Fifa drops Visit Saudi sponsorship of Women’s World Cup after backlash

Discussions over a controversial commercial partnership between the Women’s World Cup and Saudi Arabia have been scrapped, Fifa president Gianni Infantino has said.

Infantino confirmed talks between Fifa and Visit Saudi were held over sponsoring this summer’s tournament in Australia and New Zealand but didn’t lead to a contract.

Initial reports that an agreement was in place between Fifa and Saudi Arabia were criticised by several leading players, while the tournament co-hosts said they would not be “comfortable” with the partnership due to human rights concerns.

Women’s rights are restricted in Saudi Arabia while same-sex relationships are illegal in the country, which led to stars such as Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe and Vivianne Miedema calling on Fifa to reject the deal five months before the tournament kicks off.

“There were discussions with Visit Saudi,” Infantino said at Fifa’s annual congress on Thursday, according to Sky News. “At the end, this discussion didn’t lead to a contract.”

In his closing remarks at the congress, Infantino also announced that the prize money for this summer’s Women’s World Cup will be $150m, 10 times what it was in 2015 and three times the amount of 2019.

The figure, however, is still considerably lower than the $440m total prize money awarded at the men’s World Cup in Qatar last year.

"For the first time ever, I (plan to) dedicate a specific portion of this payment, which mainly has to go to football development, but a specific portion of that should go of course to the players," Infantino said, in announcing Step Two of his three-step plan.

Step One, Infantino said, will be equal conditions and services for all men and women playing at a World Cup. Step Three, he said, would be the most complicated and would include a dedicated marketing strategy for the women’s game.

"Our mission will be able to have equality in payments for 2026 men’s and 2027 women’s World Cups."

Global soccer's players union FifPro applauded Thursday's announcement, saying it showed the intent of players and Fifa to work together.

"Through the voice and solidarity of players around the world over months and years of campaigning, significant progress has been made in the conditions, prize money, and prize money redistribution for the 2023 Fifa Women’s World Cup," it said in a statement.

Includes reporting from Reuters