Women's World Cup 2023: FIFA may drop Visit Saudi as sponsor, Sky News learns

FIFA is looking at no longer having Visit Saudi as a Women's World Cup sponsor after a backlash by hosts Australia and New Zealand, Sky News has learned.

Players also urged FIFA to not allow their tournament to have sponsorship from a country which criminalises same-sex relations and where women are yet to gain full equal rights.

FIFA has deepened its ties with Saudi Arabia in recent years and the tourism agency had a prominent position on sponsor backdrops at the men's 2022 World Cup in Qatar and the Club World Cup in Morocco last month.

But the football federations of Australia and New Zealand complained more than a month ago to FIFA, saying they were not comfortable with Visit Saudi as a sponsor over rights concerns and the lack of consultation.

Sky News has learned FIFA has told Australia and New Zealand it is open to finding a solution to the dispute ahead of the tournament opening in July.

That solution could now mean Visit Saudi no longer has the prominent sponsorship it has enjoyed at recent men's events.

FIFA has never publicly announced plans for Visit Saudi backing of the Women's World Cup but the tournament hosts expressed shock to discover through reports about the potential sponsorship.

'We would not be comfortable' with sponsorship

Football Federation Australia CEO James Johnson told Sky News last month: "There's been a lot of progression in Saudi Arabia over the past four or five years, but there are still issues that in Australia don't sit well with, particularly our girls and our women."

In a renewed intervention today, Mr Johnson said in a statement that "we would not be comfortable" with the sponsorship.

New Zealand Football chief executive Andrew Pragnell has been quoted as saying there is "some form of rethink in FIFA about this issue".

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The tournament, which has been expanded from 24 to 32 teams for this edition, opens in July with European champions England trying to win their first Women's World Cup.

The event will not feature Saudi Arabia, whose women's national team only started playing games last year and is yet to be ranked by FIFA.

Saudi Arabia's most high-profile role in football is through the ownership of Newcastle United since 2021 by its sovereign wealth fund, PIF.

FIFA declined to comment. There was no response from the Saudi government.