he Prince of Wales and the Prime Minister are facing a continued backlash over their decision not to attend the Women’s World Cup final in Australia as the Culture Secretary stepped in to defend them.
William and the Princess of Wales, Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis are watching the game together at their Anmer Hall country home in Sandringham, Norfolk.
Lucy Frazer, who has travelled to Australia to watch the match with Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, said William is “disappointed” not to be in Sydney.
She insisted Rishi Sunak feels “very passionately about the women’s game”, while schools minister Nick Gibb told Times Radio that the PM will be “glued to the television” to follow the Lionesses.
Critics have suggested heir to the throne William, who is president of the FA, and Mr Sunak would have travelled to watch the clash against Spain had it been the men’s team playing.
But Culture Secretary Ms Frazer told the PA news agency: “I think the royal family do a tremendous amount for the country in so many spheres, including in sport.
“Prince William is, of course, the president of the FA and is a tremendous supporter of the sport.
“I know that he’s disappointed that he isn’t able to be here today but he has sent a message of good luck to the Lionesses.
“I’m sure that on their return, win or lose, he will be congratulating them on how they’ve done in this competition.”
She said of Mr Sunak: “I know that the Prime Minister feels very passionately about the women’s game.
“Only about a month or so ago he and I were at 10 Downing Street with the Lionesses, and I know he sent a message to the Lionesses wishing them congratulations and luck today.”
In his letter to the Lionesses, Mr Sunak said he will be “watching and cheering” them on.
He added: “For my daughters, and for every girl in this country, you have made football something for them; you have made them feel they belong on the pitch. So – in a way – you’ve already brought football home.”
But fans on Twitter appeared unimpressed, with one remarking “A letter? what a joke”, and another adding: “Big deal… he should be there.”
Former England goalkeeper Pauline Cope branded it a “shame” that William had not travelled to Australia, saying: “This should have been pencilled in his diary from day dot, after we won the Euros and qualified for the World Cup.”
She also expressed her disappointment that Mr Sunak and England men’s manager Gareth Southgate are not in Sydney for the Lionesses’ biggest challenge yet.
Cope, who has 60 England caps and played in the 1995 World Cup, told Times Radio: “Let’s be honest, if it was the men’s World Cup, they would all be here.”
It is understood Southgate is in a critical period for assessing his players in-person with a full weekend of fixtures, and is just 11 days away from his squad announcement for two key matches in September.
Southgate, who has been in regular contact with manager Sarina Wiegman throughout the tournament and issued a public message of support on Saturday night, is also understood to have wanted the full focus to be on Wiegman and her players.
Veteran broadcaster Jon Sopel suggested it was “inconceivable” that William and the PM would not travel if it was the men’s team playing.
Sopel tweeted: “Happy to accept might be impossible for the PM, given other commitments. But Prince William? Why?”
TV presenter Piers Morgan tweeted: “With respect, YRH (Your Royal Highness), you should have got on a plane.
“Ridiculous that the Queen of Spain is attending the World Cup Final to support her nation’s team, and you won’t be there despite being President of the FA.”
Meanwhile presenter Dan Walker tweeted his support for William.
“Not sure why some people are getting so angry about Prince William not going to the game,” he said.
“We all know he’d get hammered for the cost & climate impact of flying all the way to Australia for one football match.”
No senior member of the British royal family is attending the match.
Queen Letizia of Spain will be there with her 16-year-old daughter Ifanta Sofia in order to show her country’s commitment to national football.
It is the first time the Lionesses have reached the final of a World Cup, and the first time an England football team has competed in a World Cup final since the men’s side beat West Germany in 1966.
The King has urged the Lionesses to “roar to victory”, and he and the Queen, who are believed to be in Birkhall in Aberdeenshire, will be among the millions of Britons following the game from afar on Sunday.
Heir to the throne William apologised to the Lionesses for not being there in a video message on Saturday.
The prince was joined by his daughter Princess Charlotte who was clutching a football.
It is understood William made the decision not to go because a trip to Australia would involve flying across the world for a very short period of time.
In October, he had not planned to attend the men’s World Cup, staged by controversial hosts Qatar, due to a busy winter schedule.
But before Southgate’s squad was knocked out in the quarter-final, it was understood William’s office was looking at making possible arrangements for him to attend if the men reached the final.
William is on his annual summer break.
He saw the Lionesses win the European Championship last year, presenting them with their medals at Wembley, and visited them in person in June at St George’s Park to wish them good luck before they left for Australia.
Charles is King of Australia and is yet to travel there since his accession.
Questions have been raised about the diplomatic implications of William visiting the country before his father has had chance as the new monarch, and also whether Australia would have been responsible for footing the bill for William’s security costs during his stay.
The late Queen attended the 1966 World Cup final at Wembley and presented captain Bobby Moore with the trophy.