Women’s World Cup co-hosts Australia and New Zealand on Wednesday urged FIFA not to sign a sponsorship deal with the Tourism Authority of Saudi Arabia, where “women’s rights remain severely restricted”.
The leaders of the two national football associations, including President Gianni Infantino, warned in a letter to FIFA that the unilateral closure of the Visit Saudi sponsorship could “seriously damage the reputation of the 32-nation tournament that begins in July”.
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 “sports linen” investments.
“We are writing to express our great disappointment and concern at the news of Visit Saudi’s apparent appointment as a sponsor,” wrote Chris Nikou of Australia and Joanna Wood of New Zealand in a letter to FIFA obtained by The Associated Press on Wednesday.
“We cannot express strongly enough the potential impact and consequences that could result from this decision.
“Australia and New Zealand, both as sovereign nations and as football governing bodies, have held gender equality at the forefront for decades and strive to promote these ideals around the world,” the letter reads, reminding FIFA that their governments Hundreds have invested millions in the event.
Tournament organizers and government officials in both countries have not been consulted, they claimed.
FIFA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Saudi Arabia has made strides in women’s football over the past three years, creating a national team and national league and preparing a bid to host the 2026 Asian Women’s Cup.
In Saudi society, however, women’s freedoms are curtailed by strict male guardianship laws.
The Visit Saudi campaign was one of more than 30 sponsors at last year’s Men’s World Cup in Qatar.
FIFA did not officially announce this deal, which was made clear by pitchside advertisements when games started in November.
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