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Women's World Cup: Australia and New Zealand 'disappointed' over potential Saudi sponsorship

The co-hosts say they were not consulted about Saudi Arabia sponsoring tournament, ask Fifa for clarification
Volunteers carry a Fifa logo during Qatar 2022 World Cup, 3 December 2022 (AFP)

Australia and New Zealand on Wednesday expressed disappointment at not being consulted about Fifa's deal with Saudi Arabia to sponsor the Women's World Cup that they are co-hosting in July.

Australia and New Zealand football associations have written to Fifa asking for urgent clarification after reports of the deal between Saudi Arabia's tourism ministry and the international football governing body emerged.

Fifa is expected to confirm that Saudi Arabia will display ads for its "Visit Saudi" tourist campaign during football matches, alongside international brands such as Adidas, Coca-Cola and Visa.

Football Australia (FA) said in a statement that it "understands FIFA has entered into a destination partnership agreement" for the tournament, and was disappointed that it was "not consulted on this matter prior to any decision being made".

Football Australia has asked Fifa to confirm whether "Visit Saudi" would be one of the sponsors. 

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New Zealand Football said in a separate statement: "If these reports prove correct, we are shocked and disappointed to hear this as New Zealand Football haven't been consulted by Fifa at all on this matter."

Neither Fifa nor Saudi Arabia has made statements on the topic. 

Fifa has urged big brands to sponsor women's football as part of a plan to encourage the sport worldwide. The tournament in July will see 32 international teams competing for the trophy, up from 24 in previous rounds.

Disgraceful decision

Saudi Arabia's sponsorship has drawn harsh criticism from human rights groups over its treatment of Saudi female activists detained in cases of free speech.

Saudi Arabia set to sponsor Fifa Women's World Cup amid mounting controversy
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Nikita White, a campaigner at Amnesty International Australia, said, "it would be quite the irony for Saudi's tourism body to sponsor the largest celebration of women's sport in the world when you consider that, as a woman in Saudi Arabia, you can't even have a job without the permission of your male guardian."

Craig Foster, a former Australia international, described Fifa's decision as "disgraceful in the extreme".

Saudi Arabia only established its national women's football team in 2020. Additionally, women were not allowed to enter public stadiums until 2018, the year they were also allowed to drive. 

It wasn't until 2012 that Saudi Arabia sent a woman to compete at the Olympics.

In January, the Saudi Arabian squad won its first Women's International Friendly Tournament, allowing it to enter Fifa's international rankings for the first time.

In recent years Saudi Arabia, under its de-facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has grabbed headlines for relaxing some laws on women's rights, concerts and cinemas.

Even as the crown prince clamps down on women's rights activists, Saudi Arabia has sought to project itself as a country in the throes of a social revolution, especially by using the medium of sport and entertainment.

However, critics said it is all part of sports washing as Saudi Arabia silences political opposition and increases repression.

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