Imagine hosting an event with a viewing audience of 764 million people, having 1.3 million fans walk through the gates of your country's stadiums and 20 million unique visitors to the official website of a tournament your nation is hosting. Imagine if I told you that was for a women's sporting event.
Those numbers for FIFA Women's World Cup Canada 2015 are mind-boggling, and the opportunities they present for Australia are endless.
When Australia indicated its intention to bid for hosting rights for the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup, the news was met with the enthusiasm and support such a venture deserves. There were also the expected derisory articles published -- mainly from those for whom the memory of the failed 2022 Men's World Cup bid is perhaps still too fresh -- or who maybe feel the rise of soccer in any form is unwarranted given its place in the national sporting pecking order. Surely, though, Australia as a nation can rise above the inter-sport rivalry and the personal vendettas and nit-picking to appreciate the nationwide boon that such an event would provide.
Women's sport in Australia is riding the crest of an unprecedented wave of popularity and acceptance, and the next logical step is to bring the biggest women's sporting event in the world to our shores. As for the code wars: Competition is a good thing!
Show me one women's sporting body that didn't sit up and take notice of their own house when the AFLW burst onto the scene. The athletes were all supportive of one another, and praised and supported their peers, but I guarantee you there wasn't a women's sport administrator in the country who didn't question what they could do better -- and that promotes a healthy rivalry where sportswomen will be the beneficiaries.
In addition, the improvements in infrastructure necessary to host a World Cup will be there for all to enjoy -- not just women and not only football.
There is no argument that Australia could host the tournament successfully. Australia is a safe pair of hands -- the 2000 Olympic Games proved that -- though more prescient observers will point to the success of the 2015 AFC Asian Cup. A tournament for a single confederation, in a country where football is not the primary code of choice, blew the KPIs out of the park.
Michael Brown, head of the local Asian Cup organising committee, had a huge task ahead of him before the regional showcase came down under: A survey conducted prior to kick-off reportedly showed that fewer than six percent of Australians were aware of the tournament, they had a AU$1m budget and hoped to get 300,000 through the gates.
More than double that number of fans showed up, television viewership was measured in hundreds of millions worldwide, and the tournament turned a profit of some AU$26m. Most importantly, communities were engaged and a multicultural society came together to celebrate.
For football, the knock-on effect was instant.
Registrations went up by 13 percent around the country on the back of the tournament and AU$8m in profit was redistributed on a pro rata basis to the state governments, after the broadcasters and Federal Government were reimbursed, with New South Wales and Victoria setting up Asian Cup legacy funds that funneled those profits back into community football.
The concern over the bidding process with FIFA has abated somewhat with the organisation's reforms and new governance after the scandals surrounding the awards of the 2018 and 2022 tournaments to Russia and Qatar. There is a sentiment that transparency is the way forward. For those in Australia who might still be concerned about the process, the awarding of the Women's World Cup hosting rights has traditionally been based on merit without the political and financial palm greasing that has accompanied the men's version. Having said that, the fact the U.S. is considering a joint bid with Mexico and Canada for the men's 2026 tournament perhaps indicates a fresh appetite for dealing once more with the much maligned governing body.
Come what may, Australia's bid is only in the embryonic stages. Government support was the first box to be ticked; now the FFA has a chance to get its ducks in a row ahead of the release of formal bid documentation.
The initial investment is circumspect: AU$1m is a far cry from the AU$45m required to tilt at the men's World Cup, and a pittance in comparison with some of the government funding other codes already receive.
Hopefully the lessons learned at the Asian Cup will be heeded: Australia and the United Arab Emirates playing a semifinal in Newcastle was not a mistake; the tender was open to all, and Newcastle bid for it while others didn't, which, with all due respect to Novocastrians, robbed thousands of fans of the chance to attend and left some local government personnel red-faced at the opportunity missed.
Take two, and state governments once more need to come on board to agree to invest in stadiums, infrastructure and event hosting; data will be crunched (or perhaps just refreshed) and a team will be assembled to complete the official bid.
The final bid is crucial. Forget the cartoon kangaroos and Elle Macpherson -- beautiful though she is. Here is a real chance to unite the generations. Australia has dozens of players, officials and fans who have been to a World Cup, and who can tell you what this tournament would mean; these are our greatest assets and sales people.
Add to that the possibility that the successful bidder will earn the right to host the FIFA Women's Under-20 World Cup in 2022, which opens a whole new avenue of support. Football has the highest participation rate of any club sport in Australia -- how many 13-year-old girls out there are dreaming of playing at a World Cup? They might not be old enough for the senior side come 2023, but how much would they relish the chance to do it at junior level on home soil?
This is an opportunity to put an Australian footprint on the world game, and the nation must do it right.
As for the naysayers? Ahead of the AFC Asian Cup, Collingwood and media heavyweight Eddie McGuire suggested the tournament could turn out to be a lemon; he conceded afterwards that it had made lemonade.
So, if there are still sour grapes over this bid, bring on the champagne.