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WTA Legends Oppose Saudi Arabia for WTA Finals
- Updated: January 25, 2024
Tennis legends Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova have expressed their strong opposition to the potential hosting of the 2024 WTA Finals in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. In a joint opinion piece for the Washington Post, Evert and Navratilova emphasized their concerns about Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, particularly regarding women’s rights and the treatment of the LGBTQ community. The pair called staging the WTA Finals in Saudi Arabia a “significant regression” and urged the WTA to engage in an open and honest discussion before committing to the location.
Evert and Navratilova, both former world No. 1s and 18-time major singles champions, highlighted Saudi Arabia’s male guardianship law and its criminalization of the LGBTQ community, noting that such conditions are incompatible with the spirit and purpose of women’s tennis. They called for human rights experts to present to players and recommended the implementation of a human rights framework to protect participants if the event were to take place in Saudi Arabia.
Speculation about a potential partnership between the WTA and Saudi Arabia emerged last year, with Riyadh considered as a host for the 2023 WTA Finals. However, due to criticism and backlash, including from Evert, the event took place in Cancun, Mexico. Reports now suggest that Riyadh is under consideration for the 2024 tournament, featuring the top eight singles players and the top eight doubles pairs.
Former world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki expressed the view that holding the event in Saudi Arabia could be an opportunity for positive change, acknowledging human rights concerns but emphasizing the potential impact of sports engagement. Evert and Navratilova, however, insisted that playing in Saudi Arabia should only be considered after significant positive changes have occurred, stating that the WTA should revisit its values and endorsing engagement only if conditions improve within the next five years.
Tennis governing bodies and top players have been establishing relationships with Saudi Arabia, with the ATP holding its 2023 Next Gen Finals in Jeddah and announcing the city as the host for the year-end event through 2027. Several high-profile players, including Novak Djokovic, Aryna Sabalenka, Ons Jabeur, and Carlos Alcaraz, participated in an exhibition event in Riyadh, and Rafael Nadal was recently named the ambassador for the Saudi Tennis Federation.
The debate surrounding the potential WTA Finals in Riyadh underscores the intersection of sports, politics, and human rights, raising questions about the responsibilities of sports organizations in choosing event locations and engaging with nations facing criticism for their human rights practices. The stance of tennis legends like Evert and Navratilova adds weight to the ongoing conversation about the ethical considerations involved in hosting major sporting events in countries with controversial human rights records.
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By- Sahiba Suri