Euro 2022 is yet to reach the semifinal stage, but even before the tournament reaches the last four next week, it can already be considered an unqualified success. An 85,000 sellout crowd at Wembley for the final on July 31 will only underscore how women's football has now become a major player in world sport.
Almost 70,000 watched England's opening game against Austria at Old Trafford earlier this month, an audience of 7.6 million watched the live television broadcast of their quarterfinal win against Spain, while 16,025 turned out at Brentford on Thursday to see Germany join the hosts in the semis with a 2-0 victory against Austria.
Everyone involved with this competition so far has been a winner -- the host nation, the players, UEFA and the supporters who have broken attendance records throughout to raise the bar to a whole new level.
But there is another big winner from Euro 2022, and it has no involvement other than being an interested observer. With a World Cup in 2027 still to allocate, FIFA has seen its premier women's competition become so much more appealing and valuable to potential hosts and sponsors alike thanks to the success of Euro 2022.
The bidding process for the 2027 World Cup is due to start this month, and so far there has been just one confirmed bid -- a tri-nation proposal involving Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. Yet FIFA can expect the battle to host the 2027 event to become much more competitive with the growth of the women's game in recent years borne out by England's hosting of Euro 2022.
Big nations and sponsors looking to give their brand the best possible exposure always want to be involved in major sporting tournaments, and while the men's World Cup will always be the jewel in FIFA's crown, the women's competition has now earned its place as a competition and platform that attract serious interest. By waiting until after Euro 2022 to launch the 2027 bidding process, FIFA can now expect a number of high-profile bidders.
The United States Soccer Federation is considering a bid, with USSF president Cindy Parlow Cone telling Frontrowsoccer.com last month that the reigning world champions are definitely planning a bid to host in 2027 or 2031.
For a country that is already co-hosting the men's World Cup in 2026 and then preparing to stage the Olympics in Los Angeles in 2028, the ambition to also bid for the women's World Cup in 2027 highlights the appeal of the tournament.
England, having abandoned a bid to host the men's World Cup in 2030, could yet make a move to host in 2027, but sources have told ESPN that, with Germany, Belgium and Netherlands already gaining favour as UEFA's bid, a campaign to host in 2031 may be the most suitable option. However, the interest is certainly there to host the World Cup in England.
Senior football officials in Chile, Mexico and Italy have expressed an interest in joining the race for 2027, with South Africa also considering a bid that would use the stadiums built for the 2010 men's World Cup as the bedrock of their campaign.
Whoever is involved in the race, FIFA now has the opportunity to build on Euro 2022 and take the women's game to another level in the coming years.
The most recent World Cup, France 2019, was a clear success, with an average attendance of 21,756 during the tournament. A crowd of 57,000 turned out to watch the U.S. beat Netherlands in the final in Lyon to claim a fourth, and second successive, world title.
Official figures show that a combined global audience of 1.1 billion tuned in for the tournament, though the women's game had already enjoyed a surge in profile and prestige even before 2019, so the numbers will only grow.
With next year's World Cup co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand, the women's game faces a challenge to sustain its global momentum due to time zone issues in the U.S. and Europe, but also because the tournament runs from July 20 to Aug. 20 and will therefore clash with the start of the major men's leagues in Europe, denying the competition the space to dominate the sporting landscape.
But Euro 2022 has consolidated the existing fan base and attracted a new one, so the appetite for the games will be there next year, regardless of whether they are played in the middle of the night for a European television audience.
FIFA has already expanded the next World Cup to a 32-team tournament for 2023, to reflect the growth of the women's game, but the appetite to host in 2027 will be another indicator of the sport establishing itself as one that is increasing its audience at an exhilarating pace.