LLast week, Matildas coach Tony Gustavsson cut a usually jovial figure as he helped announce February’s Nations Cup. The Swede had good reason to be happy; The mini-tournament provides the opportunity to build on the momentum of a successful November international window with a group stage simulation against Spain, Jamaica and the Czech Republic in Sydney, Gosford and Newcastle.

The NSW bias of host cities is clear and has been met with predictable reactions. In the wake of the angry backlash to the sale of hosting rights to the next three A-Leagues Grand Finals in Sydney by the Australian Professional Leagues, Football Australia’s announcement that the upcoming Matildas outings being played exclusively in NSW would inevitably be combined, even though the APL and FA are completely separate decision-making bodies.

“Can they start calling themselves NSW Matildas?” asked an answer on Facebook. But do comment sections make sense? Is there a bias towards New South Wales? Looking at the numbers, yes.

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But there is some context. For starters, the vast majority of Socceroos and Matildas international matches take place overseas: over 150 official and friendly matches have been played off Australian shores since early 2010.

However, of the games played at home, there is a statistical basis showing that NSW is a preferred host. Since 2010, the state, according to data provided by Football Australia, has hosted 57% of the Matildas’ home games and 46% of the Socceroos. Victoria follows with 14% of the senior women’s matches and 26% of the men’s, and Queensland is the only other state to host a double-digit percentage: 17% of Matildas matches since 2010 and the 15% of the males.

On a more localized level, Sydney has hosted 33% of Matildas games, followed by Brisbane with 14% and Melbourne and Newcastle with 10%. Harbor City have hosted 44% of the Socceroos’ matches over the period, with Melbourne’s 24% and Brisbane 14% the only other hosts with a double-digit percentage.

On a proportional basis, even considering NSW is the largest state in the country both in terms of football participation and population, it’s an uneven split. According to Football Australia’s most recent participation statistics covering 2021, NSW contained approximately a third of Australia’s football participants while according to ABS statistics the state is also home to around a third of the population.

So why the disproportionality? One of the biggest factors is that the NSW government has simply been much more willing to invest properly in the organization of international soccer than other states; the upcoming Nations Cup, for example, is being organized in partnership with Destination NSW. This, in theory, frees up Football Australia to invest revenue that would otherwise have been spent hosting games elsewhere.

Players from Australia and Sweden line up before a friendly at Melbourne's AAMI Park in November last year.
Players from Australia and Sweden line up before a friendly at Melbourne’s AAMI Park in November last year. Photo: James Ross/AAP

“We don’t manage the sport, but we are always happy to partner, as we are with Football Australia, to support what sporting organizations want to do,” said NSW sports minister Alister Henskens. “We shamelessly want to have Australia’s best sporting tournaments here in NSW.”

In recent times, there have also been other external factors that forced the issue. The Matildas 2020 Olympic qualifiers, for example, were hastily moved to New South Wales by the Asian Football Confederation amid concerns about a highly contagious new virus emerging in the games’ original host city, Wuhan. When international soccer was subsequently sent overseas by Australia’s strict Covid border control policies, only the NSW government was willing to institute custom protocols that would allow Matildas and Socceroos to stage home matches with restrictions still in place a year and a half later.

In 2022, the first year Australia was largely free of Covid policies, the Matildas played six times at home but only once in Sydney: a 2-1 loss to Canada in the first football match ever played at the new Allianz Stadium. . Only one other game took place in NSW, a 2-0 win over Thailand at Gosford, with the others spread across Townsville, Canberra, Brisbane and Melbourne. With a Women’s World Cup on the horizon, Adelaide’s Hindmarsh Stadium and the Perth Oval were undergoing renovations during this period to bring them to an international level.

Playing three games in Australia during a World Cup year, the Socceroos spread out their fixtures in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.

“Football Australia’s desire is always for our national teams to play in as many cities and regions of the country as possible, where for the last decade every state and territory outside of Tasmania and the Northern Territory has hosted senior team matches,” said a Football Australia spokesman said.

“There are many factors that go into determining where matches will be played, including venue availability and venue size vs. expected demand, as well as team movement and logistics.

“There is also a commercial reality to any national team match as staging games and hosting touring teams is an expensive exercise, so Football Australia works with state and territory governments around their appetite to financially support hosting. of the content of the national team.

“Football Australia is committed to bringing our senior and youth national teams to as many parts of Australia as possible and is looking forward to working with all state and territory governments to make this a reality.”