Women’s World Cup co-hosts Australia and New Zealand have written to Fifa seeking urgent clarification after reports that Saudi Arabia’s tourism authority has signed a sponsorship deal for the global soccer showpiece.
Football Australia (FA) expects global governing body Fifa to confirm that Visit Saudi will join international brands such as Adidas, Coca-Cola and Visa as major sponsors of the 32-team tournament which kicks off in July, the Guardian reported.
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FA said it understood Fifa had entered into a “destination partnership agreement” for the World Cup and had written to Fifa seeking clarity on the situation.
"We are very disappointed that Football Australia were not consulted on this matter prior to any decision being made," FA said in a statement on Wednesday.
New Zealand Football added in a separate statement: “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.”
Fifa and Visit Saudi were unable to provide immediate comment.
Reports of the sponsorship deal drew a scathing response from human rights activists.
“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 Amnesty International Australia campaigner Nikita White.
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Former Australia international and media pundit Craig Foster said it would be "disgraceful in the extreme".
Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has in recent years introduced reforms allowing women greater control over their lives but men still retain a tight grip on power.
The kingdom made a major splash in global soccer in recent months with Cristiano Ronaldo joining Saudi club Al Nassr in a two-and-a-half year deal estimated to be worth more than €200 million.
The Middle Eastern nation also has ambitions of hosting the men’s World Cup in 2030 and is expected to be rubber stamped as host of the 2027 Asian Cup at an Asian Football Confederation congress this month.