Australian Women’s World Cup to learn from cricket’s ‘mistakes’ serve as blueprint for Brisbane Olympics

The old plan of the 2023 Women’s World Cup, to be held in Australia and New Zealand, will serve as a blueprint for the Queensland government as it prepares to host the 2032 Summer Olympics in Brisbane.

This is the view of Sarah Walsh, Head of Women’s Football and Women’s World Cup Legacy and Integration at Football Australia (FA).

Walsh, a former Matildas striker, also stressed that the partnership with Cricket Australia (CA) had helped the FA learn from the “mistakes” of its cricket counterparts hosting the 2020 Women’s Twenty20 World Cup.

“We are now having these talks with the government,” Walsh said at a virtual workshop hosted by Women in News and Sport, an ABC International Development program and funded by Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

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“We are certainly positioning this event as one of the biggest events since Sydney 2000, so there are many lessons to be learned, especially for the Queensland Government… on how we are starting to lay the groundwork for 2032.

“In fact, a lot has been learned, especially from previous World Cups. Cricket just had a World Cup here in Australia [in Feb-March 2020]. I work very closely with Cricket Australia to make sure we don’t make the same mistakes they do. First, one of the important things we discussed is that inheritance should remain with the body that governs football in the country.

“Often the estate actually belonged to the Local Organizing Committee [LOC]. That was the case with the Cricket World Cup, so once the World Cup ends, so does the LOC. For us, legacy is our strategy. And that’s why many of our goals we set extend well beyond the 2023 World Cup itself.”

Led by Walsh, a veteran of three AFC Asian Cups, a FIFA World Cup and the 2004 Athens Olympics, FA’s Legacy ’23 plan focuses on five key pillars that will trigger the 2023 World Cup: Increased female participation; increasing female representation in leadership and development roles; improved basic infrastructure to ensure equitable facilities for women; promoting tourism, trade and international relations; and formulating a strong strategy for the Matildas.

With the tournament’s expansion to a 32-team competition, up from 24 in the most recent edition held in France in 2019, the 2023 event will see the event become the biggest, most equaled women’s football World Cup ever. Walsh underlined FA’s commitment to deliver lasting benefits to Australia’s largest community sport after 2023.

“Because we have our participation targets, we’re actually stretched six years to 2027. So for us it’s about treating it like a marathon, not a sprint, but also being aware that these first two years prior to the World Cup is key to capitalize,” said Walsh. “So these are the discussions we have with the government, including the Queensland government. We want to make sure that football is an Olympic sport, and that they have to think very differently about how they invest in infrastructure.

“I think a lot of sports will benefit from the Olympics, especially in Queensland. Football is an Olympic sport and we need more rectangular stadiums in really fast-growing competitor areas in Queensland. So I think we’re just trying to make the Olympics to reshape the thinking of the government of Queensland.”

In Brisbane 2032, cricket could also appear on an Olympic sports program for the first time since 1900, should the International Cricket Committee’s stop-start attempt for the sport’s inclusion in Los Angeles 2028 fail. Against the backdrop of cricket potentially regaining Olympic cachet and Australia hosting the rescheduled Men’s Twenty20 World Cup later this year, Walsh believes CA has revised its funding allocation for the 10-team 2020 Women’s T20 World Cup, and constructive discussions between FA and CA that followed will benefit both organizations in the run-up to the Brisbane Olympics.

“When we actually sat down with members of Cricket Australia, there was one key learning point that I think about a lot: doing a smaller number of things really well rather than trying to do everything for everyone,” said Walsh. “And some of our strengths are our biggest challenges, and we’re the biggest participatory sport. We have the highest number of community clubs: 2500-plus.

“We can’t just really get all these clubs to capitalize on an equal percentage. For us, it’s about mobilizing them and giving them the tools to join the journey, but also being really strategic about where our focus areas are.” and especially with government funding that we do receive.

“Cricket Australia received a fair amount of funding, facilities fund. But what they actually did was spread it pretty thinly, so it was a lot harder to measure the impact. I think they would think differently if they had time again for us, in mind, we have the five main pillars [of the legacy plan], and for us it’s about really focusing on that, securing the investment needed to deliver those results, and doing it really well. So I think that’s something we learned from Cricket Australia.”

The 2020 Women’s T20 World Cup Final, fueled by CA’s #FillTheMCG campaign to beat the 90,815 world record crowd for a women’s sporting event, held by California’s Rose Bowl Stadium for the 1999 Women’s World Cup Final, was a star-studded affair that culminated in the home side lifting the trophy. While the evening’s eventual attendance was 86,174, nevertheless a record for a women’s event in Australia, Walsh said it had helped calibrate the FA’s ambitions around attendances for the 2023 World Cup.

“I went to that game, it was really fantastic,” said Walsh. “And there’s no doubt that creative thinking around bringing Katy Perry boosted ticket sales. They had bad weather before that. But I have to say the atmosphere was incredible. It was very much like a Matildas match. Our challenge and Chances are we want every game to look like this; not just the last one. And I have no doubt every game will be sold out.”

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