Saudi Arabia’s tourism authority potentially sponsoring the 2023 Women’s World Cup is “bizarre”, says United States forward Alex Morgan.
Earlier this month co-hosts Australia and New Zealand asked Fifa to “urgently clarify” reports Visit Saudi is to be named as an official sponsor for the tournament, which starts in July.
The Gulf kingdom has been accused of human rights abuses.
“Morally, it just doesn’t make sense,” said two-time World Cup winner Morgan.
“It’s bizarre that Fifa has looked to have a Visit Saudi sponsorship for the Women’s World Cup when I, myself, Alex Morgan, would not even be supported and accepted in that country.”
Saudi Arabia has invested heavily in sporting events in recent years but has been accused of using events to ‘sportswash’ its reputation.
Women’s rights campaigners have been imprisoned, despite some reform under crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, such as an end to the ban on women driving.
Western intelligence agencies claim the crown prince ordered the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018 – which he denies.
- Why is Saudi Arabia’s involvement in sport controversial?
The US Soccer Federation (USSF) said it would voice its concern to world football’s governing body over the sponsorship deal, which has yet to be formally announced.
“US Soccer strongly supports human rights and equity for all and believes in the power of our sport to have a positive impact,” the USSF said in a statement to the Athletic on Wednesday.
“While we cannot control how other organisations manage sponsorship selections for the tournaments we compete in, we can voice our concerns and will continue to support our players.”
The sponsorship deal is part of a new commercial partnership structure that Fifa set up to allow brands to specifically support the women’s game.
While the size of the deal has not been revealed, insiders claim it will provide a significant boost to the women’s game, and the money generated will be reinvested back into football.
“I just don’t understand it,” added Morgan.
“What Saudi Arabia can do is put efforts into their women’s team that was just formed only a couple of years ago and doesn’t even have a current ranking, within the Fifa ranking system, because of the such few games that they’ve played.
“That would be my advice to them and I really hope that Fifa does the right thing.”
Saudi Arabia only sent women to the Olympics for the first time in 2012, but it has taken steps to develop women’s football in recent years, with female fans allowed to attend football matches for the first time in 2018.
The Saudi Arabian Football Federation has appointed two women to its board of directors and created a women’s football department in 2019.
In 2020, a Women’s Football League was launched, and last month Saudi Arabia hosted and won a four-nation women’s football tournament in their bid to feature in the Fifa women’s world rankings for the first time.
The Women’s World Cup takes place from 20 July to 20 August in cities across Australia and New Zealand, and organisers believe a record two billion people could watch the tournament.