2023 FIFA Women's World Cup




  • Governance Reform

  • Indigenous Reconciliation and the Uluru Statement from the Heart

  • Climate advocacy, the UN Sport & Climate Action Framework and the 'Green World Cup'

  • Multiculturalism

  • Human Rights, Social Justice and Athlete Advocacy

  • Gender Equality



Craig Foster

Former Australian International

Australian Multicultural Council, Australian Government

Adjunct Professor, Sport & Social Responsibility, Torrens University

Human Rights Ambassador, Amnesty

Australia Committee, Human Rights Watch

Advisory Board, Australian Human Rights Institute, UNSW


Masters, International Sport Management


Letter to Football Federation Australia

5 July 2020


Chris Nikou


Football Federation Australia


cc James Johnson

Football Federation Australia


By email:





2023 - ‘For the Game: For the World’ – Sport And Social Responsibility


A New Social Dividend


Dear Chris,


Congratulations to all involved in the successful bid to jointly host the 203 FIFA World Cup along with our Trans'Tasman friends, New Zealand. The widely shared scenes of jubilation that greeted the announcement highlighted what a significant moment it was in Australia's long and illustrious sporting history.


Anticipation of the event will only heighten in coming years and I have no doubt that Australia, and New Zealand will host a brilliant tournament. The positive effect on women's football along with the broader game will be immense and the Matildas are perfectly placed to perform spectacularly for the nation. Well done to all involved in bringing the players through in recent decades to the point where they are now signing for the world's top clubs. Every success in sport has many contributors. That is the innate beauty of football.

To this point, acknowledgement should also go to former FFA Chairman, Stephen Lowy for instituting the Bid in 2017. Likewise, then Prime Minister of Australia, Malcollm Turnbull and FFA CEO, David Gallop and his management team involved in the Whole of Football Plan, 2015 which first articulated the vision to host the FIFA Women's World Cup within 10 years. The support of Prime Ministers of Australia and New Zealand, Scott Morrison and Jacinda Ardern is also meritorious.

The current FFA Board made the important decision to partner with New Zealand and it was pleasing to see James Johnson and the Bid Team build on lessons of 2010 to develop a proposition that was far more representative of Australia’s football story.


2023 is an event for all of Australia, because the game represents all Australians, young and old, all colours and religions, all ethnicities and persuasions, irrespective of where they’re born or the visa they hold. But consistent with the new spirit of interconnectedness among all people and acknowledgement of the need for international and intergovernmental cooperation and mutuality in the post-COVID-19 world, as well as Australia’s position as a positive contributor to global issues, it can be so much more.

2023 could create a new paradigm in global sport following the social awakening of Covid-19, a more meaningful role for sport in society by following the lead of their athletes and making a public, advocatory contribution to important issues.

As former United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon said in 2016 on the value of mega sporting events as an economic, social and environmental sustainability tool:

"Sport has a tremendous—and in many ways unique—power to unite. So-called ‘mega sports events’, such as the World Cup and the Olympic and Paralympic Games, can spread that spirit of unity in mega-ways... Their influence can also extend far beyond the world of sports. With planning and vision, mega sport events can advance social development, economic growth, educational opportunity and environmental protection... This will not happen on its own. Ample experience has shown that the benefits of mega sport events have not always been long-lasting, sustainable or widely shared. It is therefore crucially important that we learn the lessons of this history."

One of these lessons is that when it comes to issues facing humanity, and the planet, we are all equally affected, and all equally obliged.

After decades of sport’s refusal to engage in social reform, many are asking, if existential, planetary and human rights issues need to be addressed to the benefit of all, can the world do so without one of its most powerful, influential social institutions and, in any event, why should it?

Sport's reckoning is to acknowledge that it does not exist independent of the society that sustains it and can no longer claim to be exceptional, neutral, apolitical because silence is a political choice when rights are being breached, or people are losing homes.

In this context, we can ask, what should be the social dividend of 2023, beyond the economics, the uplift in players, new infrastructure for the sport? How does a World Cup actually help the world?


Governance Reform and Unitary Model


But the announcement is also serendipitous for a game facing undoubtedly the most difficult challenge of all, wrangling itself.


With the economic fallout of COVID-19, a sport weighed down by Federalism can ill afford the duplication of not only resources, but politics and multiple governance structures, and reform to a national system that delivers one voice, one strategy and one outcome is again on the agenda. As it has been periodically for more than 100 years.


2023 is so exhilarating because it’s so close and the fact that preparation must start now, today, will unite the game like few events possibly could. Let alone the country. It offers an opportunity for transformative change, to position the sport for faster, efficient growth and ‘fulfilment of its potential,’ a term the game has used too regularly since ten thousand fans watched women’s football in Brisbane way back in 1921.


With taxpayer money (rightly) flowing into an event that has immense social value, we should expect nothing less than value for dollar in the way the sport manages the task. And that's determined by how it manages itself.


Streamlining national football governance, and economy, doesn’t just help football maximise 2023 dividends, it allows all Australians to capitalise on the global connectivity that the World Cup will deliver. We all, therefore, now have a stake in football’s governance.


A unitary governance model will unlock new horizons for Australian football, if the game has the strength to make the long overdue change and the 2023 World Cup is something around which every stakeholder must unite, an intergenerational opportunity for more than cosmetic change.


Not only ‘one management,’ or the National behaviour model, but one structure which was countenanced in the ‘Whole of Football’ Plan five years ago.


Finally, the opportunity to articulate the game’s national and international proposition is welcome, but most attractive is the chance to leverage football’s social power and to properly demonstrate the values of football off, not only on, the field. A sport at peace with its own indigenous, multicultural nature and commitment to shared humanity and willing to fight for the values it espouses too lightly.


Football is the one of the world’s greatest connecting forces, and it’s duty is to make the world a better place. Not just by bringing people together to play, but by upholding their rights, protecting them, standing with them, advocating for their wellbeing and the planet on which we live.


The most precious legacy from 2023, therefore, is not only greater investment in football facilities for women, a new generation inspired or the spirits of the country renewed, but a new model of sport itself.


Much will be made of the economic and intra-sport dividend of 2023, but following from COVID-19 where the world has sought to rebalance an obsession with growth at the expense of people and the planet with renewed consideration of human impacts, the social dividend can be so much greater, if sport has the courage to live its values.


To truly stage the event for the world, and it’s people, through:


  • Indigenous Australian cultural recognition and reconciliation;

  • Climate change education and commitment to action;

  • Implementation of, and focus on, Human Rights; and

  • Gender equality in sport, and without.


Indigenous Australian Cultural Recognition and Reconciliation


Australia’s indigenous culture is referenced in the Bid document under human rights and stakeholder engagement. But this is an opportunity not to be missed on behalf of the country to genuinely partner with indigenous Australia to ensure that Australia’s public face of 2023 represents our true history.


FIFA have also made a very strong and welcome commitment to all internationally-recognised human rights through their Human Rights Policy of 2017. This leadership, while not without significant concerns in application and commitment at the highest levels of the institution, is an important element of bringing the game’s slogans to life. Not only in protecting the human rights of all those involved in, or attached to the game or its showcase events like 2023, but by recognising that the values of sport are exactly aligned with human rights of equality, opportunity, fairness and the pursuit of harmony between all people.


This commitment obligates all Member Federations to promote and protect ‘all internationally-recognised human rights.’ One of these is the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) (2007) which includes the right to self-determination, to participate in decisions which affect their rights, and to ‘determine and develop strategies and priorities for exercising their right to development’. Reference is made in the Bid proposal to these issues regarding the Maori people of co-hosts New Zealand. No mention is made of indigenous Australia.


In this context, FFA would require a Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) as the first step to alter the history of the game which has not been a proud one. I encourage you to collaborate with our indigenous nations’ leaders from the Uluru Statement Expert Panel on what a modern, Australian (and NZ) World Cup should look like, culturally, and to make a public commitment to the Uluru Statement from the Heart.


It would be sad to see the immense pride with which our co-hosts demonstrate love for their Maori history, for example, without having provided indigenous Australia with the opportunity to have their stories, dances, culture, history and music expressed in the unique cultural festival that is the FIFA World Cup. Because their culture, is ours.


Our own indigenous stars like Kyah Simon and Lydia Williams, along with past legends like Jade North, Harry Williams and John Moriarty might be consulted on what the team looks like as it takes the field.


Are we really just the ‘green and gold,’ or should we recognise our ancient past when we take the field through language, music, anthem and uniform on, and off the field? Other National Teams have been far more progressive, and sensitive in this regard. It would be terribly sad if football did not right this wrong in 2023.




The Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison made specific reference in the final bid statement to ‘being home to over 200 cultures’ which would allow all 32 teams to play ‘in front of a home crowd’. This is a wonderful sentiment.


It is marvellous to see the multicultural nature of the nation acknowledged as a strength so precious that it can be sold to the world as part of our national social fabric, and certainly provided an important aspect to the Bid which resonates positively within the global game.


Football is the game of inclusion and diversity, perfectly reflective of the social and demographic composition of Australia. It would be a significant breakthrough if this World Cup provided a window to the real Australia, not just on the field where football lives this every day, but in every aspect within FFA’s control.


In addition, we have seen growing racism within Australia and globally during COVID-19 including attempts to shift blame to minority communities and divide Australians as well as attack the very foundations of inclusion, the social cohesion that is an ongoing challenge and the multiculturalism that we hold so dear, and which were a central part of the Bid. 2023 is a moment to celebrate our diversity and show a clear vision of contemporary Australia.


All minority communities should be able to participate meaningfully in bringing the event to life, because it is their country as well. Football understands this, 2023 is a unique opportunity to demonstrate it. The Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia (FECCA) can assist by exploring how this principle of multiculturalism should manifest.


Climate change education and commitment to action – the ‘Green World Cup’


It is very pleasing to see that FIFA is a signatory to the UN Sport and Climate Action Framework. The second objective of the Framework is:


Using sports as a unifying tool to drive climate awareness and action among global citizens.


In addition, the 3rd principle of the Framework is to ‘educate for climate action’ and the 5th and final principle is ‘advocating for climate action through communication.’


To ‘educate’ and ‘advocate for climate action’, this FIFA World Cup should go further than simply offsetting emissions and auditing the sustainability of the event in the Bid proposal, to actively promote the urgent risks facing the world and embed climate action awareness into the legacy of the event.


2023 should be the ‘Green World Cup’.


Like the reference to proposed event conferences on gender equality and women’s rights, so too might the World Cup be characterised as an opportunity to further the climate change agenda in sport globally, and make a major contribution to the world.


The 2023 FIFA World Cup in Australia (and New Zealand) should use every opportunity to amplify the urgency of the global challenge, particularly after the summer that Australia just endured with the destruction of tens of millions hectares of precious biodiversity, not to mention human life.


Further, not only is Australia at the frontline of environmental consequences and our indigenous peoples disproportionately affected, but our Pacific neighbours and members of the Oceania Football Confederation, which is co-hosting the event, are facing a devastating future ravaged by changing weather systems.


The majority of Australians wish to see action and a green World Cup would have ramifications for all commercial partnerships for the event, not only the energy sector category, an approach which might positively affect not just competing players, who may become champions of the human condition, but the national, and global audience forecast to be in the billions.


FIFA’s commitment to the UN Framework provides the institutional support to create a new connection between sport and society.


For institutional sport to finally join the global cause.


Implementation of, and focus on, Human Rights


FFA has undertaken in the Bid document to both provide a detailed audit of human rights risks and a plan to mitigate them. I am sure the human rights community looks forward to participating in this important work. Additionally, it is pleasing to see a commitment to education and collaboration through one or more conferences on human rights during the event.


If the sport is now obligated, however, the understanding within football governance, administrative or participation of the rights people possess and the access to remedy they may attain, remains limited. A sport and Human Rights conference and education in human rights for youth players and schools across Australia as well as promotion of human rights throughout the event would be a very worthwhile legacy for the world, something that we have not seen before and which FIFA would surely give their imprimatur.


This would be a powerful step following FIFA’s commitment of 2017 to go further and utilise the world’s most popular sporting event to improve knowledge of, and adherence to human rights around the world.


It would honor the brave activism of Australians like Olympian Peter Norman and Cathy Freeman as well as the Matildas and world champions, USA, empower the next generation of young players, especially girls, to both understand and stand up for their rights and would be an extraordinary, social legacy that would last a lifetime and contribute to society in a multitude of ways.


A new generation of socially aware, courageous and knowledgeable leaders for a better Australia, and world.


Our Matildas, whether past or present generations, are not only champions on the field, but ‘champions of life’ and advocate for a range of social causes to lift the human condition.


Rather than just inspiring girls to play, therefore, which is of course a beautiful gift, 2023 can inspire every girl in Australia to be a champion human being. To help others, speak out against injustice, and become advocates for progress. We have seen this powerful trend through student strikes and articulate, young activists around the world.


Can 2023 inspire Australia’s new generation of girls by focusing on their agency as social advocates, not only as players?


Gender equality in sport, and without


It is pleasing to see that players were largely the focus of the bid, both former and current, and to see generations of players across the Australian and international media since. I trust that former, female players will form the majority of the promotional and engagement team, if not operational, since their work over many decades led to the position the game is in today.


The professional development of former players who built the game through their own personal, family and economic sacrifices would be a legacy of 2023 that the players thoroughly deserve. Current and former players will shine during the event, which is wonderful, but the real question is, what happens afterwards?


2023 can drive the development of a new generation of female football leaders for governance, administration, media or public life in line with the FFA Gender Equality Action Plan 2019. Were their training to begin now, there is no doubt that former Matildas would be extraordinary team, delegation and Governmental liasons, creating competencies and strong international bonds of friendship which will serve the domestic game well in future. They deserve nothing less.


Let us thank the players, who played a far bigger role in this historic achievement to host 2023 than just their performances and extraordinary popularity.


In 2016, Professional Footballers Australia (PFA) were one of the first football organisations in the country to implement a gender balance quota at governance level, realising it would never happen otherwise, as well as at least one indigenous member on the Board of the players’ union.


The impact was immediate, in the same way that today’s imperative through #BLM for cultural and racial balance to embed lived experience in organisational governance leads to different perspectives and strategic aims. The PFA’s was equality, in all its forms.


Thanks to the players’ leadership and the work of PFA Chair Brendan Schwab, former CEO John Didulica and deputy-CEO and former AFC player of the Year, Kathryn Gill, and empowered by their strike for better conditions against FFA in 2015, the PFA led with a detailed commercial plan for women’s football. Later, the Matildas achieved gender equity in remuneration and high performance conditions by agreement with FFA, with the Socceroos in vociferous support.


This achievement became a key component of the Bid of both nations, rightly trumpeted by both the Governments of Australia and New Zealand, as well as Football Federations and allows FIFA to use the Matildas, and 2023, as an example to the world. The next three years are immensely exciting because they will be largely about this theme and, fittingly, it started with the players.


Like the rising voices of activism in social campaigns around the world, whether climate action, racial equality or human rights, athletes are not only speaking out but forcing sport, and society, to adapt.


The Matildas went further, though, to launch a global campaign for equity in World Cup prizemoney which was $575 million for the 2018 male version, and a derisory $75 million last year for the women. This pressure from the Australian women’s team, as well as the US Women taking their own Federation to court, are critical parts of a broader agenda for equality that has led to the welcome announcement by FIFA last week of a US$1 Billion investment in women’s football over the next 4 years.


Many of the Matildas are at the world’s finest clubs and approaching their peak and the team is capable of winning Australia’s first FIFA World Cup at home, as the great Johnny Warren ‘told us so’. They’ve championed their own cause and thereby made a significant strike for not just women’s sport, but with 2023 looming as an opportunity to make major gains, for all women, everywhere.


The Matildas are among the most popular sporting brands in the nation, and will unite it in three years’ time. Why can we not become the first country to reimagine professional sport and commit to gender equality across all forms of the game?


The broadcast rights agreement provides both the necessity, and enforced flexibility to imagine a new paradigm. If the Matildas can realistically dream of lifting the holy grail of sport, can the game bring dreams of substantive equality to reality? Are there commercial partners prepared to take this brave leap post-2023 to equalise our male and female professional competitions into the future? At the very least, a roadmap to equality should be accelerated.


And there could be few better opportunities for FIFA to live their statutes on non-discrimination and gender equity, by partnering with Australia as the international model of sporting equality through the new US$1 Billion fund.


For every fan who believes in the power of football to change the world and for the hundreds of millions of people that play and love it, the opportunity is profound. Create a legacy for women of the world, our indigenous peoples, a more humane world, a brighter Australian future as a country reconciled with its past and a cleaner, sustainable planet.


It’s a bold, brave agenda but nowhere near as brave as the part the Matildas and player activism played in bringing 2023 about. They took on the game, and the world for their rights, now is time or Australian football to follow their lead and demonstrate a new conscience and social commitment in sport.


My hope is that you are able to bring the sport together, once and for all, not just for your own benefit, but that of the country and not only in the next three years, but with necessary reform to position football for future prosperity. And further, that the game finally accepts its social responsibility, as the game for all, and lives it in 2023.


FIFA’s slogan is ‘For the Game: For the World’. The first part is easy. The World Cup will do that by itself. Being ‘for the world,’ now that is the exciting part and I’d like to believe that football, as Australia’s most numerous and multicultural game possesses the moral courage on behalf of the nation.


Because sport transformed, is a transformed humanity. And a World Cup should be truly ‘for the world’.


That’s the real power of 2023.


Kind Regards,


Craig Foster

Former Australian National Team Player

Member, Australian Multicultural Council, Australian Government

Adjunct Professor, Sport and Social Responsibility, Torrens University

Human Rights Ambassador, Amnesty

Member, Australia Committee, Human Rights Watch

Advisory Board, Australian Human Rights Institute, University of NSW

“Secretary-General’s remarks on value of Hosting Mega Sport Events as a Social, Economic and Environmental Sustainable Development Tool,” February 16, 2016, available at http://www.un.org/sg/statements/index.asp?nid=9468 as cited in Ruggie, John G. 2016. “FOR THE GAME. FOR THE WORLD.”FIFA and Human Rights.Corporate Responsibility Initiative Report No. 68. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Kennedy School


https://www.ffa.com.au/sites/ffa/files/2019-05/Whole_of_Football_Plan.pdf, p65; https://www.sportaus.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0006/686211/PSS_33968_Governance_Reform_Discussion_Paper_WEB_FA.pdf, p9

https://resources.fifa.com/image/upload/bid-book-australia-and-new-zealand.pdf?cloudid=fwtyuwa9pb3encyeqlwc, p183



Ibid, Article 3.

Ibid, Article 18.

Ibid, Article 23.

See above n3, p185.






https://resources.fifa.com/image/upload/bid-book-australia-and-new-zealand.pdf?cloudid=fwtyuwa9pb3encyeqlwc, p183






https://resources.fifa.com/image/upload/bid-book-australia-and-new-zealand.pdf?cloudid=fwtyuwa9pb3encyeqlwc, p184

https://resources.fifa.com/image/upload/bid-book-australia-and-new-zealand.pdf?cloudid=fwtyuwa9pb3encyeqlwc, p182





As discussed in ‘Gender Equality Action Plan 2019’, Football Federation Australia: https://www.ffa.com.au/sites/ffa/files/2019-04/FFA%20Gender%20Equality%20Action%20Plan%202019.pdf, p17


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