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Dhaka Tribune

Wozniacki says more tennis in Saudi Arabia inevitable after Nadal move

Nadal was named ambassador for the Saudi Tennis Federation as the kingdom aims to host more professional tournaments as part of a broader sports push

Update : 18 Jan 2024, 02:16 PM

Caroline Wozniacki said Wednesday that Saudi Arabia will inevitably host more tennis tournaments but believes there is a chance to push for positive change after Rafael Nadal became an ambassador for the country.

The comments from the Grand Slam winner came after world No 1 Iga Swiatek said the issue was not "black and white".

The powerbrokers of the women's game are mulling whether to take the season-ending Women's Tennis Association Finals to the Gulf state.

"I haven't read much up on Rafa and what he's doing, but obviously Saudi is coming into sports in a very strong way. I think both in golf and football and now in tennis," Denmark's Wozniacki, who is on the comeback after having two children, said in Melbourne.

"I think it's inevitable that that's going to happen, and I think when that does happen, I think we have a chance to make a change and do something good there."

Nadal was named ambassador for the Saudi Tennis Federation Monday as the kingdom aims to host more professional tournaments as part of a broader sports push. 

"Everywhere you look in Saudi Arabia, you can see growth and progress and I'm excited to be part of that," said the 37-year old Spaniard, winner of 22 Grand Slams.

Sport is a major component of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's Vision 2030 reform agenda, which aims to transform Saudi Arabia into a tourism and business hub while transitioning the world's biggest crude oil exporter away from fossil fuels.

But the country has been accused by its critics of using sport to improve its international reputation, with widespread criticism of its record on human rights and the environment.

"I obviously realize, you know, the human rights and everything else," said Wozniacki,

"But I think when it's inevitable that they have so much money to put into sports, I think when you're put in that situation, you can maybe change, make a change and do something positive."

No decision

Swiatek said the issue was not clear-cut.

"There were a lot of rumors about WTA Finals going to Saudi. We're still waiting for the decision," she said at the Australian Open. 

"It was always hard for me to say if it's good or not because it's not easy for women in these areas. Obviously these countries also want to change and improve politically and sociologically. It's not easy to decide."

With a decision on the WTA Finals pending, Sports Illustrated reported Wednesday that tennis greats Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert had sent a letter to WTA chief Steve Simon urging him to avoid Saudi Arabia.

"Not only is this a country where women are not seen as equal, it is a country which criminalises the LGBTQ community," the letter said, according to the magazine.

"(It is) a country whose long-term record on human rights and basic freedoms has been a matter of international concern for decades.

"Taking the WTA finals to Saudi Arabia would represent taking a significant step backwards, to the detriment of the WTA, women's sports and women."

The WTA, the governing body for women's tennis, said in a statement to Agence France Presse it was "in discussions with various groups surrounding the 2024 WTA Finals and beyond and have not made any decisions at this time". 

"As with all WTA decisions, we are working closely with players and focused on continuing to build a strong future for women's tennis," it added.

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