Saudi Tennis Federation Paid $40 Million To Host WTA Finals | Tennis Stars Could Be “Jailed and Tortured” For Speaking About Women’s Rights

They say money is the root of all evil, and we should know better than any country, but our tennis and golf players and organizations across the world have been getting in bed with a nation whose civil rights and beliefs on gender equality don’t exactly coincide with ours. 

And it’s all for the sake of a dollar. Once we make these deals for billions and accept money from nations with political and moral constructs that clash with ours, we also must deal with the consequences. 

Saudi Tennis Federation Pays $40M To Host WTA Finals For Three Years

We take the Saudi bag and agree to compete in their country, then they call the shots. It was recently confirmed that the Saudi Tennis Federation had struck a deal worth over $40 million to host the WTA Finals for the next three years.

According to reports, Women’s Tennis Association players have been warned they could be ‘jailed and tortured’ for speaking about women’s rights in Saudi Arabia.

Tennis is the latest sport linked with accepting investments from Middle Eastern countries after a merger between the Saudi-backed LIV Golf and the PGA Tour sent shock waves through men’s professional golf.

Men’s Tennis Discussing Deal With Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund

There have also reportedly been ‘positive’ talks between Andrea Gaudenzi — chief of the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) — and Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) about a potential partnership.

Saudi Arabia’s investments in various sports has attracted criticism, and some prominent U.S. tennis players such as Andy Roddick, Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert,  have accused the nation of sportswashing due to their poor human rights record and subsequent desire to reshape their global image.

Which means they are trying to buy our compliance in their unhumanitarian and oppressive governing through sports. The money seems to be talking. 

British tennis legend Andy Murray says it is “unfortunate” that Saudi Arabia’s influence on sports is growing around the world.

Saudi Tennis Federation’s Sportwashing Is Working

The Saudi Tennis Federation is all in, having committed to awarding $15.25 million at this year’s WTA Finals – an increase of $6.25 million from the 2023 event in Cancun.

World No. 1 Iga Swiatek said earlier this year that it was “not easy for women in these areas” but also offered her opinion that nations like Saudi Arabia wish to “change.” Although she did not specifically reference the government or how they would institute change.  

Saudi Women Still Fighting For Women’s Rights

Saudi women have made some legal rights advances since 2017, but widespread discrimination in the areas of marriage, family and divorce still exist as the government has reportedly intensified its targeting ad repressing of women’s rights groups.

Saudi Arabia is reportedly in the midst of constructing a $1.5 trillion city to be just 1.4 miles long. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman says he hopes it can expand to over 100 miles, rivaling the pyramids of “Egypt as an icon of timeless grandiosity,” according to reports.

At What Cost?

The money is flowing, and everybody wants a piece. But at what cost? 

A leading human rights group has reportedly sent a warning to WTA players about the dangers of standing up for women’s rights in the country.

“If you complain, you go to jail,” Human Rights Watch director of global initiatives Minky Worden told iNews. “So that puts the WTA and players in a super bad spot. You complain about women’s rights conditions, you end up in jail and tortured.”

“So which women’s tour player wants to be asked about the women’s rights defenders who are in jail while they’re playing tennis? Whatever the prize money is, it puts them in a very difficult moral spot and ethical spot,” Worden added.

“It’s only since 2018 that women and girls have even been allowed to drive and play sports. Yes, there has been some progress in that area,” Worden continued, “and it has been due entirely to the women’s rights activists, many of whom have suffered imprisonment and torture.”

“I think the core problems of the underlying human rights crisis in Saudi Arabia are not addressed. None of the federations, not the ATP, not the ITF and not the WTA, have in place a human rights framework that would allow them to even do human rights due diligence,” the activist concluded.

Tennis players such as Andy Roddick have expressed concern about how competing in Saudi Arabia will impact the many LGBTQ+ players such as Daria Kasatkina.

WTA’s LGBTQ Community In Danger?

“Homosexuality is illegal [in Saudi Arabia], but we have openly gay players,” Roddick said. “You know, Kasatkina came out last year. If she goes there and plays, are we just telling her to take a week off of her sexuality? How do we protect our own players?

“You know, their life choices are viewed as criminal when they enter this place. How do we protect those mechanisms? And can whatever is said now be trusted when it’s actually in practice?” he asked.

“There aren’t any women’s rights defenders in Saudi Arabia they can interview about the problem. They’re all in jail, or under house arrest,” Roddick added.

These are strong sentiments expressed by some tennis legends. 

Meanwhile, Steve Simon, the chief executive of the WTA Tour, has to protect the bag and continues to defend the decision to take women’s tennis to Saudi Arabia. He says, “everyone is going to be welcome” and doesn’t “anticipate anything more than positive experiences.”

This is a developing story that we will keep an eye on.

At the same time, the WTA will undoubtedly also warn their tennis players to lie low, play tennis and return home. It’s not the time to take political stances, because Brittney Griner can tell you how fast an athlete can get caught up in a foreign country because of a lack of understanding of the severity that comes along with breaking their rules. 

It’s often not a matter of right and wrong. Just policy. Same as there’s no justification for putting tennis players in dangerous situations just so the organization can rake in money. For now, it’s falling on deaf ears.

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