WWC will supersede Sydney Olympics – FA boss

Football Australia chief executive James Johnson says “all eyes will be on football” during the 2023 Women’s World Cup, and he believes the tournament will change the direction of the sport in Australia.

New Zealand host Norway in the opening game of the tournament at Eden Park in Auckland on Thursday, before the Matildas play Republic of Ireland at a sold-out Stadium Australia in Sydney. Australia and New Zealand then stage two weeks of group play followed by 15 knockout games — 11 in Australia. The tournament culminates in Brisbane and Sydney, with the third-placed playoff at Lang Park on Aug. 19 and the final at Stadium Australia on Aug. 20.

“It’s gonna be the biggest sporting event since the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games,” Johnson told ESPN. “The teams are here, they’re in New Zealand, they’re training, and the branding is up. The feel, the cultural feel of a World Cup, is in full swing.

“In Australia, we’ve got content in five cities across the country. And if we go back to when we were designing the competition with FIFA, that was important to us. We didn’t just want to have a small group of cities on the East Coast.

“We’re in major cities across Australia, five of them, they’re all pumping. And for those that missed out… we’re working with FIFA to try to find places that the community can go and have a special experience and watch these matches.

“We will see the whole of Australia come to life through this tournament, and all eyes will be on football during this time. We’ll look back at this moment with obviously fond memories, but we’ll look back at it and it’ll be a time that changed the direction of the sport.”

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The A-League Men and A-League Women competitions are staged in the Australian summer so they haven’t had to be put on hold for July and August, but the winter-based Australia Cup, semi-professional National Premier League competitions, and community competitions will continue during the WWC. However, they have been accounted for as part of Football Australia’s mission to dominate the calendar.

As part of this effort to keep football front and centre, the federation scheduled the Round of 32 of the Australia Cup — the stage at which the men’s club knockout competition becomes national in scope — when the WWC observes rest days during its knockout stages. Four games will take place on Aug. 4 and 9, with three on Aug. 10, two on Aug. 13 and three on Aug. 14.

“It’s an opportunity to showcase great local football to the rest of the world,” Johnson said. “Because there will be a lot of people here in Australia during that period… and they’re here to watch football, right?”

NPL and local competition scheduling falls under the purview of state-based member federations, but Johnson said work had also been done on that front.

“It’s been a very collaborative process and there is coordination, without going into too much of the specifics, particularly around when the Matildas are playing,” Johnson told ESPN.

Football Australia, meanwhile, has released an updated Legacy ’23 report, touting a “150% increase in sponsorship from 2020-2023” and the construction of three new state homes of football in South Australia, West Australia, and Victoria.

Johnson also told ESPN that work on the men’s national second-tier competition was continuing.

“We’re into the [request for proposal] phase, which is the third stage of this process,” he said. “It goes underground, if you like, during the Women’s World Cup, but that doesn’t mean that work is slowing down. It’s actually speeding up.

“But that was a strategic move. And, you know, we’ll come out at the end and hopefully, we have a second tier that we can kick off in 2024.”

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