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FIFA president Giovanni Infantino (© Alamy)

FIFA to drop Visit Saudi sponsorship?

Football Supporters’ Association response to reports that FIFA is poised to scrap its Visit Saudi sponsorship of the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023:

At a time when football is striving to grow the women’s game, giving it the status it deserves after decades of negligence, the decision to take Visit Saudi’s money has been met with anger by our member supporters’ groups. 

It’s a sponsorship deal which should be dropped by FIFA.

In our evidence to the The Future of Women’s Football Review we argue that investment is important but ethical considerations must extend to sponsors and their values.

How will young women and girls, the next generation of Lionesses players and fans, relate to Visit Saudi? A sponsorship funded by a regime which only allowed its women’s team to play their first game in February 2022. 

It’s tempting to hope that the game marked a linear progress towards equality, which is something we would obviously love to see, and we know change doesn’t happen overnight.

But since that fixture Saudi Arabia passed a new law which “entrenches a system of gender-based discrimination in most aspects of family life, including in marriage, divorce, and child custody” (Amnesty International). 

They passed that law on 8th March 2022 – also known as International Women’s Day.

Saudi Arabia also has some of the strictest laws on the planet forbidding LGBT+ visitors from, basically, being themselves. How does this make LGBT+ fans and players feel? FIFA takes the money, looks the other way and mumbles meaningless platitudes. 

Visit Saudi sponsorship does not represent a society reflecting upon its values and arching towards equality – Visit Saudi sponsorship is a clear example of sportswashing for a regime committed to laws which discriminate against women and LGBT+ fans.

FIFA should spike this deal immediately and speak to FAs, players, coaches, referees and supporters – who were certainly not consulted. They should be answerable to all of football.

FIFA even seem to be beyond consultation with the World Cup’s host nations who were not asked about the deal and initially expressed their own shock and disappointment earlier this year.

The only reason this deal can’t be described as a total embarrassment to FIFA is that they are an organisation which is not only beyond consultation – but beyond embarrassment too. 

And nothing highlights that more than Visit Saudi’s sponsorship of the Women’s World Cup.

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