fans through the gates – not least the many young girls recent studies have shown are now playing football in significant numbers – FIFA would do well to recall its motto: “For the Game. For the World” and hand football in Australia a much-needed boost.   

New Markets

It’s not like the FIFA Women’s World Cup hasn’t already been hosted by countries that aren’t typically considered football nations. 

China has hosted it twice – including the first official women’s tournament in 1991 – while the United States hosted back-to-back women’s finals in 1999 and 2003.

And North America enjoyed another bite of the cherry when Canada hosted a hugely successful tournament in 2015.

Yet viewing these hosts as non-traditional football nations is part of the problem.

When American Brandi Chastain slotted home the winning penalty for the United States in the 1999 Women’s World Cup Final in Pasadena, the image of her removing her jersey to celebrate became one of the most defining moments in the history of women’s sport.

More than 90,000 fans packed into the Rose Bowl to watch the United States defeat China in that penalty shoot-out – still a record attendance for women’s football – and an estimated 40 million Americans watched at least part of the game on television.

And viewership has grown steadily ever since, with nations like Germany, Canada and next year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup hosts France all enjoying record TV audiences in 2015.

To suggest that places like China and Canada are non-football nations is to ignore the fact that – increasingly – fans are turning out in big numbers to watch football in countries such as these.

It just happens to be women’s football. 

Sport Lovers

Australia’s successful hosting of the men’s 2015 AFC Asian Cup was a reminder that for all the game’s issues here, there’s still a huge appetite to watch top-class international sport.

It helped that the Socceroos won the tournament – their thrilling 2-1 win over South Korea in extra-time was one of the Australian football’s finest hours – but even games that didn’t involve Australia were well attended.

So it’s no surprise to see the federal government throw its support behind hosting the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

Burned but seemingly undeterred by the fiasco that was Australia’s bid to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup in the men’s game, there’s perhaps a better understanding of the mechanics involved to actually host a major FIFA event in the 21st century.

Awarding Australia the hosting rights to the Women’s World Cup would also repair some of the damage FIFA themselves have inflicted upon their own brand – at least as far as a sceptical Australian public is concerned.

And with Perth Glory having made Sam Kerr the W-League’s first ever marquee signing, there’s an increasingly clear pathway into elite football for young girls newly inspired to take up the game.

That’s not to suggest, however, that women footballers receives anywhere near the same level of support as their male counterparts. 

But that’s all the more reason to give women’s football in Australia a major boost.

The likes of Japan, Thailand, New Zealand, Colombia and South Africa have all expressed an interest in hosting the 2023 Women’s World Cup, and all have either hosted or co-hosted major international tournaments in the recent past.

Any one of these nations would make a worthy host of the Women’s World Cup.

But FIFA have the chance to turn a nation of sport lovers into genuine football fans. 

They should take it – for the good of the game, and for the good of Australia.

Categories: Opinion | Women

matildas, #getonside, women's world cup bid 2023

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