Feature

Women’s World Cup hosts’ legacy roadmaps focus on sustainable participation goals

August 17 2023

Football Australia and New Zealand football have developed comprehensive legacy roadmaps in an effort to boost participation beyond the conclusion of this year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup.

Women’s World Cup hosts’ legacy roadmaps focus on sustainable participation goals

As the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 reaches its highly anticipated conclusion this weekend, key organisations behind the delivery of the tournament are keen to leverage the success of the event to fuel legacy plans that have been years in the making.

There has been global interest in the biggest-ever Women’s World Cup, which expanded from 24 to 32 teams for this year’s edition in Australia and New Zealand. The 2023 tournament was expected to attract a cumulative global audience of two billion – nearly double the total for the 2019 edition in France, despite the games taking place in a challenging time zone for viewers in Europe and North America.

With England and Spain preparing to contest the final this Sunday, several games have generated huge television audiences during the tournament.

More than half of all television viewers in Spain watched the national team’s semi-final triumph against Sweden at its peak, with 3.8 million tuning in – a Women’s World Cup record audience in the country.

Meanwhile England’s quarter-final victory against Colombia last Saturday attracted a peak of 7.2 million viewers in the UK – a 58% share.

England’s semi-final victory against Australia pulled in an audience of 7.3 million, despite taking place during the working day.

Record-breakers

However, it is in the tournament’s host countries where there is arguably the biggest legacy potential for the development of women’s football under the ‘Participation’ sustainability pillar. 

“To achieve 100% nationwide female-friendly and accessible facilities we need ongoing infrastructure investment." Sarah Walsh, Football Australia’s Head of Women's Football, Women's World Cup Legacy and Inclusion

Astonishingly, Australia’s defeat to England in the semi-finals reached 11.2 million people across the host nation, with coverage attracting an average audience of 7.1 million. To put that into context, the game was the most-watched television programme in Australia – sport or otherwise – since 2001, when the existing ratings system was established. In the host country, 957,000 people streamed live coverage of the game – another record for online viewing in Australia.

There was also plenty of interest in the stands, as well as at home. Some 1.77 million ticket sales have been snapped up for the tournament – comfortably the most ever – and the average attendance is not only up by more than 7,000 per game versus the previous edition in France, but it is also 4,000 above the event’s historical average.

Furthermore, attendance records have been smashed in the two host markets – from day one. On the opening day, Australia’s clash with the Republic of Ireland drew 75,784 fans – the largest crowd for a women’s national team game ever in the country. On the same day, July 20, the 42,137 attendance for New Zealand’s clash with Norway established a new benchmark for both women’s and men’s football in the host country. These records were surpassed later in the tournament with ‘sold-out’ signs increasingly being put up outside stadiums.

The challenge now, of course, is to convert such interest levels into long-term growth in terms of public participation across Australia, New Zealand and the region as a whole, ensuring a sustainable legacy after what has been a game-changing Women’s World Cup.

FIFA has been keen to support such a vision, and women’s football has long been a priority at football’s global governing body, as outlined in its key strategic pillars.

FIFA wants to have 60 million women and girls playing football by 2026 – and the Women’s World Cup is the flagship tool to drive such an objective. The FIFA Women’s Development Programme, which launched last year, provides all 211 FIFA member associations with access to specific resources dedicated to women’s football.

Legacy roadmaps

Football Australia and New Zealand Football have established their own detailed legacy plans in an effort to optimise future female participation in the game beyond the conclusion of this year’s Women’s World Cup.

Football Australia’s Legacy ‘23 plan features five key pillars:

  1. Participation;
  2. Facilities;
  3. Leadership & Development;
  4. Tourism & International Engagement;
  5. High Performance.

A pre-tournament Legacy ’23 report outlined the challenges, as well as the progress and opportunities surrounding the primary pillar – participation – and specifically how it is affected by another pillar: Facilities.

Facilities

Football Australia has taken important steps towards growing the game through expanded community programmes – including the Sporting Schools initiative, which included the delivery of about 2,500 football sessions last year, and the ‘Game Changer’ club development programme. However, without further investment and action, there is the potential for progress to be stifled due to a lack of sufficient facilities.

Specifically, the pre-tournament report found that only 41% of changing room facilities across Australia were female friendly. This is, at least, 5% higher than an initial audit had suggested a year earlier after Football Australia launched its ‘#Equaliser’ campaign during the 2022 Federal Election to address the gender-based facilities gap.

More broadly, upgrading and developing facilities is a key focus. As of June 2023, some A$357m (£180m/€211m/$229m) in Federal and State Government funding for post-tournament legacy-related projects had been unlocked, with 93.3% of that total being put towards facilities.

“Whilst there has been promising support of Legacy ‘23 to date, a significant gap in community facilities must be addressed to ensure we can meet the expected surge in participation,” Sarah Walsh, Football Australia’s Head of Women’s Football, Women’s World Cup Legacy and Inclusion, told Global Sustainable Sport.

“To achieve 100% nationwide female-friendly and accessible facilities we need ongoing infrastructure investment, with a particular focus on community facilities. Realising this legacy goal will also enable us to meet the anticipated surge in demand and create an inclusive, safe, and welcoming environment for all. A long-term goal of Legacy ‘23 is 50:50 gender participation, which in reality equates to an incremental increase 400,000 girls and women playing across all levels of the game.”

“We know that World Cups drive development, but we’ve only ever shown that anecdotally." Sarah Walsh, Football Australia’s Head of Women's Football, Women's World Cup Legacy and Inclusion

Partnerships

Football Australia is acutely aware of the importance of partnerships when it comes to delivering its participation-related sustainability goals. With that in mind, the organisation is participating in a collaborative working group to amplify and measure the legacy of the Women’s World Cup alongside FIFA, New Zealand Football, the Oceania Football Confederation and the Asian Football Confederation.

Sara Booth, Head of Women’s Competitions at FIFA, said: “It’s the first time we have ever co-hosted a FIFA Women’s World Cup. It’s the first time we’ve ever hosted it across two confederations, and it’s the first time we’ve ever actually had a legacy programme directly attached to the FIFA Women’s World Cup. So, we are very proud of that.

“We know that World Cups drive development, but we’ve only ever shown that anecdotally. Now, for the first time ever, we will capture the data [and] we will show that there is a direct link between competitions, particularly the Women’s World Cup, and the growth of the game.”

Walsh, speaking about the working group, which met for the first time in February, added: “This group has facilitated the sharing of legacy strategies and initiatives as well as fuelling the continued advancement of women and girls in football locally, regionally and globally. Moreover, we continue to work hand in hand with Government bodies, commercial partners, and our entire football family to maintain investment and drive the game forward. The significance of partnerships cannot be overstated in sustaining the momentum of our Legacy ‘23 Plan.”

Accessibility

New Zealand Football’s own plans have been detailed through it’s Legacy Starts Now roadmap, which covers four pillars:

  1. Power of Opportunities;
  2. Pathways;
  3. Partnerships;
  4. People and Places.

Under these pillars, there are numerous goals specifically tailored to enhancing the participation sustainability pillar, including:

  • More Maori women as coaches, referees and administrators;
  • Game and competition formats that drive positive experiences for women and girls;
  • Identifying strategic and commercial partners who are ‘purposefully aligned to support women’s football’;
  • Ensuring every school is supported to experience football and futsal;
  • More accessible and equitable gender-neutral facilities across the country.

One ambition – to operate the nation’s first women’s professional team – has already been achieved through the launch of Wellington Phoenix FC, which participates in Australia’s A-League Women competition.

“Leveraging the FIFA Women’s World Cup is critical,” said Paula Hansen, General Manager, FIFA Women’s World Cup Legacy & Inclusion at New Zealand Football. “It’s about making sure that anybody who wants to kick a ball, coach a team, pick up a whistle, or be a leader in the game, has the opportunity and access to those opportunities. Ultimately, we all want to provide opportunities for girls and women in our wider communities.”

“Leveraging the FIFA Women’s World Cup is critical." Paula Hansen, General Manager, FIFA Women’s World Cup Legacy & Inclusion at New Zealand Football

Power of success

Success also generates interest. Whilst New Zealand suffered a heartbreaking exit in the group stage on goal difference after one win, one draw and one defeat, Australia’s CommBank Matildas exceeded all expectations by enjoying a fairytale run to the semi-finals. As demonstrated by the enormous audience for the semi-final defeat by England, interest in women’s football has rocketed.

However, Walsh insists that although the success of the Matildas has provided a welcome boost, the post-Women’s World Cup sustainable goals delve far deeper into the game’s infrastructure and governance.

“The inspiring performance of the CommBank Matildas has been exceptional,” Walsh said. “However, we have always said that the success of Legacy ‘23 goes beyond the tournament and the pitch. Through investment and programme delivery to date we are seeing the legacy coming to life through enhanced stadium infrastructure, improved community facilities, development of resources for clubs and new and improved community participation initiatives on and of the pitch.

“The FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 has united the nation and as the highest community participation sport we have a responsibility to advance the experience of female participants on and off the field.”

Images: Gordon FC/Football Australia

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