Australia in box seat to host 2026 Women’s Asian Cup as economic impact of World Cup revealed

Australia is all but certain to host the Women’s Asian Cup in 2026 after potential rival bidders withdrew their interest.

Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan have pulled out of the race, Guardian Australia understands, leaving Australia in the box seat to win hosting rights for a second major international tournament in the space of three years, following last year’s Women’s World Cup.

A deal is yet to be signed, and Football Australia remains in dialogue with state governments, several of which have already confirmed their support for the bid. Discussions with the federal government, which has an integral part to play in multi-jurisdictional events like the Asian Cup, are understood to have been constructive.

Australia could be confirmed as bid winners by April, subject to all funding and host cities having been secured.

On Friday Football Australia released its Legacy 23 report, which claimed the World Cup had generated a $1.32bn economic impact. The report calls for continued investment and support to build on the momentum of last year’s tournament.

FA said the Asian Cup represented “a crucial platform to advance the goals outlined in Legacy 23, particularly in addressing the shortfall in football facility investment”.

“Australia is ready, one of the most multicultural societies in the world, with over 300 different ancestries and almost 20% of our nation’s population having ties back to countries that comprise the Asian Football Confederation, meaning every team that visits our shores will have a ‘home away from home’ feeling,” the report said.

“This esteemed Asian football tournament provides an ideal platform for all tiers of government to employ football as a tool for effectively implementing sports diplomacy and tourism strategies within Asia.”

All metrics, from viewer numbers for the World Cup to soaring interest at grassroots clubs, show the Matildas are having a significant impact on Australian sport.

In its report, FA said the tournament generated an “induced economic impact” of $1.32bn, and estimated $324m reduction in healthcare costs due to increased physical activity in the community.

“Beyond the ambition of hosting the most commercially successful women’s football tournament, the broader vision was aimed at fostering a lasting impact on both football and society,” the report said.

Much of the projected economic activity, which relies on analysis conducted by data company Nielsen, is tied to money spent by international fans who came to Australia for the event.

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Similar calculations are now being done to measure the economic impact of Taylor Swift’s concerts on the Australian economy, a practice referred to as “swiftonomics”.

Such analysis is, by nature, notoriously difficult. The “induced” impact is always a much higher dollar figure than the direct economic impact of such an event, which is derived from more measurable metrics such as profits derived from ticket sales.

The anticipated decrease in healthcare costs, cited by FA, relies on analysis of grassroots football participation in England, which found children who are physically active through football have decreased odds of obesity and a reduction in mental health diseases.

The run by the Matildas to last year’s semi-finals is likely to have triggered some longer-term positive changes by drawing in new audiences to sport, and boosting participation.

The report found that more women attended the games than men, upending the usual dynamics for major football events.

With more than 2,400 clubs now operating at full capacity, there is a $2.9bn gap in facility investment across Australia, according to the association, which requires input from all levels of government to capitalise on the Matildas effect.