NZ, Australia want ‘urgent’ answers over Saudi sponsorship of Women’s World Cup

Co-hosts New Zealand and Australia said Thursday they “urgently” want answers from FIFA over reports Saudi Arabia’s tourist board will sponsor the 2023 Women’s World Cup.

Visit Saudi is reportedly poised to be named among the sponsors of the 32-team soccer tournament to be held in New Zealand and Australia from July 20.

The sponsorship deal looks set to go ahead despite the Gulf kingdom’s poor record on women’s rights.

Officials from Football Australia and New Zealand Football said they were not informed about the planned deal and “have jointly written to FIFA to urgently clarify the situation”.

In a statement, Football Australia said it was “very disappointed” that they “were not consulted on this matter prior to any decision being made”. Their counterparts in New Zealand said they were “shocked and disappointed” that FIFA had not consulted them.

FIFA president Gianni Infantino has said he expects two billion viewers to tune into the ninth edition of the Women’s World Cup.

World soccer’s governing body hopes it will expand growth of the women’s game, with the tournament split between two nations for the first time.

The planned sponsorship deal drew heavy criticism.

Australian former international Kathryn Gill said FIFA is “obliged to respect all internationally recognized human rights and to exert its considerable leverage when they are not being respected or protected”.

“The players’ objective is to make the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup a genuine force for good and they will continue to hold FIFA to account when they undermine this,” added Gill, co-chief executive of Australia’s professional soccer players union.

Amnesty International’s Australia campaigner Nikita White questioned how Saudi’s tourism body could sponsor a Women’s World Cup when “as a woman in Saudi Arabia, you can’t even have a job without the permission of your male guardian”.

She also pointed to Saudi Arabia’s “horrendous record of human rights abuses”.

“The Saudi authorities sponsoring the Women’s World Cup would be a textbook case of sports washing,” she added.

The rights group has also urged New Zealand’s sports minister Grant Robertson “to speak out on Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, urge true reform and pressure FIFA to do the same”.

Robertson has said he will not comment because no official announcement had been made.

After Gulf neighbors Qatar hosted the men’s FIFA World Cup last year, Saudi is also spending big on soccer in an attempt to improve its image.

On Wednesday, the oil-rich nation was confirmed as host of football’s 2027 Asian Cup and is mulling a joint bid to host the 2030 men’s World Cup with Egypt and Greece.

© 2023 AFP

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