Dona Robertson suggests Fifa’s trade policies amid concerns over Saudi sponsorship

Sports Minister Dona Robertson hopes the FIFA Women's World Cup can empower women and girls in sport.


Sports Minister Dona Robertson hopes the FIFA Women’s World Cup can empower women and girls in sport.

Sports minister Grant Robertson has suggested Fifa is considering its commercial conditions after human rights campaigners denounced Saudi Arabia’s announcement of this year’s Fifa Women’s World Cup sponsorship.

The Gulf state’s tourism board, Visit Saudi Arabia, will soon be revealed as one of the tournament’s sponsors, according to reports in the UK.

The World Cup is the biggest women’s sporting event in the world and will be held in Australia and New Zealand for the first time this July and August.

Amnesty International Aotearoa New Zealand, a human rights group, said the Saudi sponsorship of the tournament was “deeply disappointing” because of the country’s “excellent” human rights record.

The group added that it was particularly concerned about Saudi Arabia’s reported denial of basic rights to women and girls.

Robertson said the government wanted to ensure the tournament “allows for women and girls in the game” and hoped Fifa understood that too.

“When it comes to the women’s game here in New Zealand, we’ve made huge progress and part of that is making sure we’re empowering women and girls in the game, but also in life in general, I’d like to think Fifa understands that they’re just as well, and when they’re going to do their business they think,” Robertson said Thursday in a statement.


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“Finally it’s FIFA’s decision, the football bodies that are part of Fifa have written to NZ Football to express their concern. That’s where the decision-making sits, on our part we are focused on making sure that we host a great tournament and that women and girls are active in sports and recreation.

Robertson declined to comment on Wednesday when reports of Saudi sponsorship have surfaced.

His office closed the announcement a day after World Cup co-hosts, New Zealand Football and Football Australia, wrote a letter to Fifa outlining their concerns.

Both governing bodies said they were “shocked and confused” that neither had been consulted by Fifa.

In a letter co-authored by Football Australia chair Chris Nikou and NZ President Johanna Wood, they said much of the Saudi sponsorship would “severely detract from the reputation” of the tournament, The Press reported.

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The Sydney Morning Herald reported that Australia had concluded questions about the Australian players’ sponsorship of the squad in a squad announcement on Thursday.

Oceaunz, the official match group for the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup, was launched last week.

FIFA / Supply

Oceaunz, the official match group for the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, was launched last week.

Amnesty International said the deal represents “an example of deeper sportswashing to distract the world from Saudi Arabia’s appalling human rights record.”

The Country Party is also strongly opposed to the sponsorship suggestion, with sports and recreation figure Michael Woodhouse saying the country’s “horrendous human rights record is a highly inappropriate sponsor” for the Women’s World Cup.

He said, while aware that the championship has not been officially confirmed, “it is very appropriate that both Australian Football and New Zealand Football come out quite strongly opposed”.

Woodhouse said National was “very concerned”.

“This is a global televised event that celebrates women’s sport and the idea that a terrible record of human rights, especially in the treatment of women, can be sponsored is very strange. I think Fifa should reconsider.”

Woodhouse noted that New Zealand recently hosted a “celebration of women’s rugby”. [the 2022 World Cup, won by the Black Ferns]and it would be wrong if “another celebration of women’s sport” was infected by unwelcome patronage.

Saudi Arabia has been widely criticized for its use of sporting events and hosting and sponsoring teams in an attempt to boost its reputation.

They are designed to be sportswashing efforts – attempts to reduce and distract from wrongdoing by fighting in a game.

The Saudi visit featured prominent advertising at the Fifa World Cup in Qatar and Argentina star Lionel Messi, who led his nation to the trophy in December, is on board for a reported $50m deal.

Another sports star, Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo, recently signed to play for Saudi Arabian club Al Nassr for a reported deal worth NZ$315 million a year.

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