Soccer's world governing body FIFA has approved the expansion of the Women's World Cup from the existing 24 teams to 32 for the 2023 edition and reopened the bidding process for potential hosts.
The tournament has steadily increased the number of participating teams from 12 in the first edition in 1991 to 24 teams in the last two editions.
"The FIFA Council has unanimously agreed to a proposal to expand the number of teams taking part in the women's World Cup from 24 to 32, with effect as of the next edition of the tournament in 2023," it said in a statement.
The expansion will mean it will now be on par with the men's tournament which has had 32 teams since 1998.
Nine countries have so far submitted bids including Argentina, Australia, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Japan, New Zealand, South Africa and South Korea.
The deadline for submitting bid documents to host the next World Cup was in April, with a host due to be appointed in March 2020 by the FIFA council, but the timeline has now been updated after the expansion.
"Having been presented with a background document on the expansion, FIFA's decision-making body voted in favor of adopting the 32-team format and, as a consequence, updating the hosting requirements and the timeline of the bidding process for 2023," it added.
FIFA will send a circular next month to the nine member associations that submitted bids as well as any other eligible member association that is interested in hosting the tournament.
The new deadline for bid submissions is Dec. 2019 with the hosts expected to be appointed in May next year.
FIFA president Gianni Infantino said the success of the 2019 edition in France, where the United States were crowned world champions for a fourth time, and the incentive for more countries to qualify were key factors in the decision to expand the tournament to 32 teams.
"The astounding success of this year's women's World Cup in France made it very clear that this is the time to keep the momentum going and take concrete steps to foster the growth of women's football," Infantino said.
"The expansion reaches far beyond the eight additional participating teams. It means that... dozens more member associations will organize their women's football program knowing they have a realistic chance of qualifying."
(Reporting by Rohith Nair in Bengaluru; Editing by Ken Ferris and Pritha Sarkar)
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