One of the world’s top ten liveable cities, my home city of Sydney has a reputation for successfully hosting mega-sporting events, the Summer Olympics in 2000 and a few key matches from the Asian Cup Men’s Football in 2015, including the final, are the two that always stand out in my mind, though not to be ignored are many cricket, rugby, badminton, and tennis tournaments that immersed Sydneysiders in a kind of sporting madness. That extraordinary wave of sporting obsession engulfed the harbourfront city once again while staging eleven matches from the recently concluded FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023, the world’s largest women’s sporting event, hosted jointly by Australia and its neighbour New Zealand.
The Sydney schedule included important matches such as the tournament opener on Australian soil played between Australia and Ireland, the last 16 match between Australia and France, one quarterfinal, the semi-final between Australia and England, and the grand finale between Spain and England, won by Spain to lift the Cup for the first time. All these key matches were played at the prestigious Stadium Australia, which earlier in 2000 was the main arena for the Olympics.
In general, Australians are strong on gender equality, and this became evident when noting the level of excitement, which to me was comparable to what I sensed during the men’s version held last year in Qatar. According to some sporting gurus, there had never been more interest in the women’s game like this event, attended by some of the world’s biggest stars in women’s football from 32 nations on six continents.
For the last few months, football enthusiasts in Sydney have been constantly talking about this tournament and debating who will be the winner this time. The discussions became stimulating as some of the tournament favourites like the USA, Germany, and Brazil exited early, with host Australia reaching the semis.
As a fun-loving city, Sydney loves throwing big outdoor parties on any pretext, and in this case, Tumbalong Park at the doorstep of Darling Harbour, one of Sydney’s most popular tourist destinations, became a lovely venue featuring great food and beverages, all-ages entertainment options, and a live screening of all the action from the competition. Named the FIFA Fan Festival, the arena also became the home for the largest Flagship FIFA Store in the nation and a special exhibition,
“Calling the Shots: Faces of Women’s Football,” for fans to learn more about the stories of the resilient and passionate individuals and teams that illustrate women’s passion and love for the game, bringing all of that alive through unique, historic objects and multimedia elements. Not to be missed was celebrity chef Josh Niland’s Sydney Tuna Cheeseburger, which he created specifically for the FIFA Fan Festival.
Noting the huge interest in the tournament, local councils in some other parts of the city set up big screens for the local community to watch the matches live and cheer their favourite teams with family and friends in a festive way. For the fans keen on enjoying the game live on screen over a few drinks and good food, they gathered at the local pubs and bars, which were packed to capacity on match days, with one joint I heard serving free Margaritas to all guests every time the Matildas (nickname of Australia’s women’s national football team) scored.
As a football aficionado, I was lucky enough to have a seat inside Stadium Australia to watch two Matilda games—the tournament opener and the semi-final which unfortunately the home team lost to England. As expected, the atmosphere inside the stadium was electrifying, with tens of thousands of Aussie fans, many dressed in green and gold attire and carrying national flags, bursting into thunderous roars every time the ball rolled into the opponent’s half. The loud jubilation of the supporters reminded me of the joyous moments that I had experienced earlier in this stadium when Australian star athlete Cathy Freeman won the gold in the Sydney Olympics in 2000 and when James Troisi scored the winning goal against South Korea to win the Asian Cup in 2015.
I also visited some of the live outdoor venues, including the FIFA Fan Festival at Darling Harbour, to watch matches not involving Australia. The large crowd at the venues included diehard lovers of the game, joined by local community members from the respective playing nations cheering for their country of origin. I never knew so many Colombians lived in Sydney until I was in the crowd to watch Colombia play against Jamaica. The vibrant atmosphere displayed a high sense of community and cultural diversity. Supporters of both countries, some wrapped with their national flags, were loud and jubilant and broke into roars the moment one team advanced in the attacking mode. However, there was no sign of unfriendliness at any time, even when Columbia scored the solitary goal to win the match. High sporting spirit and love for the game removed all racial barriers, demonstrating the high value of Australia’s multiculturalism, which creates a comfort zone for all migrants to call it home and for visitors to enjoy their stay.
During the match, I met Ramesh and Seema from Ahmedabad, India, who have come to Sydney to visit their daughter, who has lived in Sydney for the last five years as a software engineer. Ramesh, like many other Indians, loves sports, mainly cricket and football. He planned the visit to coincide with the tournament timing, so that in between sightseeing, he could also experience the lively sporting atmosphere on a match day.
“I never knew Australians loved football to this extent”, he told me.
While talking about what to see in Sydney beyond the Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge, I advocated for him to check Sydney.com for ideas. He mentioned his liking for dance and music, and in that context, I suggested watching Wicked, the sensational musical from Broadway hitting the Sydney cultural scene at the end of August.