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Grant Robertson’s message to Fifa amid World Cup controversy

Secretary of Sport Grant Robertson. Photo / Greg Bowker

Sport Minister Grant Robertson has urged Fifa to consider “empowering women and girls” amid controversy over Saudi sponsorship of this year’s Women’s World Cup, co-hosted by New Zealand and Australia.

Visit Saudi, the national tourism authority of Saudi Arabia, is reportedly to be unveiled as a sponsor for the upcoming tournament.

The reported sponsorship has sparked controversy, with Amnesty International among many decrying the move because of Saudi Arabia’s poor human rights record.

Robertson said he hopes Fifa will take women’s and girls’ empowerment into account in their sponsorship of the event.

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“When it comes to women’s sport here in New Zealand, we’ve made tremendous strides and part of that has ensured that we empower women and girls in sport but also in life in general,” Robertson said in a statement to Reuters.

“I would like to think Fifa would understand that too and when they think about their commercial arrangements they would take that into account.”

Sport Minister Grant Robertson and FIFA Secretary General Fatma Samoura ahead of the Women's World Cup draw.  photo / file
Sport Minister Grant Robertson and FIFA Secretary General Fatma Samoura ahead of the Women’s World Cup draw. photo / file

The leaders of the New Zealand and Australian football associations, including President Gianni Infantino, warned in a letter to Fifa that unilaterally sealing Visit Saudi’s sponsorship could “seriously damage the reputation of the 32-nation tournament, which begins in July”.

And that’s despite the tourism brand being endorsed by Lionel Messi, the men’s World Cup captain, who was announced as a paid pitchman last year. The Visit Saudi campaign was among more than 30 sponsors at last year’s Men’s World Cup in Qatar.

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

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

“We cannot express strongly enough the potential impact and consequences that could result from this decision.”

The FIFA Women's World Cup trophy at the last tournament in France.  Photo / Getty
The FIFA Women’s World Cup trophy at the last tournament in France. Photo / Getty

Tournament organizers and government officials in both countries were said not to have been consulted, nor given the opportunity to come up with a counter-proposal for a domestic tourism campaign.

“Australia and New Zealand, both as sovereign nations and as football governing bodies, have for decades placed the highest value on gender equality and strive to promote these ideals around the world,” the letter continued, reminding Fifa that their governments have hundreds of euros have invested millions in the football event.

“While we recognize that some important and positive gender equality reforms have begun in Saudi Arabia, by any reasonable standard it remains undeniable that women’s rights remain severely restricted.”

Robertson said sponsorship is ultimately a decision for Fifa.

“The football organizations that are part of Fifa, including NZ Football, have written to express their concerns,” he added.

“That’s where the decision-making lies, from our perspective our focus is on making sure we put on a great tournament and empower women and girls to be active in sport and in their free time.”

Fifa and Visit Saudi have yet to comment on World Cup sponsorship.

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The tournament is scheduled to start from July 20th to August 20th.

– with AP


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