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The legacy plan of the 2023 Women’s World Cup, to be held in Australia and New Zealand, will serve as a blueprint for the Queensland government as it gears up to host the 2032 Summer Olympics in Brisbane.
This is the view of Sarah Walsh, head of women’s football and Women’s World Cup legacy and inclusion at Football Australia (FA).
A former Matildas striker, Walsh also stressed that liaising with Cricket Australia (CA) had helped FA learn from its cricket counterparts’ “mistakes” as hosts of the 2020 Women’s Twenty20 World Cup.
“We actually are having these conversations with the government now,” Walsh said during a virtual workshop organised by Women in News and Sport, a program run by ABC International Development and funded by Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
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“We’re definitely positioning this event as one of the biggest events to happen since Sydney 2000, so there are a lot of learnings particularly for the Queensland government … around how we start to put foundations in place for 2032.
“In fact, there’s a lot of learnings particularly from previous World Cups. Cricket just had a World Cup here in Australia [in Feb-March 2020]. I work quite closely with Cricket Australia to make sure that we don’t make the same mistakes they made. Firstly, one of the important things that we’ve discussed is that legacy should stick with the body that actually governs football in the country.
“More often than not legacy actually sat with the Local Organising Committee [LOC]. That was the case with the Cricket World Cup, so as soon as the World Cup winds down so does the LOC. For us legacy is our strategy. And that’s why a lot of our targets that we put in place actually extend well beyond the 2023 World Cup itself.”
Spearheaded by Walsh, a veteran of three AFC Asian Cups, a FIFA World Cup and the 2004 Athens Olympics, FA’s Legacy ’23 plan addresses five key pillars the 2023 World Cup aims to activate: Greater female participation; increasing female representation in leadership and development roles; improved grassroots infrastructure to ensure equitable female facilities; boosting tourism, trade and international relations; and formulating a high-performance strategy for the Matildas.
With the expansion of the tournament into a 32-team competition, up from 24 in the most recent edition held in France in 2019, billed to make the 2023 event the biggest, most-matched women’s football World Cup ever, Walsh underlined FA’s commitment to delivering enduring benefits for Australia’s largest community sport beyond 2023.
“As we have our participation targets, we are actually stretched out for six years up to 2027. So, for us, it’s about treating it like a marathon, not a sprint but also being well aware that these first two years prior to the World Cup are key to capitalise,” Walsh said. “So, these are the discussions we have with the government, including the Queensland government. We want to make sure given football is an Olympic sport, they should be thinking very differently about how they invest in infrastructure.
“I think a lot of sports will actually benefit from having the Olympics particularly in Queensland. Football is an Olympic sport and we’re going to need more rectangular stadiums in really fast-growing participant areas in Queensland. So, I think we’re just trying to use the Olympics to reshape the thinking of the Queensland government.”
Brisbane 2032 could also see cricket appear on an Olympics sports program for the first time since 1900, should the International Cricket Committee’s stop-start push for the sport’s inclusion at Los Angeles 2028 not come to fruition. Against the backdrop of cricket potentially regaining the Olympic cachet and Australia hosting the rescheduled men’s Twenty20 World Cup later this year, Walsh believes CA’s review of its allocation of funding for the 10-team 2020 Women’s T20 World Cup, and constructive discussions between FA and CA that followed, stand to benefit both organisations in the lead-up to the Brisbane Olympics.
“When we actually did sit down with members of Cricket Australia, there was one key learning I actually think about a lot: Doing a smaller number of things really well rather than trying to be everything to everyone,” Walsh said. “And some of our strengths are our biggest challenges, and we are the biggest participation sport. We have the highest number of community clubs: 2500-plus.
“We can’t simply, really make sure that each and every one of these clubs capitalise at an equal percentage. For us, it’s about mobilising them and giving them the tools to be able to join the journey, but also being really strategic about where our areas of focus are and particularly with government funding that we do receive.
“Cricket Australia received a fair amount of funding, facilities fund. But what they actually did was spread it quite thin, so it was a lot harder to measure impact. I think that they’d think differently if they had their time again. For us, in the back of our mind, we have the five key pillars [of the legacy plan], and for us it’s about really focusing in on those, securing the investment required to be able to deliver on those deliverables, and really doing it well. So, I guess that’s something we learned from Cricket Australia.”
The 2020 women’s T20 World Cup final, fueled by CA’s #FillTheMCG campaign to beat the 90,815 world-record crowd for a women’s sporting event, held by California’s Rose Bowl Stadium for the 1999 women’s football World Cup final, was a star-studded affair that culminated in the home team lifting the trophy. Though the final attendance on the night stood at 86,174, a record for a women’s sports event in Australia nonetheless, Walsh said it had helped to calibrate FA’s ambitions around footfall for the 2023 football World Cup.
“I went to that match; it was really fantastic,” Walsh said. “And there’s no doubt that creative thinking around bringing Katy Perry boosted ticket sales. They had terrible weather prior to that. But I have to say the atmosphere was unbelievable. It was very much like a Matildas match. Our challenge and opportunity is we want every single match to look like that; not just the last one. And I have no doubt that each and every single match will sell out.”

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