Matildas’ coach dodges questions about Saudi Arabia’s Women’s World Cup sponsorship

Last Updated on February 2, 2023 by

Matildas coach Tony Gustavsson has sidestepped the issue of Saudi Arabia’s possible sponsorship of the Women’s World Cup, but suggested that his side’s values ​​don’t match 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 to the main sponsor of this year’s tournament.

Women were not allowed to enter sports stadiums in Saudi Arabia until 2018, and homosexuality is still illegal. The Saudis won the hosting rights for the 2027 Asian Cup for men on Wednesday and were given a seat on the Fifa council.

Chris Nikou, president of Football Australia (FA), and Joanna Wood, his New Zealand Football counterpart, have written to FIFA to express their concerns over the potential sponsorship deal for the World Cup, which kicks off on July 20.

“We cannot express strongly enough the potential repercussions and consequences of this decision,” the letter said, adding that the two countries have “attached the utmost importance to gender equality”.

At the unveiling of the Matildas squad on Thursday ahead of the upcoming Cup of Nations tournament, FA asked the media not to question players about Saudi sponsorship.

Some might see Gustavsson’s response as suggesting he doesn’t believe his team’s values ​​align with those of Saudi Arabia.

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

“That is way before my time, I have had the privilege of meeting the Matildas alumni and everyone knows the core values ​​of this team. The federation is looking for more information and the team knows what they stand for.”

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

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

After naming his team 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 begin their campaign against the Czech Republic – the former Czech Republic – on February 16 in Gosford, with the games against Spain and Jamaica following in quick succession.

Gustavsson wants to mirror the World Cup, in which his team can guarantee itself a passage from the group stage with a top-two finish.

The Swede has stayed true to the players he has fielded before, 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 Alex Chidiac and Elise Kellond-Knight from Melbourne Victory are the other players selected from the A-League Women.

On the other end of the spectrum from Hunt, veteran defender Clare Polkinghorne can claim the Australian all-time record as she takes the field for what would become her 152nd cap.

Veteran midfielder Tameka Yallop returns to the squad, along with striker Emily Gielnik and goalkeeper Mackenzie Arnold, after missing the final camp due to an ankle injury.

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

“Our Cup of Nations team has been selected in accordance with our principles established in the second half of 2022 as we continue to create consistency and chemistry among the playing group,” said Gustavsson.

“This is especially important in a tournament that mirrors group stage play and offers an opportunity to maximize our time together with less than 200 days until the FIFA Women’s World Cup kicks off.

“We know there are some areas in which we need to continue to evolve and that will be the focus of our matches against three opponents who offer a real variety of approaches.”

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.