In the photo taken from inside Football Federation Australia headquarters seconds after FIFA president Gianni Infantino announced that Australia and New Zealand had won the rights to host the 2023 Women’s World Cup, there’s one figure who can be seen leaping highest above the rest.
In the centre of the room, dressed in an unassuming black and white outfit, is Jane Fernandez: the woman in charge of spearheading the “As One” campaign from the very beginning.
“It actually started in 2015, during the Asian Cup,” Fernandez said. “We spoke about whether we should bid for 2019. 2017 came around and we put a proposal to the federal government to bid to host the [tournament] and with their support, we were able to go forward and achieve that.
“The timing could not have been better. The support for women’s football and for women’s sport was absolutely at a high [and] governments were all onside. Now was the absolute best time to bid to host the Women’s World Cup.
“Just before COVID, actually, I went and saw the women’s cricket final at the MCG – probably the last major sporting event before COVID took over – and seeing women’s sport on centre-stage where it should be was such a highlight. It really reinvigorated our passion.”
Fernandez’s experience organising the Asian Cup tournament in 2015 alongside current FFA COO Mark Falvo meant the team that was built already had a solid foundation on hosting major football competitions on home soil.
“It’s a very rare opportunity to actually be able to build a team from scratch,” Fernandez said. “I had the fortune of working with some amazing people from the Asian Cup and a number of those people really wanted to be part of the bid.
We created an awesome team […] and together, we set forward in developing our vision, our strategy, our legacy plan, and why we wanted to host it. Again, with the support of all governments, we were able to see that vision come to life.”
But a number of spanners were thrown into FFA’s plans from the initial feasibility study in 2017 to the submission of the bid book in 2020. The biggest one was FIFA announcing that the 2023 Women’s World Cup would be expanded to include more teams.
“For a long time, we were bidding solo,” Fernandez recalled. “Fast-forward to 2019, the Women’s World Cup held in France is an extraordinary event. After the success of that, the president of FIFA announced that the competition was going to be expanded to 32 teams."
"So whilst we had all the nuts and bolts in place for a bid for an Australia-only competition, we then strengthened our bid by joining hosts with New Zealand.
“At that point in time, we sort of had to start again. All of the groundwork was done, though, [which] put us in a really strong position. We knew which stadiums we were going to put in the bid. We knew the training sites. And it was just a process of coming together ‘as one’ to put together an extremely compelling bid proposal; a bid that was not just for Australia and not just for New Zealand, but for the whole of Asia Pacific.”
While both Australia and New Zealand offered compelling bids on their own, combining the two is now seen in hindsight as the best move either bid could have made in the eyes of FIFA and the rest of the world.
“New Zealand represented Oceania and their knowledge in the Pacific was absolutely critical to our story around developing and delivering a tournament of firsts,” Fernandez said.
The first Women’s World Cup in the Asia-Pacific, the first in the Southern Hemisphere, the first joint-Women’s World Cup; together we formed a really strong partnership, and that’s what led us to winning the bid.”
“There’s such a huge amount of untapped football talent across the Asia-Pacific, and we really do think we can shine a spotlight on that. We want to grow female leadership across the region.
"One of the commitments we made in our bid book was to host a 2023 Female Leadership Development Program where we’ll identify key female leaders in our game across the region and bring them in for a leadership program, but also then to have them work in meaningful roles in the actual tournament. This is all about capacity-building; about providing more leadership opportunities for women in our game.”
But it wasn’t just the team behind the scenes who were responsible for winning the 2023 bid – the wider football community also played a crucial role.
“Over 800,000 people signed up to support the bid through the #GetOnside campaign,” Fernandez said.
“It’s really important for FIFA to know that the host country – or countries, in our case – want to host a Women’s World Cup. They want to take the competition to countries that want to have it, with the public support behind it, where the football family is behind it and where they know they’re going to have full stadiums and full support. So it was absolutely critical to the success of the bid.
“We conducted an inspection program right around the country when we were selecting infrastructure to go into the bid proposal, and through that process I met lots of football managers, club managers, grassroots players and passionate people in our game."
"Just by witnessing their passion and love for the world game, it gave me even more passion to actually go forward with the bid, knowing that our communities were going to get right behind it.”
As for Fernandez herself, her personal highlight of the announcement on what has become an historic day for Australian football came several hours before the moment captured in that now-famous photograph.
“One of the most special moments for me was seeing the image of [first Matildas cap] Julie Dolan projected onto the Sydney Opera House and having her there and seeing her so overwhelmed and full of joy,” Fernandez said. “What a dream come true for her. I don’t think she thought she would ever see that happen in her lifetime. So to be able to bring that to life was so special.
“Then, fast-forward to 1:00am. The intensity in the room. So much had gone into the speech and there was so much riding on it. Then to hear president Infantino actually say, ‘Australia and New Zealand’… I didn’t even hear the words ‘New Zealand,’ we just heard ‘Aus—' and everyone was up.
“What a special moment and an absolute highlight and a great reward for so many people. You don’t do a bid by yourself. This was a huge team effort; so many people participated in achieving this outcome and it’s brought so much joy to so many people at a time when we really need it.”