FIFA prepares for 'explosion’ of women’s football after Australia-New Zealand World Cup win

Sydney, Australia

The final roar of victory rocked Sydney’s Stadium Australia, with fans in red and gold punching the air, dancing to flags and crying „Spain!” At the end of the Women’s World Cup, FIFA says it is still a success.

But Spain’s success, despite the absence of some of the country’s best players, has in some ways brought the competition’s off-field arguments full circle, from initial complaints about unequal pay to renewed attention. Red And their fight against their country’s football establishment.

An uninvited kiss on the lips of star midfielder Jennifer Hermoso on the winners’ podium by Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) president Luis Rubiales underlined just how much FIFA president Gianni Infantino advised women to „pick their battles”. The job there is to level the playing field.

In Europe, the game’s historic home, these familiar frustrations got a new airing. But in Australia, relative newcomers to the sport’s big leagues, the arrival of the world’s top female players has left fans old and new starry-eyed with the potential.

Despite finishing fourth – the team’s best finish at a World Cup – the relative outsiders’ talent has boosted Australia. of Matilda to hero status. Statues are being built, money is being given, facilities are being improved and murals are being designed to remind us how they „captured the nation’s imagination”.

But many in the sport believe that the legacy of this World Cup will not only be the ornaments of pride, but sustainable change that will get more women and girls onto the fields, pitches, fields and stadiums – and provide equal pay. In the international arena.

For the Australians, it appears their moment may be now.

Arguments about a lack of interest in women’s sport – evidenced by ridiculous offers for broadcast rights – were answered with record viewing figures. The of Matilda The semi-final against England was Australia’s most-watched televised event since the system began two decades ago, averaging 7.2 million viewers and 11.15 million viewers.

„We feel like we’ve brought the country together in football, and if we’d said this would happen a year ago some people might have said we were crazy.” of Matilda Captain Sam Kerr told reporters ahead of the third-place match against Sweden.

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But it happened – and it’s reaping benefits not just for football, but for women’s sports across the country.

Australia fans celebrate at Melbourne's Federation Square after the Matildas scored the opening goal in their FIFA World Cup Round-16 match against Denmark on August 7.

In awareness of of Matilda In a historic move, the Australian government has put forward 200 million Australian dollars ($128 million) for women’s sport — not just soccer — and 357 million Australian dollars ($228 million) in its post-competition program. Legacy ’23.

The Government’s „Play Our Way” money will be used to „support grassroots initiatives to promote equitable access, build more appropriate facilities and support women and girls to engage, stay and participate in sport throughout their lives”, the government said. Report.

This is a long time financial aid.

Ex Matilda Karen Menzies – who played for Australia’s national team in the 1980s – had to pay for her own tracksuit, accommodation and travel.

„We didn’t always have pieces, we had to write our names on the back. I still had a full-time job where I had to go on my vacation and represent my country,” he said. „I mean, those things have progressed. But there are many other areas that need to be addressed.

While the Australian government’s renewed commitment to women’s sport is commendable, Kerr has called for greater investment in football in particular.

speaks for of Matilda After the team’s loss to England, the superstar Australian talisman said: “We need funds for our growth. We need funding for our bottom line. We need funds. We need funds everywhere.

„It’s not really fair enough to be compared to other sports, and hopefully, the kind of changes in this tournament are the legacy you leave – it’s not what you do on the pitch. It’s what you do off the pitch.

Australia's Sam Kerr and England's Keira Walsh battle for the ball during their hard-fought semi-final.

Only time will tell how broadly this World Cup changes women’s soccer, but last year’s full stadiums at the UEFA European Women’s Championship showed that local clubs and teams can build momentum beyond the host nation.

After England won Euro 2022, participation and attendance at women’s football games across Europe increased.

Participation in girls’ football under 16s in England in particular has doubled. And it’s not just young women – participation among girls and women over 16 increased by 53%.

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„A lot of girls are coming in, they’ve got role models now, so it’s been great. But not just girls, but people like me who have missed out on generations,” said Andrea Ellis, girls and women’s football development officer in Bromley, south-east London, who was in the stands and booed hoarse with others. Lions Supporters during Sunday’s final.

„I wasn’t allowed to play football when I was young,” Ellis said of growing up in the 1980s, when football was considered only for boys. „Anyone who loves football knows what it means to you, so when you’re not allowed to do that, it’s kind of heartbreaking,” he said.

Ahead of the final, FIFA’s chief women’s football official, Sarai Bereman, told delegates at the FIFA Women’s Football Conference that women’s football was „going to explode”.

„There are going to be millions and millions of girls and women all over the world playing football for the first time after this World Cup and everyone has to be ready,” he said.

„Consider what you feel on the field tomorrow, think about this power and this cultural movement and what it can do in your own country. It’s not just football, it’s different.

Spain's players celebrate with the trophy after winning the 2023 Women's World Cup.

As hopes soared of the tournament’s potential to promote women on a par with men, recent words from FIFA’s president show how far it still has to go — not only in terms of financial growth, but also changing attitudes.

A few days before the finals, Infantino told the girls to „pick the right battles, pick the right fights.”

“You have the power to convince us men of what we should and shouldn’t do. You do it, you do it,” he added.

Joanna Lohmann, a former member of the United States women’s national team, described her comments as „provocative”.

„We have had to continue to ask for what we deserve and demand progress in change despite much opposition,” he said. „That’s what makes me so proud to be a part of the women’s game, the battles we’ve fought in the face of pushback and everyone saying we don’t deserve it.”

When asked about the setback, Infantino appeared to take his words out of context, describing FIFA as a „pioneer” in women’s soccer.

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„As far as FIFA is concerned, as far as I’m concerned, I think we’ve shown with facts rather than words that we’re very open, we’re transparent, our doors are wide, wide open,” he told Sky News. .

Although Rubiales initially dismissed Hermoso’s kiss as a „moment of affection without any significance”, he later apologized for his „mistake”.

„It looks like it turned into a storm, so if anyone was offended by that, I’m sorry.”

What happens off the pitch is important – not only to the players but also to the fans.

Before Sunday’s final, some told CNN they were backing England to win not just because they had a female coach, but also because of the Spanish team. Internal disputes.

Last year, 15 Spanish players declared themselves unavailable for selection, saying they were unhappy with head coach Jorge Vilda’s training methods, in what the RFEF described as an „unprecedented situation in the history of football”.

Of the 15 players who signed letters of complaint to the RFEF last year, only three were selected for the World Cup squad.

Sisters Avni and Simmi Nanduo, who flew in from Texas for the World Cup, wished Spain „all the best” but said they were leaning with England because „we hate the Spanish coach”.

Louis Nuszak, from Paris, France, said Wilta were supporting England because they „set football backwards in Spain”.

American Kelly Stroda said, „I want the team to win, but I don’t want the federation to be proud.”

A young Spain supporter celebrates La Roja's victory over England in the World Cup final.

Despite the dispute, Spain are now World Cup champions – and one day women may see a future in the beautiful game – but how that plays out will depend on the battles taking place on the pitch, off the pitches, in the football clubs. and rooms around the world.

After the final, newly crowned World Cup champion and two-time Ballon d’Or Féminin winner Alexia Putellas told Spanish outlet Marca that fights with confederations distract players from why they are there to play football.

„It’s not just in one country, it’s happening again and again. That’s where FIFA needs to look,” he said.

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