Australia and New Zealand, the host countries for the Women’s World Cup, have asked FIFA for “urgent clarification” over reports that a Saudi tourism authority has been chosen as the official sponsor of the tournament.
A deal with “Visit Saudi” is to be announced, which has drawn criticism from human rights organizations.
Saudi Arabia is being accused of human rights violations.
The Australian and New Zealand Football Associations said they had not been consulted and they were “disappointed”.
Both federations complained to FIFA, while Amnesty International called the move a “crude exploitation” of sport.
The Women’s World Cup will be held from July 20 to August 20 in Australia and New Zealand, and organizers expect a record two billion people to watch the tournament.
The sponsorship deal, which has not yet been officially announced, is part of a new commercial partnership structure set up by FIFA to allow brands to specifically support the game of women’s football.
While the size of the deal has not been disclosed, insiders claim it will provide a boost to women’s football, and the resulting funds will be reinvested into football.
In a statement, the Australian Football Association referred to what was reported about a partnership agreement regarding the Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand 2023.
“We are extremely disappointed that Football Australia was not consulted on this matter before any decision was made. The Australian and New Zealand Football Associations have jointly written to FIFA to urgently clarify the situation.”
The New Zealand Football Association added: “If these reports prove true, we will be shocked and disappointed, given that FIFA did not consult the New Zealand Football Association at all on this matter.”
Saudi Arabia has invested in sporting events in recent years, but it faces accusations of “sports whitewashing” of its reputation.
The country has been criticized over human rights, women’s rights, and the use of the death penalty.
Saudi Arabia has resorted to imprisoning women’s rights activists, despite some of the reforms of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, such as ending the ban on women driving.
Western intelligence agencies claim that the crown prince is linked to the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018, an accusation he denies.
“It would be ironic if the Saudi Tourism Authority were to sponsor the world’s largest women’s sporting event, when a woman in Saudi Arabia can’t get a job without her guardian’s permission,” said Nikita White, an activist with Amnesty International in Australia.
Although Saudi Arabia sent women to the Olympics for the first time in 2012, it has taken steps in recent years to develop women’s football, and female fans were allowed to attend football matches for the first time in 2018.
The Saudi Football Association appointed two women to its board of directors and formed a women’s football team in 2019.
In 2020, the Women’s Football League was launched. Last month, Saudi Arabia hosted the women’s friendly football tournament with the participation of four teams and achieved a victory, in an effort to appear in the FIFA Women’s Football World Ranking for the first time.