Women’s World Cup hosts urge FIFA not to sign Saudi sponsor

GENEVA (AP) — Women’s World Cup co-hosts Australia and New Zealand on Wednesday urged FIFA not to sign a sponsor agreement with Saudi Arabia’s tourism authority where “women’s rights remain severely restricted”.

Leaders of the two national football federations have warned in a letter to FIFA, including President Gianni Infantino, that unilaterally sealing “Visit Saudi” sponsorship could “severely tarnish the reputation” of the 32-nation tournament which begins in July.

This is despite the tourism brand being backed by Men’s World Cup-winning captain Lionel Messi, who was announced as a paid starter last year.

Such a confrontation between a World Cup host and FIFA is unprecedented in recent history and should draw more attention to Saudi Arabia’s so-called “sportswashing” investments.

“We are writing to express our deep disappointment and concern at the news of Visit Saudi’s apparent appointment as sponsor,” Chris Nikou from Australia and Joanna Wood from New Zealand wrote in the letter to FIFA seen on Wednesday. by the Associated Press.

“We cannot express strongly enough the potential repercussions and fallout that could result from this decision.

“Australia and New Zealand, both as sovereign nations and as football associations, have for decades placed the highest importance on gender equality and have sought to promote these ideals in the world,” the letter reads, reminding FIFA that their governments have invested hundreds of dollars. million in the football event.

Tournament organizers and government officials in both countries were not consulted, they claimed, nor offered the opportunity to make a counter-proposal for a domestic tourism campaign.

Wood is one of the few women to lead one of FIFA’s 211 member federations and also an elected member of the FIFA Governing Council chaired by Infantino.

FIFA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Saudi Arabia has made progress in women’s football over the past three years by establishing a national team and a national league, in addition to preparing a bid to host the 2026 Asian Women’s Cup.

In Saudi society, however, women’s freedoms are limited by strict male guardianship laws.

“While we recognize that some important and positive gender equality reforms have begun in Saudi Arabia, it remains undeniable by any reasonable standard that women’s rights remain severely curtailed,” the hosts wrote. FIFA Women’s World Cup.

Tony Gustavsson, head coach of Australia’s women’s national team, did not comment directly on the sponsorship issue Thursday when unveiling a squad for the February 16-22 Nations Cup tournament, but did said: “I know what these women stand for and what the team stands for.

“I had the privilege of meeting Matildas alumni and everyone knows the core values ​​of this team,” he said. Football Australia “is looking for more information and the team knows what they stand for”.

The “Visit Saudi” campaign was among more than 30 sponsors of the Men’s World Cup in Qatar last year.

FIFA has not officially announced the deal which became evident through pitchside advertisements when the games started in November.

The Women’s World Cup will be played from July 20 to August 20. 20. The United States defend their title in the first edition of the flagship tournament expanded to 32 teams.

It will also be the first test of FIFA’s policy to separate broadcast and sponsorship deals for the Women’s World Cup from the men’s event. This was intended to give independence to women’s football and prove that it had its own commercial value.

Infantino previously defended the women’s tournament when he used the platform of the finals draw in Auckland in October to slam broadcasters for making rights offers that FIFA deemed unacceptable.


AP Sports Writer John Pye contributed from Brisbane, Australia.


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