Infantino hails ‘transformational’ Women’s World Cup

Gianni Infantino

Featured image credit: FIFA

FIFA president Gianni Infantino has hailed Australia and New Zealand’s “transformational” staging of the 2023 Women’s World Cup, adding that the tournament’s revenue generation will allow it to break even.

Having kicked off on July 20 with the opening match at Auckland’s Eden Park setting a new record for a football match in New Zealand, 42,137, the tournament draws to a close this weekend with the third-place play-off between Australia and Sweden tomorrow (Saturday) before the main event – Sunday’s final between England and Spain.

The Women’s World Cup has continued to set records throughout its duration, with FIFA announcing ahead of Tuesday’s first semi-final between Spain and Sweden that 1.77 million tickets had been sold, with attendances reaching 1,734,028 for the first 60 games.

The latter figure has now reached 1.85 million and Infantino, speaking today (Friday) at FIFA Women’s Football Convention in Sydney, said the co-hosts have staged “simply the best and greatest and biggest FIFA Women’s World Cup ever”.

He continued: “This FIFA Women’s World Cup has been truly transformational, not only in Australia and New Zealand but all over the world. In the host countries, we had almost two million spectators in the stadiums – full houses everywhere – and two billion watching all over the world – and not just watching their own country but watching the World Cup, because it’s an event (where) I don’t just watch my team.

“We have to thank and congratulate Australia and New Zealand because without them this would not have been as magical.”

The success of the Women’s World Cup has rekindled talk that Australia and New Zealand could pursue a bid for the men’s event, potentially incorporating other Asia Pacific nations. Australia’s Minister for Sport, Anika Wells, said: “While this is almost the end for this Women’s World Cup, it is only the start of a new era for sport in Australia.

“The sleeping giant has awoken. In Australia, this FIFA Women’s World Cup has not just changed women’s football; it has changed women’s sport. Australia is now a football country.”

World football’s governing body went into the tournament facing a number of question marks. Firstly, the decision to expand the tournament from 24 to 32 teams had raised concerns over a potential competitive imbalance. However, a number of supposed underdogs performed strongly, leading to the surprise exit of traditional powerhouses of the women’s game during the early stages.

Infantino said: “FIFA was right. By increasing number of teams, we had eight debutants, we had many countries who suddenly realised they had a chance to participate. Now, everyone has a chance to shine on the global stage.”

The staging of the tournament in Australia and New Zealand, with the resulting challenges caused by time differences, had also raised doubts over the commercial performance of the event. This edition marked the first time that world football’s governing body separately marketed the tournament’s broadcast and sponsorship rights away from the men’s World Cup.

Infantino said this decision has led to the tournament generating over $570m (£447.8m/€524.6m), allowing it to break even. “This World Cup generated over $570m in revenue, and so we broke even,” he said.

“We didn’t lose any money and generated the second-highest income of any sport besides, of course, the men’s World Cup, on the global stage. There aren’t many competitions, even in men’s football, that generate more than half a billion dollars.”

However, Infantino said there is still much to do for the women’s game and urged FIFA’s partners to contribute. He stated: “We need everyone. We need the UN agencies, who have been very helpful to us in this World Cup, participating with us.

“We need the governments, we need the institutions, to create dedicated spaces for women, and for women’s sport and women’s football in particular, of course. We need the partners, the sponsors to pay a fair price. We need the media.”

The latter comment represents a thinly veiled swipe at what had been a battle which played out right up to shortly before the event got underway. FIFA in June extended its media rights agreement for the 2023 Women’s World Cup with the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), ensuring the tournament has been screened in the major markets of France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK following earlier threats of a blackout.

Infantino today asked broadcasters “to pay a fair price for women’s football, not just for the (Women’s) World Cup, but for women’s football in general, in all the countries, all the leagues, in all the competitions”.

The FIFA president also urged member associations to ensure that they organise women’s leagues, pointing out that some of the players who had starred at the tournament would not have any competitive football to go home to.

He added: “Female players cannot all go to play in a few clubs in Europe or the USA. We need in the next four years to create the conditions for them to be able to play at professional level at home and this is the biggest challenge we have to take on board.”