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Matildas coach dodges questions on Saudi Women’s World Cup sponsorship | Matildas

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Matildas coach Tony Gustavsson has sidestepped the issue of Saudi Arabia’s potential sponsorship of the Women’s World Cup but suggested his side’s values do not align with those of the Middle Eastern kingdom.

Visit Saudi – the tourism arm of a country with a human rights record described by Amnesty International as “appalling” – has been linked with becoming the headline sponsor of this year’s tournament.

Women were not able to enter sport stadiums in Saudi Arabia until 2018 and homosexuality remains illegal. The Saudis won hosting rights to the 2027 Men’s Asian Cup on Wednesday and were given a spot on Fifa’s council.

Football Australia (FA) chair Chris Nikou and his counterpart at New Zealand Football Joanna Wood have written to Fifa to express their concern about the potential sponsorship deal for the World Cup, which kicks off on 20 July.

“We cannot express strongly enough the potential repercussions and fallout that could result of this decision,” the letter said, adding the two countries had “placed the utmost importance on gender equality”.

At Thursday’s unveiling of the Matildas squad for the upcoming Cup of Nations tournament, FA asked media to refrain from questioning players about the Saudi sponsorship.

Gustavsson’s response could be seen by some to suggest he doesn’t believe his team’s values match those of Saudi Arabia.

“It’s too early to comment right, but I know what these women stand for and what the team stands for,” he said.

“That’s from way before my time, I’ve had the privilege to meet the Matildas alumni and everyone knows the core values of this team. The federation is seeking more information and the team knows what they stand for.”

There are a number of players in Gustavsson’s squad who identify as LGBTQ+, and how FA navigates the issue ahead of hosting their first senior Fifa tournament will be monitored across the world.

Australia’s men released a joint statement prior to the Qatar World Cup protesting the suffering of migrant workers and LGBTQ+ people in the Gulf state, only for former Socceroos midfielder Tim Cahill – an ambassador for the controversial tournament – to then join the organiser’s camp.

After naming his squad for the Cup of Nations Gustavsson says Australia will use the tournament as a dress rehearsal for the World Cup later this year.

The Matildas will open their campaign against Czechia – formerly the Czech Republic – in Gosford on 16 February before games with Spain and Jamaica in quick succession.

Gustavsson wants to mirror the World Cup, in which his side can guarantee themselves a passage out of the pool stage with a top-two finish.

The Swede has remained loyal to the players he has previously deployed, with Western Sydney defender Clare Hunt the only uncapped name in his latest squad.

Cortnee Vine (Sydney FC), Katrina Gorry and Larissa Crummer (both Brisbane Roar), and Melbourne Victory’s Alex Chidiac and Elise Kellond-Knight are the other players selected from the A-League Women.

At the other end of the spectrum to Hunt, veteran defender Clare Polkinghorne can claim Australia’s all-time appearance record if she takes the field for what would be her 152nd cap.

Experienced midfielder Tameka Yallop returns to the squad after missing the last camp due to an ankle injury along with forward Emily Gielnik and goalkeeper Mackenzie Arnold.

Matildas regulars Kyah Simon and Ellie Carpenter remain sidelined with knee injuries.

“Our Cup of Nations squad has been selected in line with our principles built in the back half of 2022 as we continue to create consistency and chemistry among the playing group,” Gustavsson said.

“This is particularly important in a tournament that mirrors the group-stage play and presents an opportunity to maximise our time together with less than 200 days until the Fifa Women’s World Cup kicks off.

“We know there are some areas we need to continue evolving in and that will be the focus of our matches against three opponents that provide a real variety of approach.”

Matildas squad: Mackenzie Arnold, Teagan Micah, Lydia Williams; Steph Catley, Charlotte Grant, Clare Hunt, Alanna Kennedy, Aivi Luik, Courtney Nevin, Clare Polkinghorne; Alex Chidiac, Kyra Cooney-Cross, Katrina Gorry, Elise Kellond-Knight, Amy Sayer, Emily van Egmond, Clare Wheeler, Tameka Yallop; Larissa Crummer, Caitlin Foord, Mary Fowler, Emily Gielnik, Sam Kerr, Hayley Raso, Cortnee Vine.


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