FFA Chairman Chris Nikou believes the legacy that a Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand would leave on South East Asia and the Pacific has the trans-Tasman bid well placed in the race to win the rights to stage the tournament.
Australia and New Zealand’s quest to host the 2023 tournament – which will be the first to have 32 nations competing – received a boost this week when hosting rivals Brazil suspended their push to host the footballing showcase.
In a statement posted on their federation’s website, the Brazilian bid cited a “combination of factors” that would prevent the nation from hosting the tournament - chief amongst them the financial ramifications that the COVID-19 pandemic has had for the South American nation’s finances.
Brazil’s withdrawal ahead of the June 25 vote leaves Australia and New Zealand’s joint bid as one of just three still standing, up against Japan and Colombia – now supported by CBF.
“On pure numbers, it’s good, because we’re now down to three,” FFA Chairman Chris Nikou told FTBL of Brazil’s withdrawal.
“There are three good bids left but we think there are some really good features about the joint bid; from our ability to put on events, to looking after players and fans, we think we’ve got a pretty compelling bid.
“Being one of three is good but being first past the post on the 25th is most important.”
Though their bid itself wasn’t expected to present a serious impediment to the chances of the “As One” bid, Brazil’s move to suspend their bid has created a new wrinkle in proceedings; the Colombian campaign is now likely count on the full support of South America's contingent on the 35-strong FIFA Executive Council which will award hosting rights.
Nonetheless, the Australian and New Zealand bid received an even greater boost in their push to secure the backing of the non-South American members of that committee on Wednesday evening with the release of the evaluation reports conducted by FIFA assessing the quality of the bids.
The Australia and New Zealand bid gleaned the highest overall average score of the three remaining competitors from that process: rewarded a mark of 412 out of 500 across all the categories of evaluation, with Japan next on 392 and Colombia on 280.5.
The joint bid, it was noted, was the "most commercially favourable proposition" of the remaining three and it was observed that it was clearly capable of filling one of FIFA's key demands of serving as a catalyst for the growth of women's football throughout the Asia Pacific.
While New Zeland's presence in the Pacific is well established by virtue of its membership in the Oceania confederation, Australia has also recently taken steps to re-establish its presence in the region; the Junior Matildas staging a tour of Tonga, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands as part of the Australian Government's "Pacific Step-up" in August 2019.
Heading into the mad rush of negotiating and politicking that will define the final days of the process, the trans-Tasman bid can all but certainly rely on the support of at least two votes of Oceania’s representatives on the FIFA council.
But it is now in a race with Japan to secure the support from the Asian votes on the council and engaged in a three-way tussle for votes from African, European and North American representatives.
“Obviously, Japan has put in a good bid, you wouldn’t expect anything less,” Nikou, who also sits on the AFC Executive Committee, told FTBL.
“For us, one of the important things is that we want to leave a legacy in the Asia Pacific area. For me, personally, I’d like us to lead the way for the advancement of women’s sport throughout the AFC.
“Part of the legacy piece of our bid is to do that, just to help AFC countries and listen about promoting the women’s game and equality throughout Asia. I think that hopefully resonates with a lot of the AFC, particularly our ASEAN colleagues.
“I think we’ve got a wider responsibility as a member of the AFC to work with our other member federations in the AFC about this important part of the sport.
"So whether that’s having a centre for women’s development here in Melbourne or elsewhere in Australia that we invite ASEAN countries or we play more tournaments for our girls and women, they’re all important initiatives.
“I think it’s consistent with what FIFA has said is that ambition around women’s sport. I think our bid aligns pretty neatly with those sorts of priorities and KPIs.”