March 6 – Pressure is growing on FIFA to abandon mooted plans for Saudi sponsorship of this summer’s Women’s World Cup after the Australia and New Zealand co-hosts again called for any prospective deal to be scrapped.
Earlier this year the joint organisers wrote to FIFA seeking urgent clarification following reports that Saudi Arabia’s tourism arm will sponsor the tournament, an arrangement that prompted an immediate backlash from some of the highest-profile players in the women’s game given Saudi Arabia’s heavy restrictions on women’s rights.
FIFA has yet to publicly acknowledge that Visit Saudi would be unveiled as a sponsor. But with their annual congress scheduled to take place next week, they are under mounting constraints to find a solution.
In a new statement, Football Australia CEO James Johnson again rejected the idea of Saudi sponsorship of the region’s biggest ever global football event.
“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,” he said.
Johnson apparently made his position clear to FIFA president Gianni Infantino at the recent Asian Football Confederation congress in Bahrain and the statement went on: “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.”
New Zealand Football chief executive Andrew Pragnell was quoted locally as suggesting FIFA might be having a “rethink” because of the widespread condemnation of the proposed Saudi involvement.
Pragnell said FIFA’s response to a letter sent almost a month ago by the co-hosts had been “fairly ambiguous.”
“It didn’t confirm nor deny the potential Visit Saudi sponsorship that has been reported in the media.”
“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.”
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