New Zealand FA ‘shocked’ by reports of Women’s World Cup Saudi sponsorship | Women’s World Cup 2023

Australian and New Zealand football’s governing bodies have said they are “shocked and disappointed” by reports that Fifa is set to announce that Saudi Arabia’s tourism authority will be an official sponsor at the 2023 Women’s World Cup. Both organisations have called on Fifa to “urgently clarify” the situation.

New Zealand Football claimed it had not been consulted, nor had next summer’s World Cup co-hosts Australia, and both have joined human rights groups, including Amnesty International, in criticising the potential deal as Fifa seeks to attract brands to specifically support women’s football.

Visit Saudi is set to join global brands such as Adidas, Visa and Coca-Cola in sponsoring the World Cup, which is scheduled to last from 20 July for a month across 12 cities in New Zealand and Australia, with organisers estimating that around 2 billion people will watch the tournament as the popularity of the women’s game continues to rise. Fifa has been approached for comment.

Saudi Arabia has been criticised for its human rights record and accused of “sportswashing” after investing heavily in global sport, with the investment in Newcastle United and the recently formed LIV Golf tour both financed by the country’s Public Investment Fund.

New Zealand Football said: “If these reports prove correct, we are shocked and disappointed to hear this as [we] haven’t been consulted by Fifa at all on this matter. As Fifa Women’s World Cup 2023 co-hosts, New Zealand Football and Football Australia have jointly written to Fifa to urgently clarify the situation.”

Amnesty International UK’s head of priority campaigns and individuals at risk, Felix Jakens, said: “The rolling crackdown on human rights under Mohammed bin Salman has seen brave women’s rights defenders like Loujain al-Hathloul jailed, tortured and then banned from speaking publicly or leaving the country, so this latest reported effort to sportswash the country’s appalling human rights record is both breathtaking and yet entirely predictable.

The Women’s World Cup head coaches pose for a group photo at last year’s finals draw in Auckland.
The Women’s World Cup head coaches pose for a group photo at last year’s finals draw in Auckland. Photograph: Stephen McCarthy/Fifa/Getty Images

“After Cristiano Ronaldo’s signing, the purchase of Newcastle, the LIV Golf series and the country’s hosting of numerous high-profile sporting events, Saudi Arabia’s use of sport to try to mask its terrible human rights record is now a depressingly well-established pattern.

“Women in Saudi Arabia face serious discrimination in marriage, divorce, inheritance and child custody rights, while Saudi women who’ve dared to speak out about the need for reforms in the country have received massive jail sentences.”

Jakens added: “Fifa should speak out about the need for human rights reform in Saudi Arabia and not merely allow its premier women’s tournament to be used for sportswashing, while players, coaches and fans should likewise challenge this crude exploitation of their sport by Saudi Arabia.”

Saudi Arabia submitted a bid last month to host the 2026 Women’s Asian Cup. The Saudi Arabia Football Federation has also announced a new strategy to transform the women’s game in its country and targeted a top 20 Fifa ranking in time for the 2034 World Cup.

In other news Saudi Arabia has been chosen as the 2027 men’s Asian Cup hosts at the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) congress in Bahrain. It will be Saudi Arabia’s first staging of the event, with the decision confirmed after India, Iran, Qatar and Uzbekistan had earlier withdrawn from the bidding process.

The Gulf state is thought to be very interested in hosting the men’s World Cup in 2030, potentially in a joint bid alongside Greece and Egypt. Delegates at the AFC congress also re-elected the incumbent president, Bahrain’s Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, for another four-year term.

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