Australian players’ union and LGBTQ+ advocates join criticism of Saudi sponsorship of Women’s World Cup

Professional Footballers Australia says Fifa has consistently been unwilling to uphold its stated human rights commitments

Australia’s professional footballers union and LGBTQ+ advocates have criticised Fifa for accepting sponsorship from the Saudi Arabian tourism authority for the Women’s World Cup later this year, with one group saying the event is now being sponsored by a country where many players and fans would be persecuted for being themselves.

Fifa is expected to confirm that Visit Saudi will join international brands such as Adidas, Coca-Cola and Visa in attaching its name to the 32-team tournament that will kick off in front of an expected 50,000 supporters at Auckland’s Eden Park on 20 July.

The deal has been agreed under Fifa’s new “commercial partnership structure” dedicated to developing revenues specifically for the women’s game, with funds generated from the World Cup going back into the sport.

The arrangement has been condemned by human rights groups, which have called the move a “textbook case of sportswashing”, and in a statement the New Zealand sport minister, Grant Robertson, said football bodies that are part of Fifa, including NZ Football, have written to Fifa to express their concern.

Consensual same-sex sexual conduct is strictly prohibited in Saudi Arabia, punishable by death or flogging. Sexual relations outside marriage are banned, and it is illegal for men “to behave like women” or to wear women’s clothes and vice versa.

The Professional Footballers Australia co-chief executive Kathryn Gill also condemned the move, saying players were the “public face” of Fifa’s major tournaments, but their voice had been excluded from a decision-making process that would benefit from their involvement.

“Fifa is obliged to respect all internationally recognised human rights and to exert its considerable leverage when they are not being respected or protected. However, they have consistently shown that they lack the willingness to uphold their stated human rights commitments.

“The players’ objective is to make the 2023 Fifa Women’s World Cup a genuine force for good, and they will continue to hold Fifa to account when they undermine this.”

Organisers of the A-League’s Pride Cup, which is due to be held on 16 February between Melbourne Victory and Adelaide United, said in a statement the decision disregarded the “human rights of players, fans and officials”.

“The FIFA Women’s World Cup is now being sponsored by a country where many players and fans would be persecuted and arrested for being themselves.”

Dr Ryan Storr, a research associate at the Sport Innovation Research Group at Swinburne University of Technology, said the deal was “a bit of a mess”, adding that the Saudi Arabian tourism body was not a “good fit” for the tournament.

“Saudi Arabia actually has one of the world’s worst legal systems around LGBT qualities and around homosexuality in particular,” he said.

Women Onside, an NGO focused on advocating for women in football, said it was “concerned” by the deal, adding it highlighted Fifa’s “indifference” to human rights records.

“While there has been progress for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia in recent years, including the establishment of a women’s national football team, Saudi Arabia remains an authoritarian state where rights for women and minority groups are constrained, same-sex relationships are illegal, freedom of expression is limited and dissidents are jailed.

“Visit Saudi is not an appropriate sponsor for the Women’s World Cup.”

A number of legal changes have been introduced in recent years in Saudi Arabia, including ending the ban on women driving and making amendments to the oppressive guardianship law that would allow, for the first time, women to apply for official documents such as a passport and to travel abroad independently.

However, women still have to obtain male guardian permission to get married, leave prison, or obtain some forms of sexual and reproductive healthcare. Male guardians can also bring legal action against women for “disobedience” and being absent from home.

Fifa has not replied to a request for comment.


Mostafa Rachwani

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Saudi Arabia tourism body’s sponsorship of 2023 Women’s World Cup condemned by human rights groups
Australian and New Zealand football organisations seek ‘urgent’ clarification from Fifa over its deal with Visit Saudi

Mostafa Rachwani

01, Feb, 2023 @6:33 AM

Article image
Fifa could perform U-turn on Saudi sponsorship of Women’s World Cup
There is cautious but growing optimism among Football Australia officials that Fifa will drop plans to unveil Visit Saudi as a key Women’s World Cup sponsor

Sean Ingle

06, Mar, 2023 @1:42 PM

Article image
Saudi Arabia to sponsor Women’s World Cup and tighten ties with Fifa
The tourist authority for Saudi Arabia is to join international brands as a sponsor for the 2023 Women’s World Cup that starts on 20 July in Auckland

Paul MacInnes

31, Jan, 2023 @12:57 PM

Article image
Australia and New Zealand's winning Women's World Cup bid is a moment of optimism for football
Hosting the Fifa tournament will also open the door to the greatest untapped commercial market in world football: Asia

Samantha Lewis

25, Jun, 2020 @10:48 PM

Article image
Fifa admits defeat over Saudi sponsorship of Women’s World Cup
Fifa has admitted defeat over plans to make Visit Saudi a sponsor of this year’s Women’s World Cup after a huge backlash from organisers and players

Sean Ingle

16, Mar, 2023 @1:19 PM

Article image
New Zealand FA ‘shocked’ by reports of Women’s World Cup Saudi sponsorship
Saudi Arabia’s tourism authority will reportedly be an official sponsor at the 2023 Women’s World Cup, but the co-hosts claim they were ‘not consulted’

Tony Paley

01, Feb, 2023 @5:42 PM

Article image
'It’s going to put us on the map': 2023 Women’s World Cup bidders set for momentous verdict | Samantha Lewis
Australia and New Zealand’s joint bid is in pole position and if successful will provide an opportunity to secure a lasting legacy in the region

Samantha Lewis

23, Jun, 2020 @5:30 PM

Article image
Breaking down Australia’s nightmare 2023 Women’s World Cup draw
The Matildas must overcome daunting challenges if they are to avoid an early exit at their home tournament next year

Emma Kemp

23, Oct, 2022 @1:35 AM

Article image
Matildas to play France in final Women’s World Cup warm-up
The Matildas will play France in Melbourne six days before opening their home World Cup campaign

Emma Kemp

27, Feb, 2023 @10:30 PM

Article image
Women’s World Cup ticket sales ‘off to great start’ as major milestone reached
With six months to go until the big kick-off, over half a million tickets have been sold for the 2023 Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand

Guardian sport

17, Jan, 2023 @4:13 AM