This sponsorship is also galling given the pride Australians take in pay parity between our national teams, the Socceroos and Matildas and the importance of the tournament in promoting greater gender equality in all Australian institutions.
It is a misappropriation of the social licence of sport to provide brand association that is improper and misleading.
In a tournament that will celebrate the economic, political and cultural empowerment of brilliant female athletes with a strong and unapologetic voice on social justice and human rights such as famed members of the US National Team and the Matildas, Visit Saudi will represent a country that last year imprisoned a 34-year-old female Saudi national, Salma Al-Shehab for retweeting information seen as hostile to the kingdom’s interests.
These two realities cannot co-exist if sport is to be authentic in its drive for cultural and political rights for all people.
As we saw in part with Qatar 2022, the incredible value placed on sport by countries and brands wishing to build credibility or, in this case, soft power can be leveraged to further the rights of people everywhere, if the global game so desires.
Qatar’s commendable reform of their modern slave labour system, albeit at immense human cost, is one recent example.
FIFA should therefore work with all hosts and corporate partners with whom it has immense leverage to achieve human rights reforms so that athletes, journalists and fans can participate across the world without having their basic rights breached.
So strongly do the Matildas feel about women’s rights that they launched a global campaign in recent years for World Cup prizemoney equity and they will need to make an informed decision, with the help of their player’s association, as to how they respond on behalf of women, and female athletes everywhere.
Australian sport is leading the way both domestically and, in some ways internationally on gender balance, equality and representation and must respond to demonstrate our commitment to these principles.
Refusing this sponsorship as hosts until such time further reforms for Saudi women are implemented would be a statement that positions Australian and New Zealand sport as leaders and active catalysts for women’s and human rights around the world.
That is exactly what sport is supposed to be. And precisely what FIFA aims to avoid.
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