Football World Cup: NZ Football 'shocked' by reports of Saudi Arabia sponsorship

NZ Football is "shocked" at reports of a proposed Saudi sponsorship of this year's Women's Football World Cup in New Zealand and Australia.

According to The Athletic, FIFA is expected to confirm that Visit Saudi - the kingdom's tourism board - will join international brands such as Adidas, Coca-Cola and Visa in attaching its name to the 32-team tournament that will kick off at Auckland's Eden Park in July.

Given its widely publicised history of oppression of women, the Gulf state's potential involvement with the World Cup has drawn widespread criticism, with human rights advocacy group Amnesty International among those vocal in their opposition.

Chief executive Andrew Pragnell says NZ Football has been blindsided by reports of Visit Saudi's association with the tournament and is writing formally to the sport's governing body to seek official clarification.

"They've come as a bit of a shock to us as well," Pragnell told Newshub.

While Pragnell insists they'll await further details from FIFA before taking an official stance, he admits he would be uneasy with the tournament being linked with the brand.

"I'm comfortable saying that - on a personal level - I wouldn't be comfortable with it, but we'll have to see what the actual facts are.

"I think getting the lay of the land and what those facts are, and then engaging with those other groups - players and the boards - is the next step."

NZ Football doesn't have any input on commercial partnerships FIFA chooses to bring on board for the World Cup, but given the sensitive nature of the brand, Pragnell says it would receive some consultation regarding the decision to bring Saudi on board.

"But regardless, as the host association, that's the type of thing I'd expect us to be involved in, so if these reports were to be true, I'd be pretty shocked."

The kingdom has made legal changes in recent years to afford women more rights, ending the bans on driving, holding a passport and travelling solo overseas.

But male guardians can still bring legal action against women for "disobedience" and their consent is required for a woman to marry and gain access to certain kinds of healthcare.

NZ Football chief executive Andrew Pragnell.
NZ Football chief executive Andrew Pragnell. Photo credit: Photosport

The guardianship law also remains, which states that while the mother is automatically granted custody, the father is designated as the child's legal guardian without due consideration of the best interests of the child.

One of the biggest sporting events on the planet, this year's edition of the World Cup is expected to attract a worldwide audience of up to 2 billion.

FIFA was roundly criticised for awarding Qatar last year's men's Football World Cup and critics of the latest initiative - including Amnesty International - say it's another example of a country with a poor human rights record attempting to 'sportswash'.

"Frankly, we see it as a FIFA own goal," Amnesty International NZ spokesperson Margaret Taylor told Newshub.

"This event is meant to be a celebration of women's and girls sports, but actually, there's nothing to be celebrated about how it treats women and girls."

Sport Minister Grant Robertson says he's also not in a position to comment nor is the New Zealand Football Players Association.

The Women's World Cup kicks off on July 20, with the Football Ferns facing Norway at Eden Park.