New FFA chief executive James Johnson believes Australia’s ability to take on the logistical nightmare of hosting Group B of this month’s Women’s Olympic qualifiers at short notice will strengthen its hand in the joint bid with New Zealand to secure the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
With a FIFA delegation due in Australia in mid-February to check out proposed venues, Johnson contends that Australia’s preparedness to stage fixtures involving the Matildas, China, Taiwan and Thailand in Sydney - relocated from China in response to the coronavirus - will add credence to its mission to surpass Japan, Brazil and Colombia for the showpiece tournament in under three years’ time.
FIFA will deliver its verdict in June, with Johnson convinced the trans-Tasman tag-team have plenty to be optimistic about.
With the qualifiers kicking off today (Thailand taking on Chinese Taipei), Johnson told The World Game: “We have a very good reputation as administrators of sport and I’m hoping our decision to host these qualifiers also sends a very positive message to FIFA.
“You award a competition to us at short notice with a severe medical emergency like the coronavirus (and a Chinese team in quarantine) and we’re able to work collaboratively to manage it.
“It’s extremely complicated. I’ve been in football administration a long time but have never had to manage something like this which is evolving every day with the emergence of new information.
“There are public concerns, which means the states and governments react to that, so there are obstacles everywhere (in terms of match scheduling).
“It’s never easy to host an international tournament the size of a Women’s World Cup, but working under these time constraints and other factors to still put on a good show for these qualifiers gives us confidence we can rise to the occasion if given the opportunity.”
With the tournament to be stretched by three days to accommodate the final group match between China and the Matildas on February 12, Johnson has also had to use his negotiating nous to try and extend the stays of Matildas stars Sam Kerr (Chelsea), Hayley Raso (Everton), Caitlin Foord (Arsenal) and Chloe Logarzo (Bristol City) beyond the existing FIFA window.
Widely seen as a ray of sunlight after the rancour of the David Gallop era, former Australian youth international Johnson understands exactly what is required to fashion a winning bid after a total of eight years in senior roles at the AFC and then FIFA - not to mention his last gig as the City Football Group’s senior vice-president of external affairs.
His conviction is that the Australia-NZ axis is well placed to potentially pip leading contenders Japan for the grand prize.
“We’re down to four bids and it’s a hugely competitive process and to be successful it’s going to have to be a world class bid,” he added.
“I believe we have a realistic chance and can certainly win it. What sets the bid apart is the fact it’s a collaboration between ourselves and New Zealand and the positive message that sends out with two confederations, the AFC and Oceania, working in tandem.
“With the way World Cups are being organised now - look at 2026 with USA, Canada and Mexico co-hosting - you’re seeing a trend emerge of multiple hosts.
“(FIFA president) Giovanni Infantino during his time at UEFA always advocated for cross-country hosted tournaments.
“That’s a positive for Australia-New Zealand. We are also recognised as a great women’s football nation - the Matildas are one of the best in the world and are our most-loved national team.
“The recent collective bargaining agreement with the PFA (which awarded the Matildas pay parity with the Socceroos) was another big step for the women’s game.
“So we’re a strong bid but South America is one of the traditional homes of football and Japan have won a women’s World Cup and have excellent infrastructure and expertise, which they’ll be showing again as hosts of this year’s Olympic Games.”
If the bid is successful it would be the first Women’s World Cup staged in the southern hemisphere.
Twelve host cities are part of the united “As One” campaign, five in New Zealand and seven in Australia – Adelaide, Auckland, Brisbane, Christchurch, Dunedin, Hamilton, Launceston, Melbourne, Newcastle, Perth, Sydney and Wellington.
The final of the 32-team tournament is slated for Sydney’s redeveloped 75,000-seater Olympic stadium in Homebush.
Australia and New Zealand have a history as co-conspirators, having joined forces to stage the 2015 cricket and the 2017 rugby league World Cups.