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Women’s World Cup co-hosts not consulted over ‘Visit Saudi’ sponsorship deal

Women’s World Cup 2023 co-hosts, New Zealand Football and Football Australia have contacted FIFA to urgently clarify the situation over reported ‘Visit Saudi’ deal.

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New Zealand sports minister Grant Robertson said FIFA should consider the “empowerment of women and girls” when making commercial arrangements amid reports Saudi Arabia’s tourism arm is set to sponsor the Women’s World Cup.

Australia and New Zealand, co-hosts of this year’s World Cup, have contacted FIFA seeking urgent clarification after the Athletic claimed that Visit Saudi’ (the Saudi Arabia tourist board) will be named as a major sponsor of the tournament with both football federations affirming that neither were consulted over the potential sponsorship deal.

“When it comes to women’s sport here in New Zealand we have made tremendous progress and part of that has been making sure that we are empowering women and girls in sport but also in life generally,” Robertson said in a statement to New Zealand on Thursday.

“I would like to think that FIFA would understand that as well, and when they are thinking about their commercial arrangements that they would factor that in.”

FIFA and Visit Saudi have declined to comment on sponsorship of the World Cup but in the Club World Cup opening game in Tangiers on Wednesday night, ‘Visit Saudi’ branding was seen on the electronic pitch side advertising boards.

Ahly's South African forward Percy Tau
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Ahly's South African forward Percy Tau FADEL SENNAAFP

‘Opening to the world’

Ibrahim Al Kassim, the secretary general of the Saudi Arabian Football Federation, said on Wednesday that although his body was not involved in sponsorship deals, such moves were a part of his country’s new engagement with the world.

“That’s the commercial side, we are football federations, so we don’t get involved in that,” he told reporters at the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) congress in Bahrain.

“But basically, Saudi Arabia is opening to the world. Saudi Arabia is reaching out to the world, just to show the world what Saudi Arabia is capable of.”

A man attends the 33rd Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Congress
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A man attends the 33rd Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Congress MAZEN MAHDIGetty

Reports of the sponsorship deal drew a scathing response from human rights activists, who criticised Saudi Arabia’s record on women’s rights.

Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has introduced reforms allowing women greater control over their lives in recent years but men still retain a tight grip on power in the kingdom.

New Zealand’s Robertson said sponsorship was ultimately a decision for FIFA.

“The football bodies that are part of FIFA including NZ Football have written to express their concern,” he added. That’s where the decision-making sits, from our point of view we are focused on making sure we host a great tournament and we do empower women and girls to be active in sport and recreation.”

The Women’s World Cup runs from 20 July-20 August.