Ten countries, the vast majority of them from Asia and South America, have expressed interest in hosting the 2023 Women’s World Cup, FIFA said Monday.
The surge of enthusiasm for serving as the stage for women’s soccer’s biggest championship — FIFA, world soccer’s governing body, labeled the field of potential hosts “unprecedented” — is the latest sign of growing global interest and potential investment in the women’s game. On Monday, Belgium joined a field that already included established women’s soccer powers like Brazil, Japan and Australia and newcomers like Colombia, Argentina and South Africa.
The broad interest was a surprise; the most recent edition of the World Cup, won by the United States in July, had only two confirmed bidders when FIFA chose France to host it in early 2015. But by the time this year’s tournament ended, FIFA’s president, Gianni Infantino, already was pushing to add more teams to the event.
“The astounding success of this year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup in France made it very clear that this is the time to keep the momentum going and take concrete steps to foster the growth of women’s football,” he said at the time as he pressed behind the scenes for an expanded field of 32 teams from the current 24.
Infantino said he expected a bigger tournament to drive investment in the game. “The expansion reaches far beyond the eight additional participating teams,” he 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.”
But FIFA’s decision last month to expand the field, and to reopen the bidding process, will present significant organizational hurdles for the winner. The most serious will be a compressed timeline: The final vote on the 2023 host is planned for May 2020, leaving the host nation just over three years to complete preparations, construction and planning for an event that drew more than 1.1 million fans to a 24-team event in France this summer.
Belgium is the latest member association — and the only European country — to express its interest in hosting, joining Australia, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand from Asia and Oceania; Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil and Colombia from South America; and South Africa. It is unlikely that all 10 countries will follow through with formal bids, but those that do will have to hurry.
The countries that have expressed interest have until Sept. 2 to confirm their intention to bid. Completed bid books must be submitted by Dec. 13, and FIFA has said it will conduct official inspections in January and February.
The United States, which won this year’s championship, has said it will not bid for the 2023 World Cup, and instead will focus on the 2027 event. U.S. Soccer’s president, Carlos Cordeiro, confirmed the American federation’s intentions in an open letter to members and fans in July.
Only six countries have hosted the Women’s World Cup, with China (1991 and 2007) and the United States (1999 and 2003) serving as the site of half of the previous tournaments. (Three countries — Sweden, Germany and France — have brought the event to Europe, and Canada played host in North America in 2015.) The women’s championship has never been held in South America or Africa, though Argentina, Brazil, South Africa and Japan/South Korea all have hosted the men’s version of the tournament.
FIFA’s rules for the bidding process seem to acknowledge the difficulty an expanded field and a condensed timeline might create. The rules expressly permit joint bids, and both Australia (with New Zealand) and South Korea (with North Korea) reportedly have explored such an arrangement, though for the moment each country is officially bidding alone.