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WTA Finals to Be Held in Saudi Arabia for Next Three Years with Record Prize Money

Saudi Arabia to Host WTA


Saudi Arabia has clinched a landmark deal to host the WTA Finals for the next three years, accompanied by a record prize pool of $15.25 million (£12.04 million). This prestigious event, showcasing the top eight singles players and doubles teams of the year, marks a significant moment for tennis in the country.

Despite previous considerations for the 2023 Finals, which nearly saw Saudi Arabia as the host before it eventually landed in Cancun, Mexico, Riyadh will now be the center stage for this high-profile tennis extravaganza from November 2 to 9.

The decision to hold the Finals in Saudi Arabia has not been without controversy. The country’s hosting of sporting events has often been viewed through the lens of “sportswashing,” given its human rights track record, particularly regarding women’s rights and freedom of expression. In January, tennis legends Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert criticized the prospect of hosting the WTA Tour’s flagship event in Saudi Arabia, suggesting it would be regressive for women’s tennis.

However, WTA chief executive Steve Simon defended the move, emphasizing the opportunity to drive positive change within the region. He highlighted the WTA’s longstanding commitment to breaking down barriers and providing opportunities for women in sports.

The selection of Riyadh as the host city reflects the WTA’s assessment of various bids from different regions. The decision was based on criteria such as support for gender equality initiatives, including equal prize money for women. Prize money for the Finals is set to increase further, reaching $15.5 million (£12.24 million) in 2025 and 2026, aligning with the WTA’s goal of achieving parity in prize funds across its events by 2033.

While Saudi Arabia has previously hosted sporting events like the Next Gen ATP Finals, generating crowds and atmosphere has posed challenges. However, Simon remains optimistic about the potential for successful audience engagement, drawing parallels with previous experiences in China and Singapore.

Criticism of the move to Saudi Arabia has been led by prominent figures like Navratilova and Evert, citing concerns about human rights abuses in the country. Daria Kasatkina, the only top player to voice opposition, raised concerns about the treatment of LGBTQ+ individuals. Nonetheless, others, like Ons Jabeur, have expressed enthusiasm about playing in Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi government views investments in sports as a means to stimulate economic growth, promote tourism, and encourage physical activity. Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al Faisal, Minister of Sport, hailed the hosting of the WTA Finals as a transformative moment for tennis in the country, with the potential to inspire future generations.

Arij Almutabagani, the first woman elected to lead a sports federation in Saudi Arabia, emphasized the broader societal impact of hosting such an event. She highlighted the significance of inspiring young girls and women through sports, underscoring the country’s commitment to progress and inclusivity.

In conclusion, while the decision to host the WTA Finals in Saudi Arabia has sparked debate, it also presents an opportunity to promote women’s tennis and drive social change in the region.

Credit: BBC.com

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