By Joo Kyung-don
ULSAN, March 22 (Yonhap) -- Sarai Bareman, chief women's football officer for FIFA, said Friday that she welcomes the two Koreas' interest in co-hosting the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup and their decision to enter a "robust" bidding process.
A record nine expressions of interest for the women's football showpiece event were submitted to FIFA on Tuesday. Joining the Koreas in the ring are Argentina, Australia, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Japan, New Zealand and South Africa.
Bareman, who has been governing women's football since 2016, said it's "a good sign" that many countries, including the two Koreas, are interested in hosting the Women's World Cup.
Bareman was in Ulsan, some 400 kilometers south of Seoul, for the FIFA Women's World Cup Trophy Tour.
"What is really good for us, for women's football and for FIFA, is that this is the biggest expression of interest that we've had for any Women's World Cup in history," Sarai said. "With nine of our member associations expressing interest, I think that's really a good sign for raising popularity of the game. We'll have a very robust bidding process, and we'll see what happens."
There were media reports that FIFA actually encouraged South and North Korea to make a joint bid for the upcoming Women's World Cup. Bareman said that doesn't necessarily mean that FIFA prefers the two Koreas as potential hosts.
"We encourage all our member associations to host FIFA tournaments," she said. "It's something that is part of the new FIFA."
For the ongoing FIFA Women's World Cup Trophy Tour, Sarai said that it's a good opportunity to raise the profile of women's football. The trophy presentation was held ahead of the South Korean men's national football team's friendly match against Bolivia.
South Korea, led by head coach Yoon Duk-yeo, are in their third Women's World Cup. For the 2019 edition, the Taeguk Ladies are paired with hosts France, Nigeria and Norway in Group A.
Compared to men's football, women's football is still unpopular in South Korea, but Bareman said that the country is at the right moment to promote the sport.
"I think there's no better moment than now, the fact that the women's national team have qualified for the Women's World Cup this summer in France," she said. "I think it's nice that we're here on the backdrop of the men's national team having their friendly match against Bolivia because we have mainstream football fans here and they will start to have awareness now also about the women's team. We have to be creative. We have to keep pushing. But the moment is now."
Asked about South Korea's chance of reaching the knockout stage, Bareman, former CEO of the Samoan Football Association, said there's a good possibility, although facing hosts France will be challenging.
South Korea will meet France in the official opening match of the 2019 Women's World Cup before facing Nigeria and Norway.
"I think it's good that they (South Korea) have the hosts (France) in the opening match," Bareman said. "For the girls, this is going to be a big challenge, but it's also going to be an unforgettable moment. It will be a full stadium -- the game is already sold-out -- so it's going to be a historic moment."
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