Visit Saudi will not sponsor the FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand later this year following an outcry from host nations Australia and New Zealand.
But FIFA President Gianni Infantino did not rule out future business opportunities for the Gulf nation in women’s football and accused Australia of having a ‘double standard’ over its attitude towards the country’s involvement in Saudi Arabic.
Saudi Arabia’s tourism board has been touted as a potential sponsor for the 32-team open-season tournament, which has been heavily criticized by many, although Infantino says it’s all just a “storm in a cup of tea”.
The greatest ire came from Football Australia (FA), 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 US World Cup star 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 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] US$1.5 billion ($2.3 billion) per year. This doesn’t seem to be a problem?
“There is a double standard which I really do not understand.
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.
Football Australia chief executive James Johnson said in a statement that the organisation was pleased there was 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.”