ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr says the cost of being a part of Australia's women's World Cup bid was "extraordinary", revealing the $1 million per game pricetag was too high to justify the expense.
Australian football celebrated in the early hours of Friday morning after the joint Australia-New Zealand bid won the vote count to host the 2023 tournament.
It will be the biggest in women's football history, with FIFA expanding the competition to 32 teams and the Matildas expected to attract sell-out crowds.
But the realisation soon hit Canberrans that the World Cup would bypass the city after the government withdrew its support at the end of last year to instead invest $20 million to build a "home of football".
It's understood the FFA offered the government up to six games, making the total cost more than $6 million. It's believed there was also a proposal for the city to host three games, but those would cost $2 million per match.
One of the other hurdles was a mandatory 12-week shutdown period for the World Cup's exclusive use of Canberra Stadium. There is still hope the home of football at Throsby, which includes Capital Football's $4.5 million investment, will be a training base for teams before and during the tournament.
But Barr and ACT Sport Minister Yvette Berry moved to quash World Cup disappointment in the capital, Barr saying the third most-watched sporting event in the world was too expensive for taxpayers.
"The cost was exorbitant. It would have been amongst the most expensive events ever run in the ACT," Barr said.
"We're talking millions of dollars per game. Plus, their requirements would have taken Canberra Stadium out of action for half of the winter season, so it would have been a massive disruption for the Raiders and Brumbies.
"We very carefully considered both the cost and the implications of being a host city and determined rather than spending millions and millions of dollars on one or two games of football that weren't going to involve the Australian team ... we would instead $20 million in the "home of football" to create a lasting legacy for grassroots."
The government tried to secure a guarantee the Matildas would play one of the six World Cup matches in Canberra, but the FFA refused to agree.
It led to Canberra withdrawing from the proposal, leaving Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth, Adelaide, Newcastle and Launceston as the Australian host cities.
The government will instead target one-off events, potential international friendlies in the lead up to the World Cup and offer the city as a training base for any of the 32 participating countries.
"Our choice, looking at the commercial proposition put forward by the tournament organisers was that it was just not economic and the asking price was too high for the sorts of matches we were going to get," Barr said.
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"... I think it's the right decision. I know people are very excited about the tournament and there may well be opportunities for friendlies or teams to be based in Canberra. But the cost per game was just extraordinary, I've never seen anything like it. It was unbelievable.
"It was more than $1 million per game, just the fee. All of the revenue from the ticket sales also went to the organisers, so there was no possibility for the ACT to make any money out of it at all. Nothing, really, back into taxpayers. It just did not stack up."
There was a push by influential leaders this week to try to get the government to change its mind, but it was too late for any potential changes.
NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro said the ACT had "misjudged" the investment. " We've all had to put money up. Ours goes into double digits - it's 10s of millions of dollars [in NSW] - and it was worthwhile," Barilaro said.
"These things drive tourism, but you'll get that return on investment. It's disappointing. It would've been a great investment on behalf of the ACT. A code that is so strong in Canberra at a junior level and if you want to promote women's football - or any women's sport - no greater way to do that than a World Cup. I do think the ACT's really misjudged this one.
"Maybe they thought it was a pie in the sky opportunity to win it. Maybe they thought we couldn't win it ... The nation's capital should've always been part of it."
But Berry, who has prioritised women's sporting events ahead of men's competitions, was unequivocal about the decision.
Canberra hosted women's Twenty20 World Cup cricket games this year, but opted not to bid for the men's tournament.
The government also withdrew from the ill-fated men's FIFA World Cup bid in 2009, citing concerns about the high price.
"We couldn't commit to the funding as part of this proposal and there was no guarantee we would get the Matildas anyway," Berry said.
"I was really excited when I saw [Australia-New Zealand's successful bid on Friday]. But it was a significant ask for the ACT community for something we were never guaranteed of. What we were guaranteed of was the $20 million into Throsby.
"In my mind we knew what we were getting. We were making a significant contribution to football more generally. We're still part of the story for 2023 in any event.
"[Throsby] will absolutely be at a competition standard where it could be made available for training. We'll work with the FFA [on being a World Cup training centre]."
There is still private hope Canberra will somehow be able to be a late addition to the games schedule, but that appears unlikely.
"I'm sure the ACT government [would want to be involved]. They've been so supportive of women's sport in the capital for so many years now and are a real investor in Canberra United," said Matildas legend Heather Garriock.
"There's no doubt they would want to be a part of it. While initially they weren't part of it, I'm sure they would be putting their hands up to contribute. We love our sport here in Canberra and there's no better chance for Canberrans so see the world's best footballers."