Women’s World Cup failing to make a dent in the TV screens of sports-mad Australians

Brisbane letter: Fifa’s decision to keep matches behind a paywall means locals are missing out as rugby, AFL and cricket dominate

The revolution is not being televised.

“Italia 90? I missed it,” wrote Con Houlihan famously. “I was in Italy at the time.” Aussie 2023, everyone missed it. We were in Australia at the time.

The barista in Lonelys cafe on Brisbane’s west end has clocked my daily ritual. Plug in laptop, order coffee, devour breakfast, more coffee, toastie, file and away we go.

“You a sportswriter?”


“Yeh, here for the footie.”


“Sorry, soccer.”

Mr Espresso used to play. When he sat down last weekend to let the World Cup wash over him, only the big boys of NRL and AFL could be found. No England versus Haiti. No Wendie Renard tangling with Bunny Shaw. Not a single terrestrial TV match on Sunday, Monday or Tuesday.

Fifa pulled the same stunt in Qatar, we explained. Fifa constantly “bang on” – to use the term employed by the 2022 World Cup chief executive Nasser al-Khater when complaining about media coverage of the treatment of migrant workers – about “growing the game” in untapped markets. We asked their media office how the Optus paywall, which costs $39.99 (€24.35) for an international visitor to stream this tournament in Australia, will turn slogan into reality.

Australia is drowning in a cost-of-living crisis. Inflation has been hammering everyone. Bottled water just got a 50-cent bump. Blink and you’ve spent 40 bucks. Pints are €8 a pop.

This really is a rugby country. The Ashes got full coverage even when it rained. Aussie Rules all right?

Channel 7 bought the rights for 15 of a total 64 games, including all the hosts’ The Matildas matches, both semi-finals and the final on August 20th. They produce a highlights show but in comparison with the League and AFL panels, which are littered with peak-Dunphy/Brolly-type characters, it’s not a distant relative of entertainment.

Take Monday’s all-Optus schedule: Italy and Argentina from Eden Park at 3pm – watched Judge Judy instead. Germany and Morocco at 6pm, let’s check in on Summer Bay. Closer each day. Okay, prime time, let’s fill our boots with Marta’s Brazilian swansong. Sorry, reruns of Skippy the bush kangaroo.

The women’s World Cup has failed to land a glove on the actual footie visible all across this sprawling hinterland. Fifa made that call. Not you, not me, them.

Until now the women’s broadcast rights used to be bundled with the men’s tournament. In May 2023, Gianni Infantino threatened a media blackout for Europe’s “big five” broadcasters – the UK, France, Germany, Italy and Spain – if they did not make improved offers for this World Cup. Reportedly, the Italians offered €300,000 despite paying €160 million to see Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappé.

Infantino deemed this “a slap in the face” to players and “all women worldwide”.

The threat to blackout the big five TV countries rumbled into June, severely damaging the promotional run-in for the first World Cup to be co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand. But the European broadcasters, like Ireland, adhere to democratic norms. The women’s World Cup is a listed event, deemed to be of a particular national interest, so the Irish Government decrees that it must be free-to-air. RTÉ are streaming every game.

“If a tree falls in the woods, does it make a sound?” asked Suzanne Wrack in the Guardian. “If a World Cup kicks off on the other side of the world but no one can watch it, does it really happen?”

Trees are being felled every day Down Under but the sports-obsessed, roaming Australian punter will never hear a sound. What a waste.