Less than two months removed from the most-watched Women’s World Cup ever, FIFA, the governing body of soccer, is once again showing how little it cares about the women’s game.
On Monday, FIFA announced that Belgium had showcased a desire to host the 2023 Women’s World Cup, which made them the 10th country to express interest in submitting a bid — a number FIFA excitedly referred to as “unprecedented.” On the surface, that sounds phenomenal. After all, there were only two official bids for the 2019 Women’s World Cup.
But it quickly became clear that while yes, the women’s game is growing, FIFA is still doing its best to halt that growth.
On Monday, FIFA published its press release, leading with Belgium’s interest in hosting the Women’s World Cup in 2023. But just hours later, Belgium came forward and said there had been a miscommunication — they had no plans to enter an official bid, according to the New York Times.
One would think that FIFA would have checked in with Belgium before announcing such a thing, but then again, it is FIFA.
But that’s not the only problem. The new timeline for bid submissions was provided too, and goodness is the schedule alarming. The nine countries that have expressed interest in hosting the event — Australia, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, and South Africa — have until September 2 to confirm their intention to bid, and all completed bids must be submitted by December 13. The host nation will be voted on in May 2020.
This means that the host nation selected will have just over three years to prepare to host the Women’s World Cup. In contrast, the 2026 men’s World Cup was awarded to the joint bid presented by the United States, Canada, and Mexico in 2018, giving the North Americans eight years to prepare for the mega event. And FIFA told Qatar it was hosting the 2022 men’s World Cup way back in 2010, giving it 12 years to prepare. (There are many, many things to criticize about the Qatar bid; it’s just notable that preparation time was not an issue.)
Even past hosts of the Women’s World Cup have gotten more advance notice — France (2019) and Canada (2011) both were given more than four years of lead time. And for France, that didn’t seem to be enough.
As Cassidy Gabriel wrote in SB Nations’s women’s soccer vertical, All For XI, the tournament in France this summer often felt slapped together.
“Game after game, host cities seemed unprepared for the size and scale of the 2019 World Cup.” Gabriel wrote.
“Food and water ran low in stadiums, amidst a record-breaking European heatwave. Hotels cancelled and public transportation systems closed before matches ended, forcing some fans to leave their seats in the middle of play to catch trains, and leaving others stranded outside of stadiums into the wee hours of the morning.”
These may seem like minor things, but they’re a huge part of the logistical concerns that cities and countries need to begin preparing for years in advance. And that’s in addition to building or re-purposing stadiums and making sure that the teams have the proper training facilities and accommodations.
One would think, after its failures in France, FIFA would realize the importance of preparation time. However, there was no way for them to give the next host nation an advance warning, because unlike previous years, FIFA went into this Women’s World Cup without a set host for 2019.
Then, it complicated things even further when it announced on July 31 that the field for the 2023 tournament was going to expand from 24 teams to 32 teams. FIFA boasted about the global impact this would have on women’s soccer.
“The expansion reaches far beyond the eight additional participating teams,” FIFA president Gianni Infantino said. “It means that, from now on, dozens more member associations will organize their women’s football program knowing they have a realistic chance of qualifying.”
Again, on the surface, this is good news. However, because of that announcement, FIFA reopened the bidding process and pushed back the timeline so that prospective host cities could adjust their bids to include eight more teams. Now they only have a few months to alter their bids, and the selected nation will only have three years to prepare for the largest Women’s World Cup ever.
FIFA knows that it takes time to make such changes, because it provides that time to the men’s game. It announced that the men’s team would be expanded from 32 to 48 teams back in January of 2017. However, that change wasn’t slated to go into effect until the 2026 World Cup. This gave potential host cities more than a year to adjust their bids to include the expansion, and it gave everyone in the game nine years to ready itself for the shift.
The women’s game deserves that much forethought, faith, and care. But FIFA has shown once again that it is unwilling to provide it.