Australia, NZ 'considered the front-runners' as World Cup bidding race heats up

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The Australia and New Zealand bid to host the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup is well-placed as the four-horse race approaches the final bend.

It has been a good month so far with over 80,000 fans heading to Melbourne to watch a women’s cricket World Cup final, and representatives from Australia and New Zealand heading to UEFA’s Congress in Amsterdam to give presentations along with rivals from Japan, Colombia and Brazil.

According to European-based experts, it was a successful visit though there is much work still to be done before the decision is made by FIFA’s 37-member council in June when the world governing body meets in Addis Ababa.

“The presentations were a clear sign that the bidding race is shifting gear,” Belgian journalist Samindra Kunti told The World Game.

“A UEFA insider told us that the presentations of Australia and Brazil were the most impressive.

"The Antipodean bid is generally considered to be the best. It is technically very sound.

"The sales pitch also resonates as Australia and New Zealand argue that their bid will be ‘player centric’ with the aim of increasing female participation.

"Besides, the two bidding nations have a good pedigree in women’s football.”

Off The Pitch reporter James Corbett, a veteran FIFA and UEFA watcher, also thinks Australia should be favourite.

“If we look at it as a rational open tender process, you’d like to think [that Australia are in front],” Corbett said.

“The Matildas are arguably Australia’s most popular national team and in a competitive domestic sporting culture have brilliantly carved out a place for ’soccer’ in Australia and the country has, in Sam Kerr, one of the best players on the planet.

"The country has the infrastructure to host it; it’s an event that’s far less dependent on TV revenues as a measure of success, so its distance is less of a factor. It is politically and economically stable.”

Reports that Brazil and Colombia raised eyebrows in Europe by not including any women in their delegations can only help but it is not yet a done deal.

"Australia are considered the front-runners, but in FIFA politics that might not mean much, as previous bidding races have amply demonstrated.

"Ultimately, I think, it boils down to who gets the most votes from both Africa and Europe, who, together, hold half of the vote in the FIFA Council.

"On the downside, it is literally a world away for Zurich-based FIFA,” said Kunti. “The time zone might not be in favour of the bid and FIFA will be very careful to ensure that the 2023 tournament favours the main TV markets in a bid to consolidate the success of the last Women’s World Cup in France."

But the new-look FFA management should be able to step up to the plate this time. Corbett despaired of the ill-fated attempt, a decade ago, to win the bid for the 2022 men’s World Cup.

“If you look at the political side, where Australia has faltered in the past is a distance between its administrators from the ‘heart and soul’ of the game.

"Previous FFA CEOs and other leading executives have come from other sports and have been considered aloof from their peers in the global game, who ultimately decide these matters.

"The men’s 2022 World Cup bid - which was arrogant and sulphurous - was a case study in how not to bid for a major competition.”

“There’s been a realignment with the true values of football in recent years, and the FFA’s new CEO, James Johnston, has worked for both FIFA and the AFC and knows which buttons to push, as well as being tremendously engaging and good at his job.

"Former Matilda, Moya Dodd, is arguably one of the most powerful people in women’s football worldwide and will know how to navigate the committee rooms.”

The hard work starts now and Corbett has a number of recommendations that Australia should be doing.

"Lobbying like mad, attending all the set piece meetings, visiting voters in their own countries and showing more detail about its bid and why it deserves the chance to host the World Cup.

"I think, perhaps, it also needs to reconnect with some of what it has lost since the 1990s, when it was conceivably the greatest sporting nation on earth.

"Personally, I think it’s probably between Australia and Japan.”