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Matildas did the nation proud but this may just be the beginning

The Matildas ended their Olympic campaign in fourth place last night, after losing 4-3 to the USA in the Bronze medal match.

Overall, this is the best result the Matildas have achieved at the Olympics in their history, surpassing their 5th place finish at the 2004 Athens Olympics.

In the warm up matches in the build-up to the tournament under new coach Tony Gustavsson, the Matildas were shaky to say the least.

A 5-2 loss to Germany, followed by a 5-0 loss to the Netherlands, led to many questioning the resolve of the team before kicking a ball at the Olympic Games.

Gustavsson and his squad of players didn’t panic however, and when the Matildas’ Olympic campaign officially begun, they opened with a 2-1 win over New Zealand.

An entertaining 4-2 loss to Sweden was followed by a gritty 0-0 draw with the USA which allowed the Australian side to progress to a quarter final match up against Great Britain.

A 4-3 victory over Great Britain in the quarter final, in a game which showcased their ‘never say die’ attitude was the clear high point of the tournament for the Matildas.

Australians in their droves tuned into to every Matildas match, with their eventual 1-0 loss to Sweden in the semi final watched by an average audience of over 1.8 million and thousands more streaming the game on 7Plus.

Figures such as this highlight how the team has become one of Australia’s most loved sporting teams, with the country heartbroken yet proud of their efforts.

The Matildas are undoubtedly ‘box office’ but their Olympic exploits are just the beginning of a big couple of years to come for Tony Gustavsson’s side.

The team are set to compete in the 2022 Asian Cup in India in the coming months, looking to go one step better this time after losing in the final in 2018 to Japan.

The tournament in India is a chance for this group of players to win their first Asian Cup since 2010, but will also give the side more competitive tournament minutes before the big one, a home Women’s World Cup in 2023.

The Women’s World Cup in 2023 will be the biggest event held on Australian shores since the 2000 Olympics, and economically it will be a major boost for the country after the significant hit it has taken due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 2019 Women’s World Cup, which was hosted by France, made an estimated $461 million GDP contribution to the host nation.

Tom Rischbieth, Football Australia’s head of commercial and events, believes the 2023 event will produce similar benefits economically.

“Yes, it will deliver amazing football matches but also substantial benefits socially and economically. We know from a tourism perspective 60,000 international visitors are predicted for the tournament equating to 600,000 bed nights and the numbers just keep growing, an estimated 5,000 jobs will also be created, it is a huge opportunity and one that we realise the benefits of,” Rischbieth said recently at a SportsPro APAC Series event.

The organisers of the tournament believe the 2023 competition is on track to sell 1.5 million tickets, which will break records for the women’s game.

“We know in France, over a million fans attended the 52 matches. And we now know that we’re going to have 64 matches in 2023. The ten stadiums that have been confirmed range from boutique to mega size, so we’re definitely on track,” Jane Fernandez, Chief Operating Officer (Australia) for the FIFA WWC 2023 said at the SportsPro event.

Football Australia have heavily focused on the legacy the tournament will have on the game here, including factors such as participation, facilities and improving region relations, but a strong Matildas outfit at the tournament is of vital importance.

With their impressive showings at the Olympic Games, fans of the Matildas should see the further development of players before the World Cup, including highly talented youngsters like Mary Fowler, Ellie Carpenter and Kyra Cooney-Cross.

With a right blend of these youngsters and world class players in their prime, there is no reason why the Matildas can’t seriously challenge to win the World Cup on home soil.

The hype around hosting the World Cup in two years’ time has not yet set in for most Australians, with many not understanding the magnitude of the event.

When the tournament does finally roll around however, the world will be watching, with many millions of Australians hoping to see our golden girls once again give them something to be proud of.

Philip Panas is a sports journalist with Soccerscene. He reports widely on football policy and industry matters, drawing on his knowledge and passion of the game.

Rachel Williams appointed to Football Tasmania Board

Football Tasmania have welcomed long-time Tasmanian football contributor Rachel Williams to their Board.

Joining with a background in sports media, Williams cited the possibility of hosting training camps for the 2023 Women’s World Cup and a potential increase in A-League and W-League content as exciting opportunities for the state heading into the future.

Football Tasmania President Bob Gordon believes Williams’ media expertise and strong ties with the northern Tasmanian community would help support Tasmania’s most popular team sport as it continues to grow.

“As the mother and chief supporter of three football-mad boys, Rachel has a great understanding of the World Game in Tasmania and what our sport means to so many people across the state,” Gordon said.

“We’re delighted to have Rachel join the Tasmanian football family in an official capacity and lend her expertise to seeing football realise its full potential with improved facilities and opportunities for young players as the sport continues to grow.”

FT

Williams was excited to be underway in her role and to represent the passionate and talented women working in and around football.

“As a former sports journalist I have watched with keen interest the significant growth, development and recognition of the sport in Tasmania, particularly for women, and I am really excited to help continue that progress,” she said.

“I believe it is vital for there to be a strong and secure pathway for our young men and women to play at the highest level and it is exciting to see Tasmania forge a future involvement with the A-League and W-League.

“I am passionate about ensuring every child has the opportunity to be involved and be given opportunities to succeed.”

Gordon also paid tribute to outgoing Board member Fiona Reynolds.

“On behalf of the Tasmanian football community I’d like to thank Fiona for her contribution and dedication to our sport,” he said.

“Fiona joined our team at a very challenging time for all community sports when COVID first reached our shores and was instrumental in helping us get the game up and running safely so Tasmanians could again enjoy playing football.”

FIFA’s mission to expand the World Cup will only damage it

With 166 member nations of FIFA voting to explore the concept of a two-year cycle for the World Cup, questions need to be asked whether too much of a good thing will destroy what makes the competition special.

One of the best parts of the World Cup is the spectacle of it all. The elite quality of the tournament is already being watered down with the changes to the format, with 48 teams instead of 32. 

While allowing more teams in will create new markets for the competition, it isn’t like the World Cup would struggle for viewership without them, as it is the most-watched sporting event on the planet.

The changes to the structure of the cup – with two out of a group of three going through instead of the top two in a group of four – is already challenging the tradition and excitement of the World Cup. If you draw one of the powerhouse teams, like Spain, France, or Brazil, then it is likely your country will be on a plane ride home after playing just two games.

Despite the success of the World Cup, FIFA seems to want to tinker with the competition without any concern for the negative impacts the changes may cause. To build support for this, FIFA is wheeling out stars like Arsene Wenger and Yaya Toure.

Wenger is currently FIFA’s chief of global football development

Why FIFA wants to interrupt what has proved to be a winning formula only has one answer: Greed. More games mean more money. In a 48 team competition, there will be 64 games, compared to 40 in the current format. More games equal more money for TV rights and a wider reach for the game with an added 16 teams.

Combine this with the concept of hosting a World Cup every two years instead of four, and FIFA will be printing money like never before.

The unfortunate side effect of this will a weaker competition in terms of quality. There are always some relatively poor teams featured in a World Cup, but adding another 16 of the ‘best of the rest’ will dilute the talent pool. Combine this with the fact some teams may even go home playing only two games, it will surely make the World Cup a less exciting affair for many appearing in the group stage.

Another factor that needs to be considered is sustainability. We’ve already seen that major sporting tournaments often leave countries with huge stadiums without any use for them.

Engineers Against Poverty say that hosting a World Cup leaves a “legacy of white elephants”, with stadiums built for the 2010 South Africa World Cup and 2014 World Cup in Brazil “hemorrhaging taxpayer’s money”. 

A white elephant refers to a possession whose cost of maintenance is well beyond its value, and whose owner cannot dispose of it. An apt reference to what World Cup stadiums have become for countries that do not need bumper stadiums.

Four cities in Brazil that hosted games at the 2014 World Cup –Manaus, Cuiabá, Natal, and Brasília – have no major football teams to play in the humongous stadiums built for the event.

South Africa spent $2.7 billion to build 12 new stadiums for the World Cup, in a country where half the population lives off an average of $242AUD a month

Polokwane, a city of 130,000, now pays $2.7 million a year in maintenance towards the legacy of the South African World Cup.

Peter Mokaba Stadium, Polokwane, South Africa

Russia is also struggling with issues related to stadiums built for the 2018 World Cup. In Saransk, local authorities are dealing with the upkeep of 300 million rubles (AUD 5.5 million) to maintain the stadium built for the event.

Major events don’t just lead to empty stadiums either. For the Sochi Winter Olympics, the Russian Government built a $13.5 billion tunnel system to connect Sochi to the rest of the country. The operation and maintenance of this underutilised infrastructure cost taxpayers $1.6 billion a year. 

FIFA has praised the joint World Cup bid from the United States, Mexico and Canada for using existing infrastructure instead of building new stadiums, however, few countries already have the facilities to host games. 

By expanding the World Cup to every two years, many countries will  be hosting for the first time. This will inevitably lead to similar cases to South Africa, Brazil, and Russia’s stadiums becoming a burden on citizens. 

FIFA risk damaging their premier competition in the pursuit of greed. It needs to be asked why they seem hell-bent on changing a winning formula, especially one that has already been embraced worldwide.

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