2 Feb 2023

Sports minister urges FIFA to consider 'empowerment of women'

5:07 pm on 2 February 2023

FIFA Women's World Cup trophy and official tournament ball Photo: Supplied: FIFA

Sports minister Grant Robertson believes FIFA needs to consider the "empowerment of women and girls" when making commercial arrangements amid reports Saudi Arabia's tourism arm is set to sponsor the Women's World Cup.

Australia and New Zealand, co-hosts of this year's World Cup, wrote to global soccer governing body FIFA on Wednesday seeking urgent clarification after the Guardian reported Visit Saudi will be named as a major sponsor of the tournament.

"When it comes to women's sport here in New Zealand we have made tremendous progress and part of that has been making sure that we are empowering women and girls in sport but also in life generally," Robertson said in a statement.

"I would like to think that FIFA would understand that as well, and when they are thinking about their commercial arrangements that they would factor that in."

FIFA and Visit Saudi have declined to comment on sponsorship of the World Cup.

Ibrahim Al Kassim, the secretary general of the Saudi Arabian Football Federation, said that although his body was not involved in sponsorship deals, such moves were a part of his country's new engagement with the world.

"That's the commercial side, we are football federations, so we don't get involved in that," he told Reuters at the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) congress in Bahrain.

"But basically, Saudi Arabia is opening to the world. Saudi Arabia is reaching out to the world, just to show the world what Saudi Arabia is capable of."

Reports of the sponsorship deal drew a scathing response from human rights activists, who criticised Saudi Arabia's record on women's rights.

Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has introduced reforms allowing women greater control over their lives in recent years but men still retain a tight grip on power in the kingdom.

Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson

Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Robertson said sponsorship was ultimately a decision for FIFA.

"The football bodies that are part of FIFA including NZ Football have written to express their concern," he added.

"That's where the decision-making sits, from our point of view we are focused on making sure we host a great tournament and we do empower women and girls to be active in sport and recreation."

The Women's World Cup runs from July 20 to Aug. 20.