Saudi sponsorship issue looms as Matildas squad named

The upcoming Cup of Nations will be the Matildas' test run for the World Cup, with Visit Saudi's sponsorship of the tournament looming as a hot topic.

Matildas coach Tony Gustavsson has sidestepped the issue of Saudi Arabia's potential sponsorship of the Women's World Cup but hinted his side's values do not align with those espoused by 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 heavily 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 men's 2027 Asian Cup on Wednesday but their federation's secretary-general Ibrahim Al Kassim, who stressed the tourism body was not linked to the state, told Reuters it was an example of his country "reaching out to the world, just to show the world what Saudi Arabia is capable of."

Football Australia (FA) chair Chris Nikou and his counterpart at co-hosts 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 July 20.

"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".

FA said they were "disappointed" by the development and asked media at Thursday's unveiling of the Matildas squad for the upcoming Cup of Nations tournament to refrain from questioning players about the Saudi sponsorship.

Gustavsson tiptoed around the issue but seemed to suggest his team's principles did not match up with 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 LGBTQI, 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 against the suffering of migrant workers and LGBTQI people in the Gulf state, only for former Socceroos midfielder Tim Cahill - an ambassador for the controversial tournament - to then join their camp.

The Saudi story threatens to bubble along throughout this month's Cup of Nations where Gustavsson's side open their campaign against Czechia - formerly the Czech Republic - in Gosford on February 16.

Games with Spain and Jamaica follow in quick succession with the Swede viewing the tournament as a "dress rehearsal" for the World Cup later this year.

"This is now tournament mode," he said. "We have to put that pressure on ourselves."

Gustavsson has named a largely unchanged squad, with Western Sydney defender Clare Hunt the only uncapped player called in.

Chloe Logarzo, Ellie Carpenter and Kyah Simon remain out with injury while Clare Polkinghorne looks set to break the Matildas' all-time cap record in what would be her 152nd appearance.


Goalkeepers: Mackenzie Arnold, Teagan Micah, Lydia Williams

Defenders: Steph Catley, Charlotte Grant, Clare Hunt, Alanna Kennedy, Aivi Luik, Courtney Nevin, Clare Polkinghorne

Midfielders: Alex Chidiac, Kyra Cooney-Cross, Katrina Gorry, Elise Kellond-Knight, Amy Sayer, Emily van Egmond, Clare Wheeler, Tameka Yallop

Forwards: Larissa Crummer, Caitlin Foord, Mary Fowler, Emily Gielnik, Sam Kerr, Hayley Raso, Cortnee Vine.