August 12, 2022

Demand, especially in Europe, has never been higher, which is why the stadiums selected to host the European Women’s Championship which is currently taking place in England have raised eyebrows.

Critics say the FA and UEFA, European football’s governing body, have failed to seize the moment.

Although the 10 host venues include behemoths such as Wembley Stadium and Old Trafford – which will host one match each – matches will also be played at the 8,000-seat Leigh Sports Village stadium and the 12,000-seat New York Stadium in Rotherham. .

The smallest host stadium is Manchester City Academy Stadium, part of the English Premier League club’s state-of-the-art training complex, which has a capacity of just 4,700. Like the Leigh Sports Village stadium, which is in Greater Manchester, capacity is limited due to regulations prohibiting standing areas.

“A little disappointed”

The first of three matches to be played at the Manchester City Academy Stadium, home of the Manchester City women’s team, is Belgium’s Group D game against Iceland on July 10.

In April, Juventus and Iceland midfielder Sara Björk Gunnarsdóttir told ‘Their Pitch’ podcast that she was “a bit disappointed” with the choice of stadium.

“It’s shocking. Playing in England, there are so many stadiums and we have a City training ground that takes what, 4,000 spectators?” said Gunnarsdottir.

“It’s embarrassing. It’s not the respect (that we deserve). Look at women’s football today, they fill the stadiums. You see Barcelona and Madrid, 95,000 watching the game (at the Camp Nou). They are not prepared for us to sell more tickets than 4,000.

“It’s disrespectful to women’s football because it’s so much bigger than people think. You think women’s football is two steps ahead but then something happens like that, it’s just A step back.”

Rachel O’Sullivan, women’s football expert and co-founder of media outlet Girlsontheball, said the choice of two stadiums with a capacity of less than 10,000 for a major tournament was “a bit unambitious”.

“There’s been a certain habit in women’s football of not expecting him to be that big and not expecting him to grow the way he is,” O’Sullivan said, who said she was “disappointed and surprised” when she saw the stadium choice, told CNN Sport.

“If you look at the evidence, it’s grown exponentially – and the 2019 World Cup really showed that to us. Many were surprised at how many people wanted to get into football and get involved in football. – and we shouldn’t be. We should expect that.

Manchester City Academy Stadium located next to Etihad Stadium, home of Manchester City men.

Growth

Since England bid to host Euro 2022 four years ago, the landscape of women’s football has changed dramatically.

There was a World Cup that broke attendance records and viewing figures – suggesting a new dawn for international women’s football was approaching – as well as considerable progress in club play, particularly in Europe .

The 2019 World Cup was watched by around 1.12 billion viewers across all platforms, a record audience for the competition. The final between the United States and the Netherlands was the most-watched Women’s World Cup match of all time, with an average live audience of 82.18 million, up 56% from the final hearing of 2015.

However, when the initial Euro 2022 stadium selection process took place in 2019, the FA struggled to find viable venues as clubs and councils were reluctant to come forward, as explained by the FA chief executive Mark Bullingham last month.

“The absolute truth is that we have gone through a bidding process in all major grounds and cities across the country and very few have come forward to want to host the Women’s Euro,” Bullingham said in a Zoom interview with people. journalists.

“We actually had to persuade a few clubs and cities to come forward, so we’re very happy with where we’ve come to.

“We think we have brilliant venues, but if you think people were knocking on our door to host matches, that wasn’t the case.”

Since 2019, women’s football has grown in revenue, fans and viewership, catapulting the sport into a different stratosphere.

Besides Wembley (89,000), Old Trafford (74,000), Leigh Sports Village and Manchester City Academy Stadium, other host venues include Sheffield United’s Bramall Lane (30,000), Southampton’s St Mary’s Stadium (32,000), Brighton and Amex of Hove Albion. Stadium (30,000), Milton Keynes Dons’ Stadium MK (30,000), Brentford’s Brentford Community Stadium (17,000) and Rotherham United’s New York Stadium.

Women’s football writer Richard Laverty said if the selection process were to take place now, perhaps for a future World Cup, it could be a completely different story.

“I think if they did now maybe they would choose differently. I think women’s football has become so big now, and I think they probably underestimated the demand, maybe some traveling supporters, neutral supporters, England supporters,” Laverty told CNN Sport.

Given the sport’s rapid growth, O’Sullivan suggested that being ambitious was the only way forward.

“We have to expect it to grow, rather than being surprised every time, because if you look at the stats and you look at the viewership figures over the years and from each tournament, it’s only bigger and better every time. And that’s what we should be aiming for.”

A general view of Wembley Stadium during the Euro 2020 semi-final between England and Denmark on July 7, 2021.

“A real shame”

The locations of the tournament stadiums have also been criticised.

Although there are a cluster of stadiums in the North West and South – including London – of England, there are none in the Midlands or the North East, traditional homes for the sport.

Although the reluctance of councils and clubs to come forward has limited the FA’s choices, O’Sullivan said it was “really a shame” none had come forward in those areas, particularly the North East , a region with such a rich footballing history.

But the host stadiums still include four Premier League grounds, the country’s flagship venue – Wembley – a top recent ground and two venues which host Women’s Super League matches, a criteria the FA wanted to include.

And the sold-out final at Wembley is set to become the biggest Euros final in history, men’s or women’s, surpassing the current record of 79,115 set at the European Men’s Championship in 1964.

Sue Campbell, the FA’s director of women’s football, told The Independent in June that the stadium selection process was balanced and that they hope to learn from it.

“So have we struck the right balance? We’ll re-examine it, but you’ve got a big stadium opening it up, you’ve got a big stadium closing it up, at Old Trafford and at Wembley,” Campbell said.

Old Trafford hosted the opening match of Euro 2022.

“We think we have about the right balance. We’ll take a look at it at the end and do a check and that’s where we are at the moment.”

Although there are two stadiums with less than 10,000 spectators at the tournament, UEFA told CNN they hope it will be “the biggest European women’s sporting event in history”.

According to a UEFA spokesperson, more than 700,000 tickets are available for 31 matches. A few days before the start of the tournament, more than 500,000 tickets had been sold, a record for the Women’s Euro.

Regarding the matches to be played at the Manchester City Academy, UEFA and the FA said the stadium would “generate a good atmosphere worthy of a Women’s Euro”.

“We are confident that many matches will be sold out and we look forward to more than doubling total attendance for UEFA Women’s Euro 2017 in the Netherlands and delivering the best UEFA Women’s Euro of all. time,” UEFA told CNN in an email.

At full capacity, the smaller venues provide at least a better TV show than the large, empty arenas.

Both O’Sullivan and Laverty referred to games played in Nice during the 2019 World Cup which were poorly watched.

Laverty thought there was “certainly some myopia” when it came to stadium selections, but said that with a good on-field product and capacity stadiums people would forget the arguments.

“I think once the football starts and the stadiums seem full people probably forget about it quickly because you focus on the product on the pitch, and I think it’s going to be the best Women’s Euro ever. time.”