Japan's decision to withdraw is a huge boost for Australia and New Zealand's hopes of co-hosting the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup. John Duerden explains why Japan pulled the pin and what it means for the deciding vote.
And then there were two.
Japan’s bid to host the 2023 Women’s World Cup came undone in the space of 24 hours from June 9-10.
The withdrawal of Brazil from the race was the major moment and then the following day, the news that FIFA had rated Australia and New Zealand’s bid as technically the best of the three still remaining was another blow.
On Monday, the Japan Football Association (JFA) announced that it was pulling out of the race to leave the joint bid from down under to duke it out with Colombia on Friday morning's (AEST) vote.
The initial reaction among the general football public in Japan at the news that Brazil was bowing out may have been a positive one but it put pressure on Tokyo.
It meant that South America and, as most expect CONCACAF, had just one bid to get behind while Asia had two.
As such, it was always likely that one would have to go. And with Australia and New Zealand having the support of Oceania and ASEAN, it was always likely that it would be Japan. The presence of that East Asian powerhouse meant that the continent’s vote was going to split between two contenders.
Then there was the technical report that ranked Australia and New Zealand first then Japan.
While there wasn’t much in it, a rating of 4.1 to 3.9 (compared to 2.8 for Colombia, a score that had the boss of the South American country’s federation complaining to FIFA), it cemented the feeling that Australia’s was the best bid. Japan has hosted men’s World Cups and was going to host an Olympics and prided itself on its technical hosting ability. To come second was a blow.
The AFC wanted a single horse in the race. It was increasingly seen that Japan was going to struggle to get the votes to win. As JFA president Kozo Tashima (a member of the FIFA Council who is now able to vote) said on Monday, it did not help that the Tokyo Olympics had been postponed to 2021. The prospect of one country hosting the two biggest women’s tournaments in the space of two years was a tough sell.
While Japan may not have been able to win, there was a fear that the country could prevent Australia and New Zealand from clinching the prize. Japan would have picked up votes in Asia and elsewhere and could have allowed Colombia to sneak in.
With the ballot a public one, AFC president Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa did not want to have to choose between two Asian contenders and it would have looked even worse had he presided over a split Asian vote that helped South America get the prize. It was notable that very soon after Japan announced their departure, the president publicly announced his backing for the other bid.
Now Japan is out of the picture, the influence of a president now able to publicly and fully back one bid could prove crucial. Asia will vote for Australia and New Zealand. Salman’s relationship with Africa could and should bring votes from that region. His influence in Europe is another bonus.
It is not just that Japan has gone but now that it has gone, the AFC can, in the next 48 hours, lobby for Australia and New Zealand both publicly and behind closed doors.
Colombia has South America and, probably, CONCACAF. Australia and New Zealand have Oceania and Asia. Africa and Europe will be the crucial battlegrounds. For those undecided FIFA members, the clear differences in the technical evaluation score should help make up minds.
The deal is not yet done but it is getting closer. Australia and New Zealand have been burned by FIFA before but the withdrawal of Japan really does put them in the driving seat.