FIFA has not publicly announced that Visit Saudi will sponsor the Women’s World Cup taking place in Australia and New Zealand this year but, the body looks set to nix the deal following a “ferocious” backlash from leading players.
In January, sports publication The Athletic, reported that a deal was on the cards but this reportedly triggered criticism from Football Australia and New Zealand Football who demanded answers.
A letter to FIFA from Football Australia chairman Chris Nikou and New Zealand Football boss Joanna Wood expressed “serious disappointment and concern” over the deal.
While Matildas players have stayed quiet on the issue, USA players Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe have said the deal is “bizarre,” “totally inappropriate,” and “outrageous.” Dutch forward Vivianne Miedema said FIFA should be “deeply ashamed.”
FIFA is apparently shocked by the backlash, according to a source familiar with the matter who spoke to the Sydney Morning Herald.
The source also said that FIFA was considering methods to “reshape” its deal with Visit Saudi to find a solution before the body’s congress in Rwanda taking place next week that could see the sponsorship being transferred to another Saudi-related entity that would also assuage concerns in Australia and New Zealand about promoting another holiday destination.
“I found the response fairly ambiguous. It didn’t confirm nor deny the potential Visit Saudi sponsorship that has been reported in the media,” said Andrew Pragnell, New Zealand Football’s chief executive on Friday.
“It did allude to the importance of treating all member associations equally and the importance of engagement as opposed to isolation. Other than that, it stated that they’d be reaching out through their media and partnerships team for further conversations.
“We’re left in a little bit of uncertainty as to what’s going on here, to be frank, which is a bit disappointing. Anything further I say would be speculation because I don’t know, but clearly our letter, given the delay in the response, and the absence of confirmation or denial, has caused some form of rethink in FIFA about this issue.”
FIFA President Gianni Infantino said that FIFA had undergone a “learning process” from the World Cup.
“What we will try to do better this time is to search and look for dialogue with everyone involved – the captains, the federations, the players generally, FIFA – from all over the world to capture the different sensitivities, to explain, to exchange, and to see what can be done in order to express a position, a value or a feeling that somebody has without hurting anyone else.
“In a positive way, we are looking for a dialogue and we will have a position in place well before the Women’s World Cup, I hope so.”
We will see how that plays out when New Zealand take on Norway in the opening game on 20 July.
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