The Gulf Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has expressed interest in hosting the 2035 Women’s World Cup, according to Monika Staab, the technical director of Saudi Arabia’s women’s team.
They have already made a bid for the 2034 men’s World Cup and are considering the possibility of hosting the women’s tournament as well.
“I believe it’s a bright future (for the women’s and girls’ game in Saudi Arabia),” she said, as quoted by BBC Sport.
“I told [the sport’s administrators] it takes time to go to the World Cup. I know they want to host the men’s World Cup—why not host the Women’s World Cup in 2035?
“We’re now getting a team ready to be at least competing at that level.”
Staab, a former German international who played also in France and Britain, joined the Saudi Arabian women’s team as coach in August 2021 and became technical director in February this year.
The plans for the tourism authority Visit Saudi to sponsor this year’s Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand received severe criticism, leading FIFA to abandon the idea after the host nations expressed their opposition.
Saudi Arabia has faced accusations of widespread human rights abuses and has laws that deem sexual activity between individuals of the same sex as illegal, with potential punishment including the death penalty. Furthermore, the restriction of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia has been consistently criticized, with women’s rights campaigners even being imprisoned.
Amnesty International Australia campaigner Nikita White highlighted the irony of Saudi Arabia’s tourism body sponsoring the world’s largest celebration of women’s sport, considering the limited rights and opportunities for women in the country. For instance, women in Saudi Arabia require permission from their male guardians to have a job.
It’s worth noting that the Saudi Arabia women’s team was formed relatively recently in 2022 and has not yet participated in a competitive tournament.
While Saudi Arabia has made significant investments in sports in recent years, there have been accusations of using sporting events as a means to improve its reputation, a practice commonly referred to as “sportswashing.”
It is also notable that several high-profile male players, including Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar, currently play in the Saudi Pro League. However, the decision of England’s captain Jordan Henderson to leave Liverpool to play in Saudi Arabia has garnered strong criticism, particularly as he had previously been involved in efforts to promote LGBTQ rights.
These complex issues surrounding Saudi Arabia’s involvement in sports raise important questions about human rights, gender equality, and the ethical considerations associated with sponsorship and participation in international sporting events.