Infantino told a FIFA meeting in Rwanda that a deal with the Visit Saudi agency was discussed but it did not lead to a contract. He did not attribute Visit Saudi’s non-involvement to ethical concerns, and said he would still seek future commercial deals with the Gulf nation.
“FIFA is made up of 211 countries,” he said, adding that “there is nothing wrong” about sponsoring members such as Saudi Arabia, China, the United States of America, Brazil or India.
The host nations’ soccer authorities welcomed the news that the tournament, which runs from July 20 to August 20, will not be sponsored by Saudi Arabia. “Equality, diversity and inclusion are really deep commitments for Football Australia,” said chief executive James Johnson. “We will continue to work with FIFA to ensure that the Women’s World Cup is shaped in this light.”
FIFA and Visit Saudi did not respond to requests for comment on Friday.
The controversy is the latest instance of human rights debates playing out on soccer fields and in stadiums around the world. FIFA has been heavily criticized for awarding Qatar hosting rights to the men’s World Cup last year despite poor working conditions for migrant workers in the country. Fans too LGBTQ-themed clothing is prohibited in the tournament. (Some have argued that public scrutiny urged Qatar to reform laws to do so.)
Justine Nolan, director of Australian Human Rights Institute at the University of New South Wales, said the proposed Visit Saudi deal is part of a wider trend of “sports washing,” or when government and corporate entities use athlete sponsorships to fix their public images.
He suggested that such opportunities include Saudi Arabia hosting a Formula 1 race, as well as Australia’s World Tour Cycling Team. renamed to reflect funding from the Saudi government.
While international sporting events are a powerful force for global solidarity, sports organizations risk losing legitimacy if they allow their events to be used to cover up human rights abuses. human, he said. “The sport should not be hijacked for this purpose.”
In recent years, Saudi Arabia has moved to liberalize parts of its legal system, including lifting the ban on women drives and ends gender segregation in many public spaces. (Until recently, the kingdom imprisoned some women’s rights activists which pushed for an end to driving restrictions.)
The social changes were driven by Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, US intelligence said was responsible for the killing in 2018 by dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a contributing opinion columnist at The Washington Post. Last year, a woman was sentenced 34 years in prison for tweets critical of the government.