Saudi Arabia is on the sponsorship board for the upcoming Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. The country’s tourism board, Visit Saudi, is a sponsor for the tournament, says David Ornstein of The Athletic.

Note that this is not tied to FIFA’s official sponsors. Those sponsors, such as Coca-Cola or Adidas are long-term sponsors.

Instead, FIFA is changing its commercial strategy for this tournament. FIFA is looking to capitalize on the growing interest in the women’s game by introducing official supporters of the tournament. Thirteen months ago, FIFA unveiled VISA as an official sponsor. Then, just this past month, Australia’s Commonwealth Bank became an official supporter.

Effectively, it is a way to get more eyes on sponsors, and more money for FIFA.

However, there are major concerns on the human rights record of Saudi Arabia, particularly in the women’s game.

Saudi Arabia sponsorship of Women’s World Cup raises questions

Looking back to the men’s World Cup in 2022, Qatar was the main sponsor of FOX’s World Cup coverage, spending millions. In doing so, FOX Sports effectively ran an infomercial for Qatar during the World Cup, neglecting to report on any controversies or of the lack of freedoms in Qatar.

Meanwhile, fellow Middle East neighbor Saudi Arabia continues to align with the sponsorship and monetary side of FIFA, it grows increasingly more likely that the Middle Eastern country could host a major soccer event.

For example, Saudi Arabia, Greece and Egypt are in the running to host the 2030 World Cup. It would be just eight years after the controversy surrounding Qatar’s acquisition of the 2022 World Cup.

In terms of its human rights record, Amnesty International says it is “appalling.” Amnesty added that the attempts to sportswash the human rights record is both “breath-taking and yet entirely predictable.”

Saudi Arabia only started letting women attend soccer games in 2018. Then, two years later, it launched its first women’s professional soccer league. The nation procrastinated until just this month to host its first four-team competition to get an official women’s ranking from FIFA.

FOX coverage

It should be interesting to see how FOX handles Visit Saudi as a sponsor for the 2023 World Cup. It proudly embraced Qatar and the commercials throughout the competition. In fact, it seemed every other commercial break had the “let the world play” advert.

Granted, Saudi Arabia is not the host of this tournament. However, its unveiling as an official sponsor could be foreboding for a number of reasons.

PHOTO: IMAGO / Kolvenbach

Guide to World Cup 2023

Here are some resources to help you get the most out of the biggest event in women's soccer!
Schedule: All the info on where and when to watch every game
TV Coverage: How to watch the games on TV
World Cup Bracket: Map out the entire tournament, from the groups to the final