Add U.S. women’s national team star Megan Rapinoe to the group of players unhappy with FIFA for exploring a partnership with Visit Saudi, the official Saudi Arabia tourism agency, for the 2023 World Cup.
“I think [the sponsorship is] totally inappropriate. If they want to do, like, a 20-year-long women’s empowerment project and in 2043 sponsor a World Cup, that would be something. But I think it kind of just further proves the corruption and the thought process of FIFA,” Rapinoe told reporters Wednesday in Orlando as the USWNT prepared for its first SheBelieves Cup game.
Rapinoe’s teammate Alex Morgan already has offered her own criticism of the partnership.
“I think 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,” she told reporters prior to the SheBelieves Cup, a round-robin tournament in which the USWNT will face Brazil, Japan and Canada.
The decision has brought outcry from host nations Australia and New Zealand, who say they were not consulted in the decision to pursue partnership with Saudi Arabia, who does not have a track record of investing in their women’s program.
“I think that 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,” Morgan said.
“So that would be my advice to them, and I really hope that FIFA does the right thing. I mean, pretty much everyone has spoken out against that, because morally it just doesn’t make sense.”
Rapinoe agreed with Morgan’s sentiments, saying: “If they thought for one second that this would be a good sponsor for women’s tournaments, outrageous. I think Alex said the other day, like Alex Morgan couldn’t exist in Saudi Arabia, the way that she does in America and the world or on the global stage.”
The two-time World Cup champion expressed a certain level of fatigue in having to address FIFA’s decisions, likening it to “banging our heads against the wall,” with little likely to change without a priority shift at the highest level.
“I’ve said for a long time, I don’t think FIFA really truly cares about the women’s game the way that it cares about the men’s game,” Rapinoe said.
Indeed, in some ways, Rapinoe is seeing a shift in the wrong direction.
“I think even their priorities in the men’s game have shifted a lot, and it’s pretty blatant a lot of times what they care about,” she said. “So for us, I don’t even want to waste any more time on FIFA. I feel like we say what we want, we are what we want, and we exemplify that. And I think women’s teams across the globe do that both internationally and on the club stage.”
USWNT captain Becky Sauerbrunn shared Rapinoe’s frustrations, saying Wednesday, “It’s just really disappointing that I think FIFA keeps putting us in the position where we have to speak on things like this, and there seems to be a bit of a pattern.”
Even having spoken up, U.S. players understand their influence only goes so far, and that others with financial stakes in the tournament are going to have to shake the table to make change.
“I would actually say to sponsors, you take the mantle,” Rapinoe said. “It’s your job, you’re the one giving the money. You’re the one that has a little bit more power. We’ve said everything that we could possibly say so we would like a little bit of help when it comes to that.”