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Fifa’s decision to drop Saudi Arabia sponsorship of the Women’s World Cup, to hosted by Aotearoa and Australia, has been hailed as a victory for ‘’people power’’.
Visit Saudi had sponsored the men’s World Cup in Qatar and it had been widely reported that the tourism authority would also sponsor the women’s tournament, but re-elected Fifa president Gianni Infantino said on Friday that would not be happening.
He called the dispute a “storm in a teacup” and said extending the Visit Saudi deal to the Women’s World Cup, was a discussion that “didn’t lead into a contract.”
“There is a double standard here which I really don’t understand,” the Fifa president said, aiming a barb at critics of the deal.
People power is what drove Fifa to rethink Visit Saudi’s potential sponsorship of the Women’s World Cup, said Rebecca Sowden, former Football Fern and founder of sports marketing organisation Team Heroine.
“Power to the people. Without the voices of players, sports bodies, government bodies and advocates, Fifa … thought they could sneak that through without any backlash. It was so surprising that they were shocked by the backlash and didn’t think it was going to be an issue,” she said.
Sowden said if Fifa knew “anything about the women’s sports community” the decision to have Visit Saudi as a sponsor would be a “red herring”.
“The great thing about the women’s sports community is that it’s unique, with a collective, united voice. It’s a great place for people to come together. It’s such a powerful trait that women’s sport needs to leverage more. Look at what can create change. It was the noise that made Fifa stop and take stock of this,” she said.
The ideal Women’s Football World Cup sponsor is an organisation who believes in gender equality, she said.
“The positive values with aligning with this event is massive. We know the players are more relatable, it’s considered more inspiring and progressive, not to mention the global reach it’s going to have.”
Amnesty International Aotearoa New Zealand have claimed the withdrawal as a win for women and human rights
Talks about a possible deal had caused unease amongst players and the tournament co-hosts, with Government and World Cup organisers in both host countries had questioned if the deal would be appropriate for the women’s tournament, especially given Saudi Arabia’s record on women’s rights.
Amongst the players urging Fifa to rethink it, United States forward Alex Morgan said the proposal was “bizarre”.
Amnesty International Aotearoa New Zealand advocacy and policy manager Anna Cusack said the proposed sponsorship deal was “deeply problematic”.
“But today, people power won. We have seen the power of people coming together, with thousands of voices saying no to sportswashing,” Cusack said in statement.
“Of course, this is about much more than football. This is about standing in solidarity with Saudi women, girls and human rights activists, until they have the freedoms that everyone should have. Until they are not oppressed by the male guardianship system, until they are not imprisoned for promoting women’s rights, until people are not put to death.”
Cusack said people “must continue speaking out” against the Saudi authorities’ human rights abuses and calling for much-needed reforms.
“That includes the New Zealand Government raising concerns through all possible diplomatic channels and in public.”
But Infantino said there was a “double standard”, aiming a barb at critics of the deal, saying Australian companies had export trade to Saudi Arabia worth US$1.5billion (NZ$2.43billion) each year and “this doesn’t seem to be a problem or an issue”.
Football Australia and New Zealand Football, who jointly wrote to Fifa outlining their concerns, said they welcomed Fifa clarifying the Visit Saudi speculation.
“Equality, diversity and inclusion are really deep commitments for Football Australia,” Australian football chief executive James Johnson said, “and we’ll continue to work hard with Fifa to ensure the Women’s World Cup is shaped in this light.”
A NZ Football statement said: “We believe it is critical for all commercial partnerships to align with the vision and values of the tournaments they are involved in.”
Infantino also again expressed his anger with broadcasters for offering too little for TV rights of the women’s tournament. He said Fifa will not sell broadcast rights for the tournament in Australia and New Zealand at the prices currently being offered.
“Women deserve much, much more than that, and we are there to fight for them and with them,” he said.
The Fifa president angrily targeted broadcasters, some of them public service channels funded by taxpayers, who he said offered up to 100 times less for rights to the women’s tournament.
Infantino first raised the issue in October in New Zealand, and insisted Fifa still would not sell at those prices with women’s football drawing audiences perhaps 20-50% less than for men’s games.
“Well, offer us 20% less, 50% less. But not 100% less,” Infantino said in closing remarks to the Fifa Congress. “That’s why we can’t do it.”
Infantino, who was re-elected by acclamation through to 2027, also announced women will receive a 300% increase in prize money. The US$152 million (NZ$246m) fund for the first 32-team tournament – covering prize money, team preparation and payments to players’ clubs – is a huge boost from the 24-team edition in 2019, and 10 times what it was in 2015.
Fifa has unveiled the brand identity for the 2023 Women’s World Cup, featuring the work of indigenous artists from New Zealand and Australia. (First published October 2021)
Some of the US$110 million (NZ$178m) in pure prize money should be dedicated to paying players, he said, but players’ union Fifpro said it has challenged Fifa to secure a “global guarantee of at least 30% of prize money” that is paid to players.
Female players worldwide have been fighting for equal pay and equal respect with men’s national teams, including the defending champion United States, Canada, France and Spain.
Infantino set a target of equal prize money for men and women at their next World Cups, in 2026 and 2027, respectively – a tough task when the 32 men’s teams shared US$440 million (NZ$713m) at last year’s World Cup in Qatar.
– Additional reporting from AP