Saudi Arabia set to strengthen Fifa ties with deal to sponsor Women’s World Cup
Saudi Arabia is set to make further inroads into sport by becoming a sponsor of the 2023 Fifa Women’s World Cup.
Visit Saudi, the country’s state-owned tourism arm, is expected to become one of the main commercial partners of the tournament, which takes place in Australian and New Zealand in July and August.
Saudi Arabia has already flexed its financial muscle in golf, most notably by providing $2bn of backing for the LIV Golf series, which launched last year and has poached several leading players, including Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson, from the PGA Tour.
Golf Saudi has also become a major backer of women’s golf, partnering with the Ladies European Tour to establish the Aramco Team Series, a string of $1m events that provided a financial lifeline to the game during the pandemic.
It has also hosted high-profile boxing fights involving the likes of Anthony Joshua and is a fixture on motorsport calendars, including Formula One.
In football, the country has made headlines by striking deals with the two biggest names in the men’s game, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, and buying Newcastle United.
Messi is an ambassador for Visit Saudi, while Ronaldo signed for Al-Nassr in the Saudi Pro League last month following the termination of his contract with Manchester United.
Its Public Investment Fund became majority owner of Newcastle in October 2021, since when the club has invested significantly to steadily climb the Premier League.
Saudi Arabia is a newcomer to women’s football, however. Its national team only recently hosted a first ever tournament in an attempt to obtain a world ranking. They won the round-robin competition, which also featured Pakistan, Mauritius and Comoros.
Their Women’s Football League is just three years old, and it is only five years since a ban on women attending football matches was lifted. But the country hopes to stage the Asian Women’s Cup in 2026 and has already submitted a bid to regional body the AFC.
The Women’s World Cup sponsorship deal is likely to prove controversial with human rights groups, who have criticised Saudi Arabia’s growing presence in sport.
It will also fuel speculation that Saudi Arabia intends to bid to host the men’s World Cup, perhaps as soon as 2030. The Middle East is emerging as a new power base for Fifa, following last year’s men’s World Cup in Qatar.