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FIFA signs four-year global partnership deal with Saudi oil giants Aramco

FIFA recently announced a groundbreaking partnership with Saudi Arabia’s state-owned oil giant, Aramco.

The deal, slated to extend until 2027, grants Aramco sponsorship rights for both the upcoming men’s World Cup in 2026 and the subsequent Women’s World Cup in 2027.

This collaboration not only underscores Saudi Arabia’s growing influence in the realm of global sports but also ignites debates surrounding ethical considerations in such partnerships.

Aramco’s venture into sports sponsorship is not unprecedented. The company has already secured deals within other major sporting arenas, including Formula 1 and the International Cricket Council, solidifying its presence in the global sports landscape.

FIFA President Gianni Infantino hailed the partnership, emphasizing Aramco’s history of backing world-class events while also highlighting its commitment to grassroots sports initiatives.

However, the announcement has prompted scrutiny, particularly regarding Saudi Arabia’s motivations and the potential ramifications of such alliances.

Critics have long accused Saudi Arabia of leveraging sports investments as a means to bolster its international image—a strategy often referred to as ‘sportswashing.’

Despite its participation in prestigious sporting events, including hosting high-profile competitions like the Formula E and European Tour golf, Saudi Arabia faces intense scrutiny over a myriad of human rights issues.

The kingdom’s record on human rights, highlighted by the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, gender inequality, repression of free speech, and involvement in the Yemeni conflict, remains a subject of global concern.

A report published in November 2023 revealed Saudi Arabia’s extensive involvement in sports sponsorship, with 312 deals spanning 21 different sports—an indication of the kingdom’s concerted efforts to embed itself within the global sports industry.

Furthermore, Saudi Arabia’s bid for the 2034 World Cup, following Australia’s withdrawal from contention, underscores its ambition to host major sporting events on its soil, further amplifying its presence on the world stage.

Amidst mounting criticism, human rights organizations such as Amnesty International have raised concerns over FIFA’s partnership with Aramco.

They’ve called on FIFA to prioritize human rights considerations and establish binding agreements with Saudi Arabia to safeguard against exploitation, discrimination, and repression.

As FIFA prepares to announce the hosts for the 2034 World Cup, the ethical implications of partnering with nations with contentious human rights records are thrust into the spotlight, prompting calls for greater accountability and transparency within the global sports governance framework.