The Impact of the 2023 World Cup
It's been a month since the final game of the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup and its' effects are still being felt across the globe. Australia and New Zealand were the first ever co-hosts in what became the most-attended tournament in the event's history. Spain defeated England 1-0 in the Championship game to earn their first World Cup star, but their toughest battle has been off the field. On the biggest and most-watched stage of their sport, the players of this World Cup set records and stood for change. Here is why this World Cup was the best and most competitive one yet, and how it will pave the path for a better future for women's soccer globally.
The 2023 edition of the FIFA Women's World Cup was the most viewed and attended tournament ever. This year marked the first time that the Women's World Cup was marketed as a standalone product for broadcasting rights, instead of as a bonus package to the Men's World Cup.
With just under 2 million spectators- an average of about 30,000 per game- the tournament reached a new high attendance record, smashing the previous record of 1.35 million spectators of the 2015 World Cup. The attendance record for any soccer game in New Zealand (women or men) was broken multiple times throughout the tournament, with a new record of 43,217.
In host nation Australia, the country truly rallied around the Matildas. Even with lots of Australians going to games and attending watch parties, TV viewership for the event set records as well.
Australia's loss to England in the semi-finals peaked at 11.15 million viewers in the host country alone. This sets the record for most-watched television program; not just sports, but any program, in the country since 2001, when viewership was first recorded. Jerseys for the Australian women's team outsold jerseys for the men's team nearly two to one. Australia made it to the quarter finals and eventually came home with fourth place with the full support of their nation behind them.
For the hosts, viewership and support were not the only benefits of having the tournament on their turf. FIFA Preisdent Gianni Infantino stated that $589 million in revenue was generated as a result of the World Cup. The Matildas are now Australia's most valuable sports team, with their value increasing five-fold, according to global consulting firm Brand Finance. The Australian government has pledged a $200 million investment in women's soccer across the country.
In New Zealand, cities like Wellington and Auckland made public transportation free for anyone with a ticket on game days. New Zealand expected between 20,000-25,000 international visitors during the month long tournament. Coming during their winter time and low tourist season, this boost was great for the economy as the country opens its borders post COVID-19 pandemic.
On the Pitch
The level of competition in this year's World Cup was arguably the highest it's ever been, with resources and opportunities being spread more evenly to teams around the world. There were major upsets, high-performing underdogs, and teams with promising futures all setting records and marking their names in the history books.
In the first year with an expanded field of 32 teams, competition was tight. The average number of goals per match fell from 2.81 in 2019 to 2.56, which is the lowest it has ever been in the history of the competition. In the eight groups, only three teams won all three group stage games; 2019 saw five out of six groups won by a team who did not lose. Notably, Germany, who had been ranked second in the world, did not make it out of the group stages. Canada, Brazil, and Italy also failed to make it out of their groups and into the knockout round.
Colombia, predicted by many to not make it out of the group stage, ended up on top of Group H. They were lead by strong play from standout star Linda Caicedo, who scored the game-winning goal against Germany. Jamaica also performed well in the group stages to move out of their group above a heavily favored Brazil side.
The Philippines, Zambia, the Republic of Ireland, Haiti, Portugal, and Morocco, in their World Cup debuts, were very competitive and all came home with points. Morocco also made it to the round of 16 in their first World Cup appearance. New Zealand secured its first World Cup victory, having to play 15 World Cup games to do so, which was also a record. Casey Phair went down in the books as the youngest player to make an appearance at 16 years and 26 days old.
In the knockout stages, the United States fell to Sweden in penalty kicks. This marks the worst performance by a defending champion ever. Jamaica gave England a run for their money, and France and Spain moved on easily. The quarterfinals round saw Japan exit after a hot start to the tournament, as well as Australia squeaking past France in penalty kicks.
Spain beat Sweden and England moved past Australia to set up the championship and third places matches. Ultimately, Spain won its first World Cup title in a 1-0 victory over England. In the third place match, Sweden beat host Australia 2-0. Any of the four teams in the semifinals would have been a new victor, which set the tone for an exciting and new era of women's soccer. Spain's Aitana Bonmatí took home the Golden Ball award for best player in the tournament. Salma Paralluelo, also of Spain, got awarded the Young Player Award. English keeper Mary Earps won the Golden Glove and Japan's Hinata Miyazawa scored 5 goals to take home the Golden Boot.
Fight for the Future
It's no secret that the Spanish Women's National Team has been embattled with their federation since before the World Cup. Their victory has given them the long-awaited bargaining power to demand change from the federation. Other teams faced similar battles: Zambia, Canada, South Africa, and Jamaica all publicly spoke against their countries' federations. Players protested a controversial FIFA sponsor, showed their pride, and came together to demand better and more equal treatment across the globe.
Over a year after 15 Spanish National players protested treatment by head coach Jorge Vilda, he was finally ousted, but only after Spain's first World Cup win. In the celebration of Spain's victory, Spanish Federation president Luis Rubiales sexually assaulted midfielder Jenni Hermoso by kissing her without consent. This sparked a series of events where action was demanded not just by Spanish players, but from prominent soccer players and teams around the world. While both Rubiales and Vilda have been removed, this small victory for the Spanish team comes far too late and only touches the tip of the iceberg of the issue.
Zambia's coach is under investigation by FIFA after allegedly sexually assaulting a player during the World Cup. Canada protested after their Federation did not compensate them correctly. South Africa refused to play in a send-off match over compensation issues. Jamaica used the crowd funding site GoFundMe after their Federation failed to provide adequate resources for them to travel to and compete in the World Cup. The New Zealand team got caught in a hotel fire. All around, these players contested not just on the field but off the field in order to be treated fairly. It's unfortunate that the best women's soccer players in the world had to focus on things beyond their own performance during their most crucial moments.
Additionally, players showed their pride during the World Cup. Canadian midfielder Quinn made history as the first nonbinary athlete to compete in World Cup history. South African player Thembi Kgatlana sported a rainbow undercut. On the world's biggest stage, players showed up enthusiastically as themselves.
While the success of this World Cup shows that the women's game is finally achieving the hype it deserves, there is still so much room for growth. With this year's competition the tightest it has ever been, it is clear that when resources and opportunities are finally equitably allocated, there is no ceiling to the success of women's soccer.