Six months to kick off: FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 will build on growing enthusiasm for the women’s game across the world
It’s an exciting time for women’s football, and 2023 will be no exception. As momentum behind the game continues to build, propelled in particular by the success of last year’s UEFA European Women’s Football Championships, fans of the women’s game are turning their thoughts towards the FIFA Women’s World Cup this summer. As discussion around the women’s game intensifies, the tournament will be a critical opportunity to ensure a sustainable and successful future for women’s football.
The countdown to kick off
The 2023 event, the ninth edition of the tournament, will kick off in six months’ time, held for the first time in Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand between 20th July and 20th August. Featuring an expanded format of 32 teams, up from 24 in 2019, the games will be played across nine host cities in venues including stadiums in Brisbane/Meaanjin, Sydney/Gadigal, and Melbourne/Naarm in Australia, as well as Auckland/Tāmaki Makaurau and Dunedin/ Ōtepoti in Aotearoa New Zealand.
The Women’s World Cup has come a long way since it first took place in China in 1991 with a line-up of only twelve teams. The last tournament, held in France in 2019, was watched by more than 1 billion people across the world, with 1.2 million people attending in person. The final, in which the USA beat the Netherlands 2-0, saw more than 263 million unique viewers tune in to watch, making it the most-watched match in FIFA Women’s World Cup history.
When New Zealand face Norway in the opening match at Eden Park, Auckland, on 20th July, it may well signal the beginning of another record-breaking event.
Auckland, New Zealand - Host City for Opening Match
Building on gains made for women’s football in recent years
Support for women’s football has followed an upward trend in recent years, while FIFA and local and national member organisations are looking to grow participation and investment in the infrastructure of the game.
- Growing participation, with the aim of having 60 million players by 2026
- Enhancing the commercial value of the game
- Building the foundations of the sport by creating a ‘more sophisticated’ women’s football ecosystem and encouraging women to take up leadership roles.
Within this, a five-pronged strategy laid out more specific aims, including modernising existing development programmes; creating women’s football academies; strengthening the women’s international match calendar; enhancing engagement with commercial partners; and expanding the Female Leadership Development Programme.
Meanwhile, the FIFA Women’s Development Programme aims to provide member associations with the concrete resources needed to develop women’s football at the national level.
In the five years that have passed since the publication of the Women’s Football Strategy, grassroots interest in women’s football has accelerated, not least because of the success of the 2021 UEFA European Women’s Football Championships: many called the 2021 Euros a ‘breakthrough moment’ for the women’s game in Europe. Following the event, there have been increased calls to improve access to football for women and girls, including making football accessible for girls at school and improving television coverage of women’s league football.
There is increasing evidence that popular support for women’s football is increasing: a YouGov study commissioned by the BBC found that there were 8.7m more women’s football fans in the UK in 2022 than in 2021, while the number of people classing themselves as ‘big fans’ of women’s football had tripled. Meanwhile, ongoing discussions surrounding the funding of the women’s game in England demonstrate the need for long-term investment to secure the future of the sport.
It will be critical that such investments cater to their specific local and national contexts. Former Australia vice-captain Moya Dodd recently spoke to the Guardian about her hopes for improving the status of the Australian women’s league, noting how the European Championships boosted local support for Women’s Super League (WSL) clubs in England. The World Cup will provide a perfect opportunity to mirror this boost across the world.
It’s clear, then, that the 2023 Women’s World Cup comes at a time when popular enthusiasm for women’s football is at a peak. If the tournament can tap into this growing interest and translate it into concrete investment and structural change, it could cement the future of women’s football.
A continuing emphasis on sustainability
As well as the opportunity to cement popular and official support for the women’s game, the 2023 Women’s World Cup is also an opportunity to continue best practice in holding sustainable large-scale sporting events.
The event comes at a time when the sports industry and fans alike are becoming increasingly aware of the need to ensure that tournaments and events are held sustainably. As the challenges of the men’s world cup last December showed, holding large-scale international tournaments can pose huge social and environmental challenges, while also providing the opportunity to leave a positive legacy in host nations.
In line with FIFA’s Climate Strategy, and its commitment to the United Nations Sports for Climate Action Framework, the 2023 Women’s World Cup has published its own Sustainability Strategy, laying out its approach to social, environmental, and governance issues.
The Sustainability Strategy for the event is relatively thin on concrete objectives, but emphasises the tournament’s commitment to furthering the aims of the FIFA Women’s Football Strategy, FIFA’s own global sustainability goals, and local needs in Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand. Social priorities include promoting gender equality by creating joint initiatives with local partners; ensuring an inclusive, discrimination-free event, including ensuring engagement with First Nations and Māori people; ensuring accessible venues; and protecting workers’ rights. Climate priorities include estimating and mitigating the event’s GHG emissions; minimising waste; and ensuring sustainable buildings and procurement.
Tournament organisers are already beginning to publicly address these priorities. A panel of three First Nations Australians and three Māori from Aotearoa New Zealand has been appointed to advise tournament organisers on cultural engagement initiatives, with the aim of recognising and respecting Indigenous cultures throughout the event. FIFA have also announced the match officials appointed for the event, with six female video match officials appointed for the first time.
It will remain to be seen whether the tournament will meet their sustainability aims. Transparent and regular reporting will be critical for ensuring accountability, while detailed, tailored legacy plans for each host nation should provide a lasting positive impact for women’s sport in the region.
An exciting year ahead
Over the past five years there has been an unprecedented growth of support for women’s football. Governing bodies and membership organisations have made official commitments to growing the game through concrete investment, while FIFA and other bodies have published sustainability strategies that aim to directly address social and environmental impacts and set out plans for leaving positive legacies. It is a critical juncture and an opportunity for positive change.
The 2023 Women’s World Cup is already taking steps to secure a sustainable event that will capitalise on the growing wave of interest in women’s football, but there is plenty still to be done. In the next six months, fans across the world will be keeping a close watch on plans for what is set to be a record-breaking World Cup. Hopefully, the tournament will prove to be both a sporting and a sustainable success story.
Read moreBethany White