COMMENT: It was always going to come down to money. What price do you put on a sporting dream? For the ACT government, as much as $6 million for as few as three games.
Canberra woke up on Friday morning starry eyed and full of hope. The women's football World Cup was coming to Australia and the self-proclaimed "women's sporting capital of Australia" was surely going to bask in the unbridled joy the rest of the country was feeling.
Then the sledgehammer of a cold winter morning swung through the fog and knocked the city's soccer community back into bed. No, Canberra won't feature as a host city in the joint Australia-New Zealand bid.
It shouldn't have come as a surprise. The ACT government revealed its intention not to be part of the bid process in November last year, citing the cost as the biggest barrier.
ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr went further on Friday, saying the $1 million per game fee would have made the women's World Cup the most expensive event in Canberra's history. The cost of games was scaled in accordance with their significance. One proposal for Canberra was three games at $2 million each.
To put the overall $6 million fee into context, consider this. The government paid $3.5 million for seven Asian Cup games in 2015 and $1.76 million for five women's Twenty20 World Cup games this year.
So I'll ask again: what price do you put on a dream? Female footballers thought just having a World Cup was their mission impossible just 30 years ago. They were shunned up until the first tournament in 1991. Hosting a 32-team women's tournament in Australia in 2023 was crazy talk.
The feeling of euphoria will cloud the immediate thinking. Of course being left off the World Cup plans stings. Being a training centre will be an olive branch, but it won't ease the pain of having to travel for matches.
Time and context may provide greater perspective and understanding. The FFA's relationship with Canberra has been strained for some time. The cost of friendly internationals drove a wedge between the FFA and ACT government, the minnow opponents hammered it in deeper and the Socceroos spending fewer than 24 hours in the capital for a game made the city's standing clear for all to see.
If ever there was an event to rebuild the bridges, it was the women's World Cup. The third most-watched sporting event in the world and considered to be a game-changer for women's sport.
But it won't be. At least not in the way we'd all hoped, which was to see the Matildas play in front of 25,000 fans at Canberra Stadium.
In the end the cost and the complications of having to shut the Canberra Raiders and ACT Brumbies out of Canberra Stadium for 12 weeks broke the deal.
You have to wonder if it's something the city will look back and regret. The dreamer says one-off matches come and go, but World Cup experiences last a lifetime.
The realist says you have to look at the economic benefit of splurging $6 million on minnow nations. How many visitors would that entice to Canberra. How many would spend a night in a hotel, or eat in a restaurant? The realist says it's great to have dreams, but you need to be able to pay for it.
The cynic says the government's decision is a blow for women's sport. The Australian capital withdrawing from a bid to put women's sport on the map.
It must be noted, however, Barr withdrew financial support for the men's World Cup bid in 2009 citing very similar reasons. The government paid for women's Twenty20 cricket World Cup matches, but refused to do the same for the men's equivalent.
Sport Minister Yvette Berry decided to spend money to get an Australian Opals game to Canberra rather than an allocate the funding to an Illawarra Hawks NBL match.
Canberra's women's national-competition teams have been among the best in Australia. But for women's sport to grow, it needs investment and maybe even $6 million for three games.
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The government says that money is better spent elsewhere. Maybe on some friendly matches as World Cup warm-ups, or other sports coming to Canberra that may not have otherwise done so.
The government says investing $20 million into Capital Football's new "home of football" in Throsby will be a grassroots boost for men and women. It's hard to argue with that.
But there's something special about a World Cup or an Olympic Games. A city can fall in love with a sport they've never seen or an athlete they've never heard of. They'll go to the nearest sports store to buy a soccer ball because they're swept up in the moment (yes, I've done it).
Canberrans will have to travel interstate for their dose of World Cup fever. A government catchcry for women's sport in recent years has been: "you can't be what you can't see". The World Cup will be closer than it's ever been. Unfortunately we'll still be looking from a distance.