Australia ready to bid for more FIFA events after busting global ‘myth’

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Football Australia has begun “exploratory conversations” with FIFA and the Australian government over bids for more tournaments after the Women’s World Cup disproved what chief executive James Johnson described as one of the most pervasive myths about global television ratings.

As the dust settles on the country’s biggest sporting event since the Sydney Olympics, Johnson said the last month has not only convinced FIFA that Australia is a safe and reliable host nation, but shown the rest of the world that it can be financially lucrative to bring major competitions here, too.

Australia’s failed bid to host the 2022 men’s World Cup was famously derided by disgraced FIFA president Sepp Blatter because the timezone was seen as unappealing for broadcasters in Europe and North America.

But ratings in “traditional” football markets for the Women’s World Cup tell a different story, Johnson said.

“For me, another part of legacy is we’ve proved to the rest of the world – not just FIFA, but I’m talking about the 211 countries, the confederations, broadcasters around the world, commercial partners – that this is a great timezone to host top-level content,” he said.

“There’s this old narrative – I should say old myth – that I believe has truly been debunked: that this is not a good timezone to hold top global competitions. I’ve heard over and over again from key officials from the Americas, Europe, Africa, Asia talk about what a great timezone this is for top-tier football competitions.”

FA chief executive James Johnson.Credit: Getty

Women’s World Cup organisers strategically chose certain kick-off times to make them work for different parts of the world, Johnson said, with most games screened at palatable times during the morning in Europe.

An afternoon match in Auckland was able to hit primetime on the US east coast, afternoon games in Sydney could do the same for the US west coast, and Perth is in the same timezone as Beijing – all of which lines up perfectly with FIFA’s ambitions to grow the game in countries not currently seen as football strongholds, Johnson said.

“If you look at some of the biggest populations in the world – United States, China, India, Pakistan, Indonesia, our next door neighbours – this is the timezone that they’re in, and this is great for development in football worldwide,” he said.

“Out of all those countries I just mentioned, minus Indonesia, not only are they the most populous countries in the world, football is actually not number one yet.

FIFA president Gianni Infantino (left), Football Australia chair Chris Nikou and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese at the World Cup semi-final.Credit: AP

“So I think bringing content to this part of the world is good for the development of world football, because the big markets will watch – they are, we saw that – and you’re playing in a timezone where young girls and boys and markets that we’re not the number one sport in can also engage. That’s an opportunity to win those markets in the future.”

It all bodes well for talks around Australia’s co-hosting ambitions for the 2029 FIFA Club World Cup and 2034 men’s World Cup, which Johnson said he had informally broached with FIFA president Gianni Infantino and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.

Football Australia is already bidding for the 2026 Women’s Asian Cup.

“Of course there’s exploratory conversations that are happening. That’s just natural,” he said. “Those discussions, I would anticipate, will get more and more serious as time goes on.

FIFA president Gianni Infantino is delighted with how Australia embraced the Women’s World Cup.Credit: Reuters

“If we keep doing the right things post-Women’s World Cup – stay united as a community, keep bringing governments and the commercial world along for the journey, engage with fans of other sports, bring them in as participants and fans of our game – we’re going to be in a great position to host more major tournaments.

”By any measure, FIFA are happy. Your traditional corporate KPIs, broadcast audience, attendance at matches, attendance at FIFA live sites, social media engagement – we’ve blown every measurement through the roof. The other part Gianni is proud of is he’s seen this tournament and the Matildas move the dial socially and culturally. That’s hard to measure sometimes. The face of Australian sport has changed forever – and that is something that FIFA and the president are also very proud of.”

Meanwhile, Johnson said it was too soon to speculate on the future of Matildas coach Tony Gustavsson, whose contract expires at the end of the Paris Olympics in August next year.

Gustavsson has been suggested by World Cup-winning coach Jill Ellis as a candidate for the vacant US national team job and, on two separate occasions, declined to play down those links.

Johnson said FA was working through a framework for a typical post-tournament review that will also include an analysis of Gustavsson’s performance as a coach. Despite criticism of the Swede’s tactics and squad management, Johnson’s personal appraisal was highly positive.

“He’s done a great job,” he said.

“He’s got a hard job, because the expectations are so high. The Matildas are right now the most valuable sporting brand in the country, so when you’re the coach of that team, you have a lot of responsibility.

“Tony is a winner. He will inevitably be disappointed whenever he loses a match – doesn’t matter who we lose against – but I think he’s done a remarkable job, and so have the players in the team.

“They were in some difficult situations throughout the tournament, and it’s very easy to buckle under pressure, and I don’t think they did. They found solutions when problems arose, they stuck together, and they bunkered down when they had to, and they stood up when they had to as well.”

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