On August 20th, in Sydney, England and Spain initiated the final match of the Women’s World Cup. This marked the culmination of a tournament that shattered previous attendance and television viewership records, igniting hopes for a substantial surge in interest and support for women’s soccer.
This ninth edition of the global showcase event was co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand, making it the first to take place in the southern hemisphere. It had already set new records for attendance. Although local enthusiasm waned after Australia’s exit in the semi-finals, over two million fans were expected to have flocked to the stadiums in the nine host cities by the end of Sunday’s final, which commenced at 8 p.m. (1000 GMT).
Hours before the kick-off on Sunday, Stadium Australia in Sydney was bustling with thousands of fans. The atmosphere was nothing short of festive, with groups of drummers and stilt walkers adding to the excitement.
Remarkably, both England and Spain were making their debut appearances in a Women’s World Cup final, with England’s men’s team having last claimed victory in a major tournament back in 1966. “I feel happy, excited, but very nervous, because we’ve had a lot of letdowns in the last 50 years,” shared Michael Khoodriuth, an England fan.
The semi-final clash between Australia and England, which took place the preceding Wednesday, drew an average viewership of 7.13 million on the Seven Network, a local broadcaster. This figure marked the highest viewership ever recorded by the research firm OzTAM, which was established in 2001. The Matildas’ matches had sold out months in advance, and organizers anticipated that the average attendance would exceed 30,000 once all 64 matches had concluded.
Comparatively, the last Women’s World Cup in France, held four years ago, attracted over 1.1 million fans to 52 matches, with an average crowd size of 21,756. Demand was weaker in New Zealand, where the national team was eliminated in the group stages. FIFA distributed thousands of tickets, and some matches saw as few as 7,000 fans in attendance, although White Ferns matches set new records for soccer crowds in the country.
Australia’s players, who were defeated 2-0 in a third-place playoff match against Sweden on Saturday, are due to receive $165,000 each in prize money for their performance in this tournament. This amount exceeds 300 times the A$750 ($480) they earned for reaching the quarter-finals back in 2015.
However, the call for increased support in the sport resonates at the grassroots level. Following their loss to England on Wednesday, Matildas striker Sam Kerr emphasized the urgent need for more resources. She stated, “We require funding for our development, we require funding for our grassroots. Essentially, we need financial support across the board.”
The impressive World Cup campaign by the Matildas has sparked a wave of voices advocating for greater investment in women’s soccer in Australia, where it still lags behind more popular football codes such as rugby league and Australian rules.
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese responded to these calls by promising A$200 million for women’s sports in the aftermath of the Matildas’ journey to the semi-finals. Albanese announced that this funding would primarily be directed towards improving sports facilities for women and girls, with soccer anticipated to receive a substantial allocation.
Furthermore, the government aims to ensure that women’s sporting events are accessible through free-to-air television, addressing concerns that many World Cup matches not involving Australia were exclusively available behind a paywall.
Women’s soccer has encountered its own set of challenges, with England and Spain both competing for their first world title in Sydney on Sunday. Historically, women were prohibited from using official facilities in England until 1970, despite it being the sport’s place of origin. Interest and funding for women’s soccer have often lagged behind the men’s team, although this began to change after the Lionesses clinched the European championship last year.
Meanwhile, the Spanish team has faced internal issues, including a locker room dispute with coach Jorge Vilda and the Spanish football federation. This discord has resulted in the absence of some of their top players from the tournament.
(Note: The conversion rate for currency is provided at the end of the content: $1 = 1.5618 Australian dollars.)