Colombia 'hope AUS/NZ, Japan votes are split' for Women's World Cup bid

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Colombia is the only non-Asian horse in the race to host the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup and in competing against Australia-New Zealand and Japan, the country is ready to fly the flag for South America.

Receiving the lowest mark in FIFA’s evaluation bid was expected but that news was tempered a little with the withdrawal of Brazil earlier this month which means that Colombia is representing an entire continent when the FIFA Council makes its decision on June 25, and it expects to receive the support of CONCAFAF as well.

The World Game talked to Bogota-based Colombia correspondent for the esteemed World Soccer magazine - Carl Worswick - to get an idea of the mood in the country.

“They're not too optimistic, they know they are the big outsiders,” Worswick said. “Furthermore, even within Colombia there is some resistance to hosting the World Cup.

"Women's football has been plagued by mismanagement and scandal over the last few years and so quite a few people believe Colombia doesn't really deserve it.

"Domestically women's football is an absolute mess and there are those arguing that Colombia should get their own house in order before considering hosting a World Cup.”

Despite that, the third place in FIFA’s technical evaluation was not that much of a setback as all knew it was going to happen.

“Colombia know they can't compete with Australia/New Zealand or Japan in terms of infrastructure or stadiums. I heard one journalist say that the worst stadium in either of those countries is still much better than the best ground in Colombia.

"One Colombian stadium (Cartagena) didn't even fulfill the minimum standards in FIFA's report. The stadium (El Campín) they hope will host the inaugural game and final received the second lowest score. Its capacity is only about 39,000, well short of FIFA's 55,000 requirement.

"Even with huge investment, Colombia wouldn't get close to matching the other bids. There are also concerns about commercial possibilities, while Colombia's appalling human rights record has also been mentioned.”

But there is a chance for something that FIFA types love to talk about and that is legacy.

"Their strategy is to appeal to countries to support a bid that would act as a huge help in lifting women's footy off the ground. It is a bit like the thinking behind the 2010 South Africa World Cup. Why should only rich countries who already have top facilities be able to host a World Cup?

"Thus, the argument is that a World Cup in Colombia would leave a far greater legacy than in Australia, New Zealand or Japan; that they understand FIFA's concerns, but with a bit of investment and time to put things right, Colombia can build upon having successfully hosted the 2011 U-20 World Cup.”

It would also give the women’s game and league, set up in 2016, a much-needed boost.

“It was actually the country's ex-president, Juan Manuel Santos, who helped set up Colombia's first women's league with the goal of boosting Colombia's 2023 bid. I suspect this had more to do with Santos presenting Colombia as a country that had turned the page on its dark past - he won the Nobel Peace Prize for ending conflict with the Farc - and hosting a World Cup would show the world Colombia had moved on. 

“The first season had its problems but was still considered a moderate success: 33,000 watching the final, for example, and a few games on the telly. Since then, however, women's football has been shunted out of the picture. Last year the league lasted just three months.

"National team players also organised protests through players' association Acolfutpro to voice their collective concerns that the federation was doing the bare minimum to support the sport.

"International friendlies were organised at the last minute, players had to pay their own costs and anyone speaking out would be vetoed from playing for the national team. Despite receiving (vocal) support from the government, nothing has really changed.”

There has not been too much attention on the detail of the other two bids but there is cause for some hope.

“The focus has almost entirely been on Colombia's short-fallings, so very little has been said about the other bids. Obviously splitting a tournament between two island nations isn't ideal with regards travel, but everything else seems to indicate that greater commercial possibilities and a superior infrastructure means they are way ahead of Colombia.

"Being the first country in the Asia/Pacific region to host a Women's World Cup won't hold so much weight though given Colombia could become the first South American country to host a World Cup.”

Australia and New Zealand are seen as the biggest threat however: “They were talked of as favourites before the FIFA report and so I think that's only been strengthened since the report came out last week but the hope is that the AUS/NZ and Japan votes are split and Colombia can slip in through the backdoor via support from regional allies.”