SYDNEY, Aug 20 (Reuters) – The Women’s World Cup reaches its pinnacle as England and Spain prepare to clash in the highly anticipated final, marking the culmination of an extraordinary tournament that has rewritten the records for attendance and television viewership. The event’s co-hosts, Australia and New Zealand, have ushered in a new era for the competition by bringing it to the southern hemisphere, resulting in unprecedented achievements.
Despite the local fervor waning following Australia’s exit in the semi-finals, the tournament has managed to draw an astonishing 2 million spectators across nine host cities. The climactic final is set to kick off at Sydney’s Stadium Australia at 8 p.m. (1000 GMT) on Sunday, solidifying its place as a historic moment in women’s sports.
Wednesday’s semi-final between Australia and England garnered an impressive average viewership of 7.13 million on Seven Network, the highest ever recorded by research firm OzTAM since its inception in 2001. This striking figure underscores the growing popularity and influence of women’s soccer on the global stage.
Anticipation for the Women’s World Cup has been palpable, with tickets for Matildas matches selling out months in advance. Organizers are optimistic that the average attendance will surpass 30,000 once all 64 matches have concluded, marking a significant leap forward from the previous edition in France four years ago.
While New Zealand experienced a softer demand due to their team’s early exit in the group stages, FIFA’s efforts to promote the sport saw records being broken for soccer crowds in the country during the White Ferns’ matches.
Beyond the spotlight of the games, challenges persist. Australia’s players, who fought valiantly but ultimately claimed third place after a 2-0 loss to Sweden, will earn $165,000 each in prize money for their exceptional performance. This stark contrast from the meager A$750 ($480) they received for a quarter-final appearance in 2015 exemplifies the gender disparity in sports.
Amid this success, Matildas striker Sam Kerr highlighted the pressing need for greater investment in the development and grassroots of the sport. Kerr’s call resonates with the broader sentiment of advancing women’s soccer in Australia, especially against the backdrop of more popular sporting codes like rugby league and Australian rules football.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese announced a promising commitment of A$200 million to bolster women’s sports, propelled by the Matildas’ remarkable run to the semi-finals. The funds will be allocated to enhance sports facilities for women and girls, with a significant focus on bolstering resources for soccer.
The initiative also aims to address the accessibility of women’s sporting events on free-to-air television, addressing concerns that several World Cup games not involving Australia were only available through paywall subscriptions.
The England-Spain final encapsulates the profound transformations that women’s soccer has undergone. England’s history, marred by gender barriers and disparities, has evolved since the days when women were banned from official facilities until 1970. Recent successes, including the Lionesses’ triumph in the European championship, herald a brighter future.
Meanwhile, the Spanish team has faced internal challenges, including a locker room dispute with coach Jorge Vilda and the Spanish football federation, resulting in the absence of key players from the tournament. Nevertheless, both teams are set to chase their inaugural world title in the grand stage of Sydney, symbolizing the enduring spirit and determination of women’s soccer.
($1 = 1.5618 Australian dollars)