November 16 – There has been plenty of comment around the short timelines given by FIFA to participate in the bidding for 2034 World Cup hosting and the process that led to them. But those who might have had an interest in getting involved appear to have quickly moved on.
Front and centre of that group is Football Australia who provided the hosting backbone for what was a ground-breaking Women’s World Cup in 2023, co-hosted with New Zealand.
James Johnson, CEO of Football Australia, said “We were taken a little by surprise over the decision over the 2034 World Cup bidding process. We looked at it, how quickly we needed to move and at the investment versus the opportunity cost. There were a lot of questions over time and resource.
Qatar 2022 was very good but very expensive. 2034 is interesting and with Saudi Arabia very much a disruptor it becomes interesting again. Saudi have the full support of Asia and we are very happy there will be another World Cup in our region.”
Johnson has rapidly readjusted and reset explaining that they “see a runway of opportunity over a decade. Hosting the 2023 World Cup was really the start of that.”
“In terms of 2034 there is no bitter taste. We never entered the process, we chose not to enter. We did explore the opportunity but we have been looking at hosting a range of international competitions as part of a broader initiative.”
With hosting the 2034 World Cup now off the table the targets of winning the hosting of the Women’s Asian Cup in 2026 and the 32-team Club World Cup in 2027 are very much front and centre of this hosting ambition and the 2023 Women’s World Cup has given Australia the undeniable credentials in that regard.
“The Women’s World Cup this summer has formed a strong backbone of what we wanted, globally and locally,” Johnson told Insideworldfootball on the sidelines of the Soccerex Convention in Miami.
“We smashed attendance records for example. Moving stadia from the Sydney Football Stadium to Stadium Australia took us from 40,000 to 80,000 which is a big deal.
“We had full stadia after the first round of matches and interest in the competition scaled up. We wanted to send a message to world football that Australia is here.”
The target now is winning the hosting rights to the Women’s Asian Cup in 2026 where they will be up against Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan.
“We know we can take the competition to another level for the AFC,” said Johnson.
“Following the World Cup we have seen a significant increase in participation, particularly in the numbers of young girls playing at grassroots levels. We are very bullish and expect to see a 20% increase in the year from the hosting of the 2023 World Cup.
“Our vision for 2026 is full stadia and helping to build the whole commercial proposition for Asia.”
The Club World Cup is unique and has always been seen as a big competition in Asia. The emphasis is on larger stadia and Johnson believes they could sell them out. “Getting people into stadia is something we can do well,” he commented.
The wait currently is for clarity from FIFA on bidding criteria and then the business case will be built. As yet there is no FIFA timeline for when the hosting decision will be taken, but the Aussies are unlikely to be left at the starting gates this time.
And in terms of big stadia Australia already has them. The MCG in Melbourne, the Adelaide Oval and Stadium Australia in Sydney are all 60-80,000 capacity stadia, and Europe’s big clubs have already proved that Aussies will fill them for football matches.
A hallmark of Johnson’s leadership of Football Australia has been a willingness to innovate across the business. Football Australia has bought the domestic AFC rights for the 2025-28 cycle which the federation will sell on in partnership with IMG. “We see a big opportunity (in Australia) in media and broadcast.” It is all about seizing opportunities.
Johnson and Football Australia knocked the 2023 World Cup out the park by whatever metrics you look at. Johnson wants to do it again, and again.
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