The hosts for the 2023 Women’s World Cup will be decided by Fifa’s Council during an online meeting on Thursday, with Colombia and a joint submission from Australia and New Zealand the only two bids left in the process.
After Brazil and Japan dropped out of the running earlier in June, it is certain the tournament will be held in the southern hemisphere for the first time, in what will be the ninth official staging of the event since the 1991 World Cup in China.
The 2023 version will be the first in the women’s game to feature 32 sides, after the event was expanded from the 24-team format seen in 2019, and is provisionally scheduled for July to August.
After record television audiences tuned in to watch the most recent tournament in France last summer, there are great hopes that 2023’s event will prompt further growth for the women’s game.
But what are the two bids offering, what are their strengths and weaknesses and how will the decision be made?
Australia and New Zealand’s joint bid
The joint bid from Australia and New Zealand is the favourite to succeed on Thursday and they have promised “an unprecedented level of investment” in the tournament.
If successful, it would be the first World Cup hosted across two of football’s continental confederations (Asia and Oceania).
They have proposed to stage matches at up to eight grounds in Australia:
- Stadium Australia, Sydney (the final), capacity: 70,000
- Sydney Football Stadium, capacity: 42,512
- Melbourne Rectangular Stadium, capacity: 30,052
- Brisbane Stadium, capacity: 52,263
- Perth Rectangular Stadium, capacity: 22,225
- Hindmarsh Stadium, Adelaide, capacity: 18,435
- Newcastle Stadium, capacity: 25,945
- York Park, Launceston, Tasmania, capacity: 22,065
And in five stadiums in New Zealand:
- Eden Park, Auckland (opening game), capacity: 48,276
- Wellington Stadium, capacity: 39,000
- Christchurch Stadium, capacity: 22,556
- Waikato Stadium, Hamilton, capacity: 25,111
- Dunedin Stadium, capacity: 28,744
Proposed dates: 10 July to 20 August
What are their key strengths? Both countries have vast experience of hosting major international sporting events in recent years, as well as large, modern stadia and impressive infrastructure. Fifa will also be impressed by Australia’s goal of reaching a 50:50 split in registered male and female players by 2027.
Are there any drawbacks? Some may feel the long distances between some venues is a disadvantage for the Australia-New Zealand bid, as well as the four-hour time difference between Perth, in Western Australia, and New Zealand.
What they said: New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, said on Monday: “This is a historic bid, when you look at the fact it’s the first ever cross-confederation bid between ourselves and Australia. This would be the first ever Fifa Women’s World Cup in this part of the world, and we have a story to tell.
“We as a government have been focused on girls’ and women’s sport, working alongside representative bodies to see greater equality in the sporting arena for women and girls’ sport and it would be a fantastic event for New Zealand to showcase itself alongside Australia.”
Colombia’s bid book says hosting these finals “would be the most important event in the country’s history” and it would be the largest modern sporting event they have staged.
Unlike their rivals’ bid, a large proportion of the tournament would be held at altitude, with six of the 10 proposed host cities located at more than 1,000m, including the capital Bogota at 2,640m.
They would stage games at the following 10 stadiums:
- Bogota’s El Campin Stadium (opening match and the final), capacity: 39,512
- Cali’s Olimpico Pascual Guerrero Stadium, capacity: 38,558
- Barranquilla’s Metropolitano Roberto Melendez Stadium, capacity: 46,692
- Medellin’s Atanasio Girardot Stadium, capacity: 44,863
- Cartagena’s Olimpico Jaime Moron Leon Stadium, capacity: 20,000
- Bucaramanga’s Alfonso Lopez Stadium, capacity: 28,000
- Armenia’s Centenario Stadium, capacity: 23,500
- Pereira’s Hernan Ramirez Villegas Stadium, capacity: 30,297
- Manizales’ Palogrande Stadium, capacity: 31,611
- Cucuta’s General Santander Stadium, capacity: 32,163
Proposed dates: 13 July to 13 August
What are their key strengths? Some of the key players on the Fifa Council are understood to find the prospect of growing the women’s game in a relatively new frontier very appealing, potentially leaving a legacy for the sport across South America.
Are there any drawbacks? Some of Colombia’s women’s national team players told BBC Sport in 2019 that they were treated as “second-class citizens” by their federation, underpaid and going months without matches.
In a statement at the time, the Colombia Football Federation [FCF] said no players had reported concerns of discrimination to them formally, adding: “Women’s football is a priority for the executive committee. We are working hard with the intention of being host to the Women’s World Cup in 2023.”
What they said: Colombia’s vice-president, Marta Lucia Ramirez de Rincon, said in a letter to Fifa: “For this government, sports are not only means to close general inequality gaps, but also, a tool of empowerment for women.
“In Colombia, deep traditions made us believe, for many years, that football, as many other activities, was exclusively for men. Today, the world has changed and we are now conscious there is no difference between men and women.”
What did Fifa’s bid evaluations conclude?
The joint Australia-New Zealand bid received the higher average score (4.1 out of 5.0) following Fifa’s technical evaluation of each bid.
Colombia received a score of 2.8, but was still deemed strong enough to qualify for consideration, having met at least the minimum requirements.
There was deemed to be a ‘medium’ level of risk around several aspects of Colombia’s bid, and a high level of risk related to the commercial aspects of their submission.
In contrast, ‘low’ risk was attributed to almost every element of the Australia-New Zealand bid, indicating that it was deemed to be the safe choice.
However, those evaluations will not necessarily be the guiding factor for the decision-makers.
Who will make the decision?
The hosts will be appointed after a vote of the members of the Fifa Council, which will meet on Thursday from 15:00 BST.
The item is ninth of 10 listed on the agenda for the meeting, which will be held online, and each member’s vote will be made public.
There are 37 members of the council, including president Gianni Infantino, while Football Association chairman Greg Clarke is among nine Uefa representatives.
Colombia will expect to receive the support of the five representatives from South American (Conmebol), particularly after Brazil declared its backing upon dropping its own bid.
The three members from the Oceania Football Federation are expected to vote for the Australia-New Zealand bid, as well as the seven members from Asia, with the two nations straddling two different confederations.
That would leave the Colombian delegation needing a six-vote majority of the remaining members from Africa, (CAF), North and Central America (Concacaf) and Europe (Uefa) to favour them, if they are to win the right to stage the tournament.