WWC 2023 Chief Operating Officer Jane Fernandez: “The Women’s World Cup is arriving at a significant turning point in Australian football”

Fernandez

With just over a year until the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 kicks off at New Zealand’s Eden Park on July 20, Soccerscene chatted with a major driving force behind the tournament’s arrival on Australian shores, Jane Fernandez.

Fernandez, the Chief Operating Officer (Australia) of the Women’s World Cup 2023 team, spoke about the organisation of the tournament in the lead-in, the projected impact of the WWC 2023 on women’s football, and why Australia’s multicultural makeup is essential to bringing the tournament to life.

What has the organisation of the tournament been like in the lead-in to it? What is the day-to-day process like for you?

Jane Fernandez: It’s been really exciting and also hugely challenging setting up a local FIFA subsidiary in a COVID environment. We basically built a group on Teams, so it’s now fantastic that we’re at this phase where we’re all coming back into the office and can all work and talk together face-to-face.

It’s a huge honour to be a part of a start-up – which is what we are – across Australia and New Zealand. We’ve now hit a staffing number of close to 140 across the two countries, so there’s constant recruitment and building the team and foundations to make sure that we’re set up for success. It’s been hugely rewarding, and I think we’ve built a team of amazing professionals who are not only experienced in what they do, but hugely passionate about the FIFA Women’s World Cup and what it can do. That’s the culture that we’ve created here and it’s a real honour to be part of it.

What has it been like for the FWWC2023 team to interact with governing bodies and other sporting codes to collaborate on the bidding and organising process?

Jane Fernandez: Well, all of those discussions really started during the bidding phase – I started working on this project back in 2017 and it feels like a lifetime ago. At that point in time, it was a lot of discussions with key stakeholders, and all of our governments (state and federal). We could not be hosting this tournament without the support of governments and it was the federal government that supported our wish to bid when I was working for Football Australia back then.

During the bidding process we also got the other codes to work together because we have fantastic infrastructure in Australia and we want to make sure there’s room for everyone, which is what we’ve been able to achieve. So, that commitment and collaborating on scheduling was a really important part of the bidding process and pleasingly we were able to achieve that.

The WWC 2023 arrives at a crux moment in the fight for gender equality in football. How important is it in promoting women’s football?

Jane Fernandez: I think sport and football has the potential to be a catalyst for change, and I think we’re all very aware of that with the responsibility that we all hold in that space. FIFA developed a women’s football strategy a number of years ago and the development of the women’s game is front of mind for everyone in Zurich and also here and in New Zealand as well. FIFA has contributed and committed one billion dollars to the development of the women’s game for the cycle leading up to next year’s World Cup here.

We’re looking forward to building the foundations and making sure that we’re growing female leaders throughout all levels of our game, making sure that we’re increasing participation with that fantastic target of 60 million women and girls playing football by 2026. And of course, for the first-time ever, developing a standalone commercial platform which is incredibly important to ensure we develop the commercial sustainability of the women’s game. This is the first time that this has ever happened, and we announced Xero as a partner for that platform not long ago. So, we’re really excited and this is a real momentum shift in where we want to take the FIFA Women’s World Cup.

Matildas

What are the strategies that the FWWC2023 team has in place to leave a sporting legacy behind after the tournament?

Jane Fernandez: During the bid, legacy was always the first thought – never the afterthought. And we’ve continued that as we’ve gone forward. Globally, as I mentioned, FIFA have the women’s football strategy with those clear targets that have been articulated and are starting to be delivered upon which is fantastic. The development and education of females right goes through all levels of the game – from refereeing, coaching, administration, leadership and of course players as well. Globally, FIFA are really driving that.

And then we think about the Asian Football Confederation and Oceania as well. For the first time, this will be the first tournament that is delivered over two confederations, which is hugely exciting because the potential for growth and the opportunity is just huge. So, both AFC and OFC are working together on their legacy plans and what they want to achieve from hosting the Women’s World Cup in their region for the first time. So, this cross-communication and collaboration is just fantastic.

And then we think domestically where Football Australia and New Zealand Football are developing amazing domestic legacy plans. In Australia – led by Football Australia with James Johnson as the CEO – we have Sarah Walsh, Mark Falvo, Peter Filopoulos and their respective teams as well who are really driving the Legacy ’23 plan nationally and working closely with all Member Federations. A number of these elements were front of mind during the bid, so of course participation is absolutely of paramount importance to achieve the target of 50-50 by 2027. But you can’t have that without infrastructure investment, and it was pleasing to see the success that Football Australia’s #Equaliser campaign had recently, ahead of the Federal elections to address the lack of female friendly facilities as we strive towards our 50-50 target.

What’s also important is investment into training sites, which is something that we are working with Football Australia on. We’ve already announced our first tranche of training sites with more to be announced. This is the first Women’s World Cup where there’ll be a base camp model, which from a legacy perspective is hugely important because it means greater investment into facilities right across the country.

There’s obviously the leadership pillar as part of Football Australia’s Legacy ’23 plan and making sure that we are developing female leaders, and we are doing that through the local FIFA subsidiary as well. There’s also the high-performance pillar which Football Australia is committed to with developing female players. And last but not least, there’s the international relations and tourism pillar. There’s no better way to remind the world that Australia is open for business than hosting the biggest-ever FIFA Women’s World Cup on our shores.

Legacy is always front of mind, definitely never the afterthought, and we’re all working hand-in-hand which is exactly one of the core values of the FIFA Women’s World Cup – which is about collaboration and is about team, and inclusion. It’s really important that we’re all working together to deliver these unbelievable outcomes.

It feels like the 2023 Women’s World Cup is arriving at a significant turning point in Australian football with the sport recently undergoing some rebranding and turnover of control.

Get Onside

What do you envision the impact of this newly introduced base camp model bringing for the 2023 Women’s World Cup?

Jane Fernandez: I’ve been to a number of men’s World Cups and I went to the Women’s World Cup in France, but I remember the first World Cup that I went to was in Germany when the Socceroos finally qualified. The Socceroos set a base camp in a little town called Erlangen, and it was this unbelievable little town, but seeing the power of a World Cup and what it can do with these smaller communities is something that really excites me.

Because while we’re going through the process at the moment of identifying the base camps, I can already see how some of these areas and suburbs (that might not be hosting games but will host teams) will come alive and really inspire young girls and boys to put on their boots, to play football and be a part of this amazing community. The opportunity is just huge.

With Australia being the multicultural country that it is, are you excited to see the nation come together for one massive tournament?

Jane Fernandez: Our multicultural nation is a really important factor for us, and we did this really well during the Asian Cup in 2015. It’s something we will also do extremely well during the FIFA Women’s World Cup, and that’s engaging with all of these different communities right around the country who will basically create a home away from home for every team that’s coming here. So again, it’s another really exciting opportunity that we are working on at the moment.

Asian Cup 2015

To receive information on how to apply for FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023™ tickets click here.

Parramatta City FC: Celebrating 50 years and a place to truly call home

As a Club entrenched in history, Parramatta City FC has secured a double milestone in its future towards providing a football team for the region.

For many years, Parramatta City had no authentic home ground, having been based in the neighbouring suburb of Rydalmere.

However, coinciding with the half century of existence is the confirmed move to Old Saleyards Reserve in the suitably located heartland of North Parramatta.

Thanks to the individuals and committee members and their negotiations with City of Parramatta Council, the new fields bring a range of benefits – such as increased capacity for participation, improved facilities and enhanced community engagement.

Two of those committee members to turn the plans into reality are Club Secretary Lou Mantzos and President Angelo Aronis.

Having been at the Club since day one in 1974 from their junior days in numerous capacities, both are still heavily involved in driving future growth in participants in junior and senior level.

Mantzos described what it was like at Rydalmere and how the move across to Old Salesyards Reserve unfolded.

Training at Eric Primrose Reserve in Rydalmere.

“We had been at Rydalmere since 1981 and it’s an older area that is now growing with some new housing,” he told Soccerscene.

“However, the only way for us to survive long-term was being back in Parramatta, rather than competing with Rydalmere FC who are based up the road and with brand new facilities.

“The breakthrough occurred last year with executive general managers of council in the parks & recreation area.

“We had follow up meetings early this year and eventually our mission was accomplished in leasing Old Saleyards Reserve which is a nine-year-old facility.

“The fields are in excellent shape and rated as one of three A-grade grounds in the Parramatta precinct.

“We now have a dozen teams training and playing at the venue and once the junior rugby league moves across to Doyle Park nearby, we will be permanently based at our new home in 2025.”

The new home of Old Saleyards Reserve.

Similarly to all clubs involved in the negotiation process, challenges are always going to occur, whether it be due to capacity or financially.

Aronis shared his involvement at the Club alongside Mantzos during a difficult period.

“We came into it 4-5 years ago as a sub-committee, working on the new grounds and other issues involved in the Club,” he said to Soccerscene.

“The previous committees did their best in trying times, worked hard, kept the club afloat especially during the Covid pandemic but lost numerous teams during and post this period, and potentially other clubs had similar problems.

“It did make us realise that Rydalmere was not a growth area.

“For example, across Silverwater Road, Newington and Sydney Olympic Park precinct was thriving and nobody wanted to cross over and get to us which is essentially walking distance.

“The other side of Silverwater Road, which includes Wilson Park, now NSW cricket academy, was growing exponentially and the previous committees just weren’t able to attract the numbers we needed.”

The Covid-19 pandemic was not immune to Parramatta City, who needed to navigate through postponed games and seasons.

It presented the confronting reality that even a Club like Parramatta City could fold due to mounting hardship and pressure.

However, Aronis and Mantzos persevered and played a crucial role in keeping the Club afloat.

It was one initiative in particular that Mantzos believes changed the Club’s fortunes entirely.

“In September last year, after failed attempts due to Covid-19 lockdowns, we finally held a reunion game to bring back some familiar faces,” he said.

“It was Andrew Charlton (Federal MP for Parramatta) who assisted with funding for some new equipment and together helped bring many former players back to participate on the day.

“There was a collective buy-in from all participants – the former Parramatta City state league (a powerhouse during the 90’s) and all-age players paid $20 to enter as a way to raise funds and interest.

“We got 40 players on the day and the game attracted a lot of attention as people started talking about it and that was the reason why we did it – we wanted to get traction back rather than see a slow demise.

“We had a ‘Beyond 50’ push that really urged Club members to get behind us and do what they could to keep us around for the next 50 years.”

The reunion game welcomed many familiar faces.

The reunion proved a major hit, paving the way for long-term success in participation.

Aronis added what the overall impact was like post-event and a great indication of what we expect to see.

“We had two teams in 2023 as a band-aid solution, and if it stayed that way, we would have had no choice but in folding the Club,” he said.

“For this season, the number of teams is up at 12 and the reunion was one of the springboard we needed as we reached that figure without really trying.

“Now, we anticipate that we will double that figure by 2025 which would be a fantastic result.

“We were really proud of the efforts of all involved on reunion day and every bit that went into it was worth it.”

“In closing, I sincerely thank all those individuals and recent committees of this proud club for the contributions.”

Football Australia targeting new leadership appointments

Football Australia are strategically commencing a global search to fill four newly established leadership roles within its National Teams’ set-up.

Reporting into Head of National Teams, Gary Moretti, the positions include:

General Manager – Women’s National Teams

General Manager – Men’s National Teams

General Manager – Football Data & Analysis

General Manager – High Performance.

The FA are underscoring its commitment on delivering national team excellence and believe these roles will be pivotal in the ongoing improvement of the game in Australia at the professional level.

Each role is essential for the development, management and the long-term success of all high performance and national team programs and initiatives in both the men’s and women’s teams.

Under Moretti’s leadership, Football Australia’s National Teams will operate concurrently with the oversight of the governing body’s Technical Department, headed by Chief Football Officer Ernie Merrick. Later this month, they will reveal a new 10-year Technical Strategy for Australian Football.

Upon announcing these additions to the National Teams structure, Football Australia CEO, James Johnson explained the additions to the National Team structure and what it means for the future.

“The realignment and increased number of specialised resources for our senior and youth national teams stem from a comprehensive internal review of our current high performance structure when benchmarked against leading football and sporting organisations globally,” he said in a statement.

“We are a football first organisation, and this heightened focus and investment in our national teams is a reflection of our ambition. These new roles are designed to ensure everything possible is being done to deliver our strategic goal of being a leading football nation within the Asian Football Confederation and that all ages groups, men’s and women’s, are qualifying for every FIFA senior and youth World Cup.”

The recruitment process will be thorough and will be conducted by specialist recruitment firms to secure the most qualified candidates for these crucial roles.

It’s a great proactive approach by the FA to ensure the future of the national teams is consistently improving and matching Asia’s best such as Japan and South Korea who have fantastic national team structures in place.

Details of all positions will be available on the Football Australia website from Tuesday, 14 May 2024.

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