Saudis cite female empowerment in dispute over WTA Finals
Ambassador slams ‘Western-centric’ pushback over mooted hosting of Women’s Tennis Association event
Bengaluru — The criticism over moving the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) Finals to Saudi Arabia represents stereotypical and Western-centric views, Saudi ambassador to the US, Reema bint Bandar al-Saud, has said.
The debate over hosting the event in the Gulf country has intensified, especially after notable opposition from tennis greats Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova, who expressed opposition in the Washington Post.
“Like many women around the world, we looked to the legends of tennis as trailblazers and role models ... But these champions have turned their back on the very same women they have inspired and it is beyond disappointing,” Reema al-Saud said in a statement on Monday.
“It pained me deeply to read a column in The Washington Post objecting to Saudi Arabia hosting the WTA Finals based on arguments that are outdated stereotypes and Western-centric views of our culture.
“Failing to acknowledge the great progress women have made in Saudi Arabia denigrates our remarkable journey. This not only undermines the progress of women in sports, it sadly undermines women, progress as a whole.
Reema Al-Saud is a member of Saudi Arabia’s Olympic Committee and a board member of the International Olympic Committee. In 2019, she became the first Saudi woman to hold the position of an ambassador and has worked to expand opportunities for women in her country.
In her statement, she insisted that Saudi women are in charge of their personal and financial future and cited the strides Saudi women had made in sports, governance, law and business.
“Sports should not be used as a weapon to advance personal bias or agendas ... or punish a society that is eager to embrace tennis and help celebrate and grow the sport,” she added.
In August 2023, the men’s ATP Tour revealed a five-year agreement with Saudi Arabia to host its Next Gen Finals. However, Evert and Navratilova argued the matter is distinct when it comes to women as the prospective hosts clash with “WTA values”.
WTA chief Steve Simon told Reuters that no decision has yet been made over the 2024 edition of the Finals. He also said in 2023 that the kingdom presented “big issues” and the matter is being discussed with various groups.
Saudi Arabia has invested heavily in sports such as soccer, Formula One and golf over the past few years. However, critics have accused the country of using sport to cover up its poor record on human rights and equality issues.
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