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World Cup hosts criticize Saudi sponsorship plans

  • February 01, 2023

After reports earlier this week that Visit Saudi, the official tourist board of Saudi Arabia, was set to be announced as a sponsor of this year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup, joint host nations Australia and New Zealand have written to football’s global governing body to demand clarification and express “shock” and “disappointment.”

“New Zealand Football have been made aware of media reports suggesting that Visit Saudi, the official Saudi Arabia tourism authority, are set to be announced as an official sponsor of the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023,” said the New Zealand football association in a statement.

“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. As co-hosts, New Zealand Football and Football Australia have jointly written to FIFA to urgently clarify the situation.”

According to The Athletic, which first reported the alleged plans on Monday, Football Australia was also not consulted by FIFA and said it was “very disappointed.”

The chairman of Women in Football Australia, Bonita Mersiades, told the news portal that the “proposed Visit Saudi sponsorship of the Women’s World Cup is yet another example of FIFA’s and world football’s hypocrisy when it comes to their stated values versus where the money comes from.”

“On the one hand, they have a policy which espouses respect for women and LGBTQI rights … [while] on the other hand, they have no compunction in accepting big sponsorship dollars from an organization representing a nation that neither shares those values nor respects those rights.

“It points to a culture in world football that is no different, and is arguably worse, than it was a decade ago. It will only change if those with alternative, genuine power and influence say ‘enough is enough’ and get together and force change.”

Accusations of Saudi sportswashing

Like 2022 men’s World Cup hosts Qatar, Saudi Arabia has been heavily criticized for its human rights record and alleged attempts to polish up its reputation via the platform of international sports, a practice known as sportswashing.

In 2019, a heavyweight boxing match between Andy Ruiz Jr. and Anthony Joshua took place in Saudi Arabia, while the state’s sovereign wealth fund took over majority control of Premier League side Newcastle United in 2021. Elsewhere in English football this season, Cristiano Ronaldo left Manchester United to join Saudi outfit Al Nassr.

Formula One’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix took place in Jeddah in 2021 for the first time, while it was also announced on Wednesday that the Kingdom had won the rights to host the 2027 men’s football Asian Cup.

Women were not permitted to watch football matches in Saudi Arabia until 2018, while the country launched its first women’s football league in 2020. Earlier this year, the Saudi Arabia women’s national team hosted and won a four-team friendly tournament as it looks to secure a FIFA women’s ranking for the first time.

The 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup will take place in New Zealand and Australia from July 20 until August 20.

mf/ (AFP/dpa)

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