Pressure goes on FIFA to reject Saudi Arabia sponsorship for Women’s World Cup

FIFA faces renewed pressure to walk away from a reported sponsorship deal with Visit Saudi for this year’s Women’s World Cup.

With FIFA’s annual congress due to be held in Rawanda next week, World Cup co-host Football Australia has stepped up its public opposition to such a sponsorship deal.

Football Australia chief executive James Johnson said:

“Football Australia has consulted on this matter with key stakeholders, including government and commercial partners, and it was an overwhelming consensus that this partnership does not align with our collective vision for the tournament and falls short of our expectations.

“Whilst the partnership has not been confirmed by FIFA, based on the consultations we have had with our community, key stakeholders and our own position, we would not be comfortable with it.

“While we await further clarity and information as to the details of the partnership from FIFA, we continue to convey this clear message on behalf of Football Australia, New Zealand Football, and our community.”

FIFA president Gianni Infantino.

Johnson and FA chair Chris Nikou made submissions to FIFA president Gianni Infantino at the recent Asian Football Confederation congress in Bahrain.

Last week, NZ Football chief executive Andrew Pragnell told the NZ Herald he thought FIFA was having a “rethink” about a Visit Saudi deal based on their response to a letter sent a month ago by the New Zealand and Australian national bodies.

“I found the response fairly ambiguous. It didn’t confirm nor deny the potential Visit Saudi sponsorship that has been reported in the media,” he told the NZ Herald.

“It did allude to the importance of treating all member associations equally and the importance of engagement as opposed to isolation. Other than that, it stated that they’d be reaching out through their media and partnerships team for further conversations.

“We’re left in a little bit of uncertainty as to what’s going on here, to be frank, which is a bit disappointing. Anything further I say would be speculation because I don’t know, but clearly our letter, given the delay in the response, and the absence of confirmation or denial, has caused some form of rethink in FIFA about this issue.”

Report: ‘FIFA looking for way to reshape the Saudi deal’

Meanwhile, speculation continues as to how FIFA might try to reframe a sponsorship deal to avoid a backlash.

WA Today writer Vince Rugari quotes an unnamed source “familiar with the tournament’s planning” as saying FIFA was looking for ways to reshape the deal ahead of the Rawanda congress.

“It could, according to the source, involve the sponsorship being instead attributed to another Saudi-related entity rather than the kingdom’s tourism body, which would also address separate fears in Australia and New Zealand that the co-hosts’ ambitions to promote their own countries as holiday destinations could be overshadowed by another nation,” Rugari writes.

Suggestions that Visit Saudi could be a sponsor have drawn criticism from human rights groups such as Amnesty International, and from prominent footballers including United States star forward Alex Morgan.

Morgan said such a sponsorship ‘morally’ did not make sense.

Amnesty International Australia said a Saudi tourism body sponsoring the women’s tournament would be ironic as Saudi women “can’t even have a job without the permission of your male guardian”.

Main photo: The FIFA Women’s World Cup kicks off in Auckland on July 20. Photo credit: FIFA.

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