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Fifa drops Visit Saudi sponsorship

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Gianni Infantino was speaking at the Fifa congress in Kigali, Rwanda, where he was re-elected as president
Gianni Infantino was speaking at the Fifa congress in Kigali, Rwanda, where he was re-elected as president

Fifa has dropped plans for Saudi Arabia to sponsor the 2023 Women’s World Cup, says Fifa president Gianni Infantino.

It follows a backlash from co-hosts Australia and New Zealand, players and sponsors about the proposed deal.

Infantino said talks had taken place with Visit Saudi, the gulf country’s tourism arm, about sponsoring the tournament.

“At the end this discussion didn’t lead into a contract,” he said, calling the affair “a storm in a teacup.”

The Swiss official, who has been re-elected unopposed as Fifa president, also said Fifa is aiming to have equal prize money for the men’s and women’s World Cup by 2027.

Infantino said he would not have seen an issue with Saudi Arabia sponsoring a World Cup in Australia and New Zealand as “Fifa is an organisation of 211 countries, for us they are all the same,” and given that there is $1.5bn worth of trade between Australia and Saudi Arabia every year.

“This doesn’t seem to be a problem,” he said. “But between a global organisation like Fifa and Visit Saudi this would have been an issue. There is a double standard here, which I really don’t understand.

“There is no issue and no contract. There are discussions and of course, we want to see how we can involve Saudi sponsors in women’s football generally, how we can involve Saudi sponsors in men football, or we can involve Qatari sponsors in women’s football and men’s football, and all other sponsors from all over the world.”

Football Australia chief executive James Johnson said: “We welcome clarification from Fifa regarding Visit Saudi.

“Equality, diversity and inclusion are really deep commitments for Football Australia and we’ll continue to work hard with Fifa to ensure the Women’s World Cup is shaped in this light, and it is a historic event for our nation, showcasing the world’s greatest female players and advancing the game globally.”

Fifa targets equal prize money for 2027

The question of prize money was brought up by Infantino as part of a three-step plan for the women’s game.

Women’s World Cup prize money is rising to £126m for this year’s tournament, from £25m in 2019. However, at the men’s World Cup last year in Qatar the prize money on offer totalled £365m.

The money for the 2027 Women’s World Cup would match the 2026 men’s tournament in Canada, United States and Mexico, Infantino said.

Along with prize money in the three-step plan announced by Infantino on Thursday, another will be equal conditions and services, such as accommodation and flights, for all men and women playing at World Cups.

Step three is to have pay parity by the next men’s and women’s World Cup in 2026 and 2027, which Infantino said will be the “most complicated”, as he also criticised broadcasters and sponsors for offering much less financially for the women’s tournament compared to the men’s.

World players’ union Fifpro welcomed Infantino’s comments on equal pay, saying: “The progress announced today demonstrates the intent of the players and Fifa to work proactively towards greater equity and equality for the industry.”

The 2023 Women’s World Cup, which will be the first to feature 32 teams, runs from 20 July to 20 August and will be broadcast on the BBC and ITV in the United Kingdom.

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