On July 20, 32 of the best footballing nations across the world will take to the field in Australia and New Zealand as the two nations host the 2023 Fifa Women’s World Cup in all its glory. Significantly expanded since its first edition in 1991 which featured only 12 nations, defending champions United States of America and European champions England, both favourites to win this year, will be up against the likes of debutants Vietnam and Haiti, two teams among seven making their debut at the World Cup.

Over the past four years, since USA beat the Netherlands in a gripping final in France, women’s football has gained a lot more attention which has resulted in both good and bad for the sport.

Fifa, the sport’s governing body, tripled the prize money – the total amount of money for the tournament, also covering compensation for clubs to release their players, has increased from $50 million to $152 million for 2023.

This is a significant step in the right direction to achieve some form of pay parity between men’s and women’s football, but underscores several simultaneous ongoing fighting between some teams and their respective federations.

In 2022, USA settled on a lawsuit that accused their federation of discriminatory payment between the men’s and women’s teams. Canada, Jamaica, France and Spain are embroiled in ongoing lawsuits and disputes with their respective federations on issues like sexual harassment of players by staff, overdue payments and more.

One of the biggest stories of the ninth edition will be whether the USA can reach the pinnacle once more, the pressure increasing on the shoulders of outgoing Megan Rapinoe, the talismanic winger whose sprinting runs and cheeky crosses are just as well-known as her brightly-coloured hair and activism for equal rights. Rapinoe announced this will be her final season as a professional player days before flying out with her teammates to New Zealand, where they will take on debutants Vietnam in the opening game of their campaign on Saturday in Auckland.

Read: From Sam Kerr to Megan Rapinoe – A look at five players to watch out for

Broadcasting troubles

One would expect that the countries competing in the World Cup would have their home broadcasting situations sorted out well before the tournament began. But for Europe in particular, Fifa accused broadcasters of undervaluing women’s football.

Japan, the highest-ranked Asian team, were also embroiled in a broadcaster standoff that many saw as a reflection of the inability of the country’s federation to build on the momentum from the 2011 World Cup triumph that saw them beat USA in the final in Frankfurt, Germany.

Both these broadcasting fumbles may have been attributed to the decision by Fifa to ‘unbundle’ the broadcasting rights of the men’s and women’s World Cup in an effort to showcase ‘fairness’ to both tournaments. The result of this has been demands of ‘larger payouts’ from broadcasters. Fifa president Gianni Infantino said in February that the bids received by Fifa for the 2023 Women’s World Cup had been just one percent of what the organisation received for the men’s edition hosted just 10 months ago in Qatar.

In the end, Europe, a powerhouse of men’s and women’s football, reached an agreement with the European Broadcasting Union agreeing to extend their free-to-air coverage to over 30 territories.


Injuries galore

There have been a number of withdrawals due to injury, with several players being forced to pull out of the World Cup.

England captain Leah Williamson and star striker Beth Mead have been ruled out along with Fran Kirby, as have Dutch forward Vivianne Miedema, French forwards Delphine Cascarino and Marie-Antoinette Katoto, and American duo Catarina Macario and Mallory Swanson.

Spain’s Alexia Putellas, the reigning Ballon d’Or winner, will be there though, fit again after spending nine months out due to an anterior cruciate ligament injury. Rapinoe herself has had three ACL tears over the course of her career and many of her compatriots, like Andi Sullivan and Tierna Davidson have suffered from a torn ACL at least once in their career.

Putellas partnered with FIFPro, the international footballers’ union, to invest more research into this issue in women’s football specifically and work towards addressing contributing factors which could include workload, medical care, field conditions and even equity.

As reported by Reuters, studies suggest women are two to eight times more likely to suffer ACL injuries compared to men in the same sport and 25 percent less likely to return after recovery. Former Australia forward Sarah Walsh pointed out that with a lack of investment into women’s football, especially with regards to designing shoes and equipment that better suited the female body, these issues could cripple the progress in the sport.

The debutants descend

Seven teams will be making their debut – a result of the expansion of the World Cup from 24 teams in 2019 to 32 now.

Morocco will have another reason to celebrate after their men’s team finished fourth in an incredible World Cup outing for them, but will hope that their women survive the group stage that includes two-time champions Germany and a resurgent South Korea. Zambia is the other team from Africa that will make its debut.

The Philippines will be hoping to shine on the world’s biggest footballing stage, but in the eyes of their country, they have already created history by becoming the first-ever football team, men’s or women’s, to qualify for a World Cup across all age groups.

The other Asian side debuting are Vietnam who have been drawn in what can be described as the toughest group of the World Cup where the 34th-ranked side will have to face defending champions USA and 2019 finalists Netherlands along with fellow debutant from Europe, Portugal.

Ireland, Haiti and Panama are the other debutants.

Read more about the debutants here.

Groups for the 2023 Women's World Cup

Group A New Zealand Norway (1995) Philippines* Switzerland
Group B Australia Republic of Ireland* Nigeria Canada
Group C Spain Costa Rica Zambia* Japan (2011)
Group D England Haiti* Denmark China
Group E USA (1991, 1999, 2015, 2019) Vietnam* Netherlands Portugal*
Group F France Jamaica Brazil Panama*
Group G Sweden South Africa Italy Argentina
Group H Germany (2003, 2007) Morocco* Colombia South Korea
* Teams making their debut at the 2023 edition

The tournament kicks off in Auckland at Eden Park where co-hosts New Zealand meet Norway. Despite the rough build-up, the stage is set for the biggest ever Women’s World Cup.

Fans in India can watch the 2023 Fifa Women’s World Cup via live streaming on Fancode.