Visit Saudi proposed sponsorship of 2023 Women’s World Cup sparks controversy

Saudi Arabia tourism authority Visit Saudi are set to be named as one of the sponsors for the 2023 Women’s World Cup, sparking complaints from the Australia and New Zealand football associations and human rights activists.

The 2023 Women’s World Cup takes place in Australia and New Zealand between 20 July and 20 August this summer.

This week, it was reported that Visit Saudi was set to follow in the footsteps of brands including adidas, Coca-Cola and Visa in sponsoring the tournament, despite the country’s history of repressing women’s and LGBTQ+ rights.

The football associations of hosts Australia and New Zealand have expressed their concern at the reports, having not been consulted about the proposed sponsorship deal.

“We are very disappointed that Football Australia were not consulted on this matter prior to any decision being made,” a spokesperson from Football Australia said. “Football Australia and New Zealand Football have jointly written to FIFA to urgently clarify the situation.”

A separate statement from New Zealand Football added: “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.”

Changes to legislation have taken place in Saudi Arabia in recent years to better the freedoms of women, with the ban on women driving lifted in 2017, and amendments to the male guardianship law made in 2019. This allowed women to apply for documents and travel abroad independently.

However, the guardianship law still applies for women aged under 21, and women still need permission from a male guardian to get married and obtain forms of sexual healthcare.

Women were not allowed to attend football matches in Saudi Arabia until 2018. The Saudi Arabia Women’s national team played their first official fixture in February 2022.

LGBTQ+ rights are not recognised in Saudi Arabia, and same sex activity is illegal.

“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,” said Nikita White, an Amnesty Australia campaigner [via The Guardian].

”The Saudi authorities sponsoring the Women’s World Cup would be a textbook case of sport-washing.”

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