FIFA are considering dropping Visit Saudi as a sponsor of the Women’s World Cup after backlash from hosts Australia and New Zealand, Sky News has learned.
The players also urged FIFA not to allow their tournament to be sponsored by a country that criminalizes same-sex relationships and where women have yet to achieve equal rights.
Fifa has deepened its ties with Saudi Arabia in recent years and the tourism agency has held a prominent position on sponsor backdrops at the 2022 Men’s World Cup in Qatar and the Club World Cup in Morocco last month.
But the football federations of Australia and New Zealand complained more than a month ago to FIFA, saying they were not comfortable with Visit Saudi as a sponsor due to rights issues and lack of consultation.
Sky News has learned that FIFA told Australia and New Zealand it was ready to find a solution to the dispute before the tournament opened in July.
This solution could now mean that Visit Saudi no longer enjoys the high-profile sponsorship it has enjoyed at recent men’s events.
FIFA has never publicly announced any plans for Visit Saudi’s support of the Women’s World Cup, but the tournament hosts have expressed shock to find out through reports of the potential sponsorship.
“We would not be comfortable” with sponsorship
Football Association of Australia chief executive James Johnson told Sky News last month: “There has been a lot of progress in Saudi Arabia over the last four or five years, but there are still issues that Australia is not doing well, especially our girls and women.”
In a further intervention today, Mr Johnson said in a statement that ‘we would not be comfortable’ with the sponsorship.
New Zealand football chief executive Andrew Pragnell said there was “some form of reflection at FIFA on this issue”.
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The tournament, which has grown from 24 to 32 teams for this edition, opens in July with European champions England trying to win their first Women’s World Cup.
The event will not feature Saudi Arabia, whose women’s national team only started play last year and have yet to be ranked by FIFA.
Saudi Arabia’s most prominent role in football has been Newcastle United’s ownership since 2021 by its sovereign wealth fund, PIF.
FIFA declined to comment. There was no response from the Saudi government.