With less than six months to go until the start of the tournament, anticipation is already starting to grow for the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, which, this year, will be jointly hosted by Australia and New Zealand.
Already there has been such a demand for tickets that the opening game has had to be moved to a bigger stadium. However, on the negative side, a major row has broken out between the two hosts and FIFA about a proposed sponsor.
Once again, the world governing body of football is accused of being willing to enter into a commercial relationship with a sponsor that is undesirable in the eyes of many.
High demand for tickets
There is already high demand for tickets, with the tournament now expected to break audience figures, both in terms of those going to games and those watching on television.
In fact, such has been the clamour for tickets, that co-hosts Australia have already been forced to move the venue for their opening game against the Republic of Ireland.
The game, on 20th July, was originally due to be staged at Sydney’s Allianz Stadium, which has a capacity of 42,500, However, it has now been shifted to Stadium Australia – the Olympic Stadium from 2000 – which has an official capacity of 82,000, although there is provision to expand this to 100,000.
Already some have predicted that the highest attendance record for a woman’s football game – the 91,648 that saw Barcelona beat Wolfsburg in the Champions League in 2022 could be broken in the course of the tournament.
This is the first time that the tournament will be staged across two countries, and the competition will feature 32 teams for the first time. It is hoped that its lasting legacy will be acceleration of growth of the women’s game across the world.
However, on the flip side, a major sponsorship row is brewing between FIFA and the co-hosts.
The governing football bodies in both countries have written to FIFA seeking urgent clarification after it emerged that the Saudi Arabian tourism authority is to join major brands like Coca Cola, Adidas and Visa in sponsoring the event.
Both governments are also reported to be very disappointed that they were not consulted on the matter before the decision was made.
Human rights groups have also been vociferous in their opposition, calling it a classic case of sportswashing and pointing out that Saudi Arabia suppresses the human rights of women.
Saudi has introduced a number of reforms in recent years – women are now allowed to drive and there has been some relaxation of the previously oppressive male guardianship rules.
However, they still require male permission to get married, leave prison or obtain access to some forms of healthcare.
FIFA has got form
In the eyes of many, this is another example of FIFA’s willingness to get into bed with undesirable sponsors in exchange for large sums of money. Whilst football’s governing body continues to claim that the Qatar World Cup was an unmitigated success, there are many who take issue with that, and are deeply troubled that it was allowed to happen in a country with such a poor human rights record.
A number of prominent women players refused to watch the World Cup because of Qatar’s position on LBGTQ+ rights, and the news that FIFA is ready to embrace sponsorship from a country that shares many of those same beliefs, is bound to cause more resentment.
FIFA has an avowed policy of respecting universal human rights, but appears selective in its judgments when to apply those criteria.
Saudi wants to host World Cup
Saudi, though, appears undeterred, and is thought to be keen to host the 2020 World Cup, perhaps in a joint bid with Greece and Egypt (it would the first to feature hosts from three different continents were their bid to succeed).
(It is reported that whilst Cristiano Ronaldo is playing for Al-Nassr he will also help promote their candidacy).
They have already been chosen as the hosts of the Asian Cup in 2027, the first time they will host the tournament.
India were among the countries originally interested in staging it, but they withdrew their application, along with Iran, Qatar and Uzbekistan.
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