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Will South Africa host the next FIFA Women’s World Cup?

The FIFA Women’s World Cup concluded on Sunday, after a highly successful tournament in Australia and New Zealand that broke attendance records and generated unprecedented television audiences globally. 

Eyes are now turning to the race to host the next edition of the event in 2027 – and South Africa is one of four bids in the running – the others being Brazil, a joint bid from the USA & Mexico, and a joint bid from Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands.

The winning bid will be announced at the FIFA Congress in Bangkok next May.

The popularity of women’s football is on the rise throughout Africa, which has never previously hosted the flagship women’s event. The Confederation of African Football said in April that there are more than 150,000 registered female players on the continent. 

Driving interest in the sport

Bringing the FIFA Women’s World Cup to Africa for the first time would help drive interest in the sport and create a “lasting social impact on society”, Tumi Dlamini, chair of South Africa’s bid committee, said earlier this month. 

“There can be no better place than in Africa for FIFA to demonstrate its commitment to women empowerment and transformation of the life of a girl child.”

Danny Jordaan, president of the South African Football Federation, told the media in July that a successful bid would help to bridge the economic gap between European and African football.

“Of the global revenue for football, 80% goes to Europe. So Africa is on the margins. Now, if we sit back and do nothing, the same pattern will emerge in women’s football and we will struggle to close the gap… we have a strong bid to hopefully secure the Women’s World Cup because that will inspire or invigorate and strengthen football for women on the continent and close that gap rather than allow the pattern to repeat itself.”

Jordaan unveiled plans to establish a women’s professional football league within South Africa, and said that hosting would support the project.

The World Cup could also provide a welcome boost for South Africa’s struggling economy, says Jee-A van der Linde, senior economist at Oxford Economics Africa. “The tourism industry stands to benefit greatly from such an event, and the World Cup could jolt the economy back to life and unlock much-needed employment opportunities.”

While the economic benefits of hosting major sports tournaments are a considerable source of debate given the costs borne by host nations, Football Australia estimated benefits of over $400m from this year’s tournament, and Tourism Australia estimated that an additional 694,000 bed nights were booked around the country by travelling supporters.

Infrastructure conundrum

An obvious strong point of South Africa’s bid – and one that makes it cost-effective for the would-be hosts – is that the country still has substantial footballing infrastructure in place from when it hosted the men’s version of the World Cup in 2010. 

The bid plans to use eight of the 10 stadiums that held matches in 2010, meaning no likely repeat of the debate around “white elephant” stadiums that frequently follow international sporting events, such as last year’s men’s World Cup in Qatar.

More problematic are the serious questions South Africa faces over whether its electricity and water supply are sufficiently reliable to welcome an influx of hundreds of thousands of fans from overseas.

Cape Town was able to make sure that blackouts did not affect the Netball World Cup, which was held in the city in July and August. 

However, players from England’s women’s cricket team tweeted about their experience of a mid-air power cut on the Table Mountain cable car during the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup in February. 

With such intense competition for the tournament, South Africa must convince FIFA that load-shedding and other infrastructure problems will not cause problems for players, fans, and organisers. 

“High levels of crime, erratic power outages, and frequent water supply disruptions in major metropolitan areas are some of the key factors that could undermine South Africa’s bid,” says van der Linde. “Unfortunately, there are no short-term easy fixes for these issues.”

Potential boost for African women’s football

But a successful bid could bring unprecedented attention to women’s football on the continent. Australia has been gripped by the success of its Matildas team, whose semi-final defeat to England became the most watched television show in Australia on record. On the pitch, African teams performed strongly in Australia and New Zealand. Three of the four African sides – Morocco, Nigeria and South Africa – reached the knock-out stages. Nigeria’s Super Falcons were unfortunate to be eliminated on penalties by eventual finalists England in the second round. 

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