Visit Saudi will not be a sponsor at the Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand later this year, but FIFA president Gianni Infantino has not ruled out future commercial opportunities for gulf nation in women’s football.
The Saudi Arabia tourism board had been touted as a potential sponsor of the expanded 32-team tournament, which drew sharp criticism from a number players and federations, though Infantino said any backlash was just a “storm in a tea cup”.
The greatest ire 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 falls short of our expectations”.
Other leading figures in the women’s game also criticised the plan, including veteran U.S. forward Alex Morgan, who said it “morally” did not make sense.
“There were discussions with Visit Saudi, but in the end these did not lead to a contract. So it was a storm in a tea cup,” Infantino said after he was reelected at FIFA’s Congress in Kigali on Thursday.
“But having said that, FIFA is an organisation made up of 211 countries. There is nothing wrong with taking sponsorships from Saudi Arabia, China, United States of America, Brazil or India.”
Infantino added that critics of the potential sponsorship ignored the commercial arrangements 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. This doesn’t seem to be a problem?
“There is a double standard which I really do not understand. There is no issue, there is no contract, but of course we want to see how we can involve Saudi sponsors, and those from Qatar, in women’s football generally,” he said.
“This year we will have the Women’s World Cup. This should be a celebration of women, it has to be. And yet there’s this negativity which always comes out. Why is that?
“Why can we not try a little bit to focus on the positive?”
Football Australia chief executive James Johnson said in a statement they are pleased there is clarity on the situation.
“We welcome clarification from FIFA regarding Visit Saudi,” he said. “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.
“It is a historic event for our nation, showcasing the world’s greatest female players and advancing the game globally.”
Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has introduced reforms allowing women greater control over their lives in recent years but men still retain a tight grip on power in the kingdom.