Fifa could perform U-turn on Saudi sponsorship of Women’s World Cup | Women’s World Cup 2023

There is cautious but growing optimism among Football Australia officials that Fifa will drop plans to make Visit Saudi as a key sponsor of the Women’s World Cup. Football Australia was left blindsided by reports in January linking Saudi Arabia’s tourism arm with this year’s tournament in Australia and New Zealand, given the Saudi state’s appalling human rights record and ban on same-sex marriage.

Sources close to Football Australia are hopeful that a lack of any public announcement of a deal, combined with widespread opposition to it within the game, creates a window for Fifa to change its mind without publicly losing face.

Insiders also confirmed that Football Australia would again raise the issue privately with Fifa at the world body’s congress in Rwanda next week. Football Australia’s chief executive, James Johnson, made clear on Monday that his organisation would “not be comfortable” with any deal with Visit Saudi.

“Football Australia has consulted on this matter with key stakeholders, including government and commercial partners, and it was an overwhelming consensus that this partnership does not align with our collective vision for the tournament and falls short of our expectations,” he said.

“Whilst the partnership has not been confirmed by Fifa, based on the consultations we have had with our community, key stakeholders and our own position, we would not be comfortable with it. While we await further clarity and information as to the details of the partnership from Fifa, we continue to convey this clear message on behalf of Football Australia, New Zealand Football, and our community.”

After the sponsorship with Visit Saudi was mooted it was described as “bizarre”, “totally inappropriate” and “outrageous” by the Team USA players Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe, with Morgan urging Fifa to “do the right thing”. The Netherlands striker Vivianne Miedema told Fifa it should be “deeply ashamed” for even considering it.

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Although some restrictions on women in Saudi Arabia have been lifted recently, last year the kingdom sentenced Nourah bint Saeed al-Qahtani to 45 years in prison after she had expressed her views on social media – and a Leeds University student, Salma al-Shehab, was sentenced to 34 years in prison for using Twitter to retweet views of activists.

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