Women’s World Cup co-hosts Australia and New Zealand marked the 100-day countdown to the global soccer showpiece on Tuesday with a call for gender equity in sport and a rallying cry for fans to get behind the event.
The 32-team tournament, the first Women’s World Cup in the southern hemisphere, will kick off in Sydney and Auckland on July 20 when Australia’s Matildas and New Zealand’s Football Ferns play their opening matches.
“In just 100 days’ time, we will witness the world’s best football players on our shores, right here in Australia and New Zealand,” Women’s World Cup CEO David Beeche said at a launch at Sydney Football Stadium.
“The two opening matches, the first at Eden Park in Auckland and the second here in Sydney later that day, mean July 20 2023 will be one of the biggest days in women’s football history.
“But this women’s tournament is not just about football, it’s about celebrating women’s sports and women’s empowerment all over the world.”
Hopeful the Matildas can have a deep run on home soil, Australia has boosted funding for elite women’s programs in recent years but the country is ill-equipped to handle an expected rise in grassroots participation, officials say.
“Currently, only 40% of football facilities nationwide are classified as female-friendly,” Football Australia said in a statement.
“It is imperative that we invest in our 2,400+ community clubs across the country to ensure they are adequately prepared for the expected surge in female participation, and participation in the sport more broadly.”
New Zealand is staging its third global sporting event in less than two years, having hosted the women’s Rugby World Cup and women’s Cricket World Cup last year.
Rugby World Cup organizers hailed record crowds as New Zealand’s Black Ferns swept to the title last November.
The Football Ferns, ranked world number 25, are unlikely to emulate the rugby team’s success but New Zealand expects the event to give the local women’s game a major boost.
“I think it’s going to do wonders for women’s football in New Zealand,” said Wellington Phoenix player Chloe Knott.
“Hopefully it generates a heap of support from young footballers and people who may never have been interested before.”
U.S. women’s national team captain Becky Sauerbrunn praised New Zealand for its commitment to gender equality in an open letter published by New Zealand news website Stuff.
“I know I speak for my teammates when I say we are thrilled to be playing our group stage matches in New Zealand,” she wrote.
At Auckland’s main stadium Eden Park, organizers launched a fan chant called the ‘Unity Beat’ intended to celebrate “greatness” through the tournament.
Developed for months by a creative agency, the chant’s lack of words drew a cold reception online and many of the 100-odd people bussed in to perform it at the stadium struggled with its changing rhythm.
Another stunt in Dunedin also fell flat as 32 soccer balls representing the playing nations were pushed down the southern New Zealand city’s steepest street.
They slowed to a crawl and bumped along barriers well before reaching a goal at the bottom of the hill where the tournament’s mascot ‘Tazuni’ and a young girl minding the net endured an agonizing wait.
According to a FIFA report, some 1.12 billion viewers tuned into the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France where the U.S. won their fourth title and their second in succession.
Organizers hope 2 billion will tune into this year’s tournament.
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