Saudi Arabian tourism agency will not be a sponsor at 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup
World football governing body FIFA has conceded defeat in its plans to make Visit Saudi a major sponsor of this year’s Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand after a huge backlash from organisers and players.
Speaking at the body’s 73rd Congress being held in the held in the Rwandan capital, FIFA President, Gianni Infantino advised “I can clarify that there were discussions with Visit Saudi. At the end this discussion didn’t lead into a contract. How do you say it? It was a storm in a water glass. A storm in a teacup.”
Despite the FIFA President’s attempts to make light of the situation, this is a significant victory for organisers who were suprised in January by reports suggesting the Saudi Arabian tourism agency was close to being a potential sponsor of the expanded 32-team tournament, given the Kingoom’s human rights record and had put significant public pressure on FIFA to change course.
In addition to governing bodies, players had also spoken out, including the Netherlands striker Vivianne Miedema, who told FIFA it should be “deeply ashamed” for even considering such a deal.
However, Infantino, who announced a US$150 million prize fund for this year’s tournament - a 300% rise from 2019 - said he didn’t see anything wrong with taking sponsorship from countries such as Saudi Arabia.
Infantino noted “FIFA is an organisation of 211 countries.
“For us they are all the same. There wouldn’t be anything bad in making sponsorships from Saudi Arabia, China, United States of America, Brazil or India as far as we are concerned.”
Infantino also pointed out that while there had been a backlash to the proposed Visit Saudi deal, very little was being said about the US$1.5 billion worth of trade between Australia and Saudi Arabia every year.
He stated “this doesn’t seem to be a problem, But between a global organisation like FIFA and Visit Saudi this would have been an issue. There is a double standard here, which I really don’t understand.
“There is no issue and no contract. There are discussions and, of course, we want to see how we can involve Saudi sponsors in women’s football generally, how we can involve Saudi sponsors in men football, or we can involve Qatari sponsors in women’s football and men’s football, and all other sponsors from all over the world.”
The decision was welcomed by Football Australia Chief Executive, James Johnson, who explained “equality, diversity and inclusion are really deep commitments for Football Australia and we’ll continue to work hard with FIFA to ensure the Women’s World Cup is shaped in this light.”
Despite criticism towards FIFA over its handling of human rights concerns related to the Qatar 2022 men's World Cup, the Congress has also seen Infantino secure an unopposed re-election as the body’s President.
He has used the Congress to set a target of equal prize money for men and women at their next World Cups, in 2026 and 2027, respectively - a tough task when the 32 men’s teams shared US$440 million at last year’s World Cup in Qatar.
However, he stated “women deserve much, much more than that and we are there to fight for them and with them.”
Despite criticism towards FIFA over its handling of human rights concerns related to the Qatar 2022 men's World Cup, FIFA Senior Vice-President Salman bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa, the Bahraini official who was also re-elected unopposed as Asian Football Confederation President in February, invited delegates for a round of applause to confirm Infantino's latest term.
Images: Australia and New Zealand are hosting the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup (top, credit: Shutterstock), FIFA President Gianni Infantino (middle) and Visit Saudi has been reported as being set to become the front of shirt sponsor for Manchester United as ot the 2023/24 English Premier League season (below).
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