World Cup hosts ask Fifa to clarify Saudi deal
Co-hosts Australia and New Zealand have asked Fifa to “urgently clarify” reports that Saudi Arabia’s tourism authority is to be named as an official sponsor of the 2023 Women’s World Cup.
A deal with Visit Saudi is set to be announced and has already been criticised by human rights groups.
The Gulf Kingdom has been accused of human rights abuses.
Football Australia and New Zealand Football said they were not consulted and are “disappointed”.
They have both written to football’s world governing body, while Amnesty International called it “crude exploitation” of the sport.
The Women’s World Cup takes place from 20 July to 20 August in cities across Australia and New Zealand, and organisers believe a record two billion people could watch the tournament.
The sponsorship deal – yet to be formally announced – is part of a new commercial partnership structure that Fifa set up to allow brands to specifically support the women’s game.
While the size of the deal has not been revealed, insiders claim it will provide a significant boost to the women’s game, and the money generated will be reinvested back into football.
“Football Australia understands Fifa has entered into a destination partnership agreement in respect to the Fifa Women’s World Cup Australia and New Zealand 2023,” Football Australia said in a statement.
“We are very disappointed that Football Australia were not consulted on this matter prior to any decision being made. Football Australia and New Zealand Football have jointly written to Fifa to urgently clarify the situation.”
New Zealand Football added: “If these reports prove correct, we are shocked and disappointed to hear this as New Zealand Football haven’t been consulted by Fifa at all on this matter.”
Saudi Arabia has invested heavily in sporting events in recent years but has been accused of using events to ‘sportswash’ its reputation.
There are concerns over human rights in the country, women’s rights and the use of the death penalty.
Women’s rights campaigners have been imprisoned, despite some reform under crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, such as an end to the ban on women driving.
Western intelligence agencies claim the crown prince ordered the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018 – which he denies.
“It would be quite the irony for Saudi’s tourism body to sponsor the largest celebration of women’s sport in the world when you consider that, as a woman in Saudi Arabia, you can’t even have a job without the permission of your male guardian,” said Amnesty International Australia campaigner Nikita White.
Although Saudi Arabia only sent women to the Olympics for the first time in 2012, it has taken steps to develop women’s football in recent years, with female fans allowed to attend football matches for the first time in 2018.
The Saudi Arabian Football Federation (SAFF) has appointed two women to its board of directors and created a women’s football department in 2019.
In 2020, a Women’s Football League was launched, and last month Saudi Arabia hosted and won a four-nation women football tournament in their bid to feature in the Fifa women’s world rankings for the first time.