Visit Saudi will not be a sponsor of the Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand later this year, but FIFA president Gianni Infantino has not ruled out future business opportunities for the Gulf nation in women’s soccer.
Saudi Arabia’s tourism board had been touted as a potential sponsor of the expanded 32-team tournament, drawing heavy criticism from a number of players and federations, though Infantino said any backlash was just a “storm in a teacup”. .
The biggest anger came from Football Australia, who said there was an “overwhelming consensus that this partnership does not align with our collective vision for the tournament and does not meet our expectations.”
Other leading figures in women’s soccer also criticized the plan, including veteran United States forward Alex Morgan, who said it “morally” made no sense.
“There were talks with Visit Saudi, but in the end they didn’t lead to a contract. So it was a storm in a cup of tea,” Infantino said after being re-elected at the FIFA Congress in Kigali on Thursday.
“But having said that, FIFA is an organization made up of 211 countries. There is nothing wrong with accepting sponsorships from Saudi Arabia, China, the United States of America, Brazil or India.”
Infantino added that critics of the potential sponsorship ignored commercial agreements that already exist between companies in Saudi Arabia and Australia.
“When it comes to Australia, they have trade with Saudi Arabia (worth) $1.5 billion per year. Doesn’t this seem like a problem?
“There is a double standard that I don’t really understand. No problem, no contract, but of course we want to see how we can involve Saudi sponsors, and Qatari sponsors, in women’s football in general,” she said. .
“This year we will have the Women’s World Cup. This should be a celebration of women, it has to be. And yet this negativity always comes up. Why?
“Why can’t we just try to focus on the positive for a bit?”
Football Australia chief executive James Johnson said in a statement that they are pleased there is clarity on the situation.
“We appreciate FIFA’s clarifications on Visit Saudi,” he said. “Equality, diversity and inclusion are really deep commitments to Football Australia and we will continue to work hard with FIFA to ensure the Women’s World Cup is shaped in this way.
“It is a historic event for our nation, showcasing the best players in the world and advancing the game globally.”
Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has introduced reforms allowing women more control over their lives in recent years, but men still retain a tight grip on power in the kingdom.