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WTA Finals: Saudi Arabia to host showpiece girls’s tennis occasion in Riyadh from 2024-2026 | Tennis Information

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Saudi Arabia will host the following three editions of the WTA Finals, the season-ending showpiece occasion of the ladies’s tennis tour.

The ladies’s skilled tennis tour on Thursday introduced a deal that may see prize cash for this November’s event raised to $15.25m (£12m), a 70-per-cent enhance from 2023.

The nation’s capital Riyadh will host the occasion for the highest eight singles gamers and prime eight doubles groups from November 2-9, together with the 2025 and 2026 tournaments.

The deal is the most recent in a current wave of funding by Saudi Arabia in tennis and numerous sports activities, regardless of questions on LGBTQ+ and girls’s rights there raised by tennis legends Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova and others.

“We’re going into this eyes large open that the funding in sport by Saudi actually provokes robust views from individuals,” WTA Tour Chairman and CEO Steve Simon instructed The Related Press.

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Iga Swiatek’s triumph at Indian Wells in March strengthened her place on the prime of the WTA rankings.

“We have met with Chris and Martina and listened to their issues and we now have shared their issues by our stakeholders as nicely, with out prejudice. We have additionally shared the issues round girls’s rights and LGBTQ+ rights inside the Kingdom of Saudi. Our focus is on how we develop girls’s tennis for the advantage of everyone concerned within the sport. The fact of it’s … we’re really a worldwide tour, a worldwide enterprise. We’ve got gamers from over 90 nations now. We’ve got over 90 occasions. … We take part in lots of nations which have totally different cultures and values methods throughout the board.”

As for any issues about Saudi Arabia that present gamers may need, Simon mentioned: “We do not plan to do any persuading. The gamers have to make their very own decisions, and we do imagine that everybody who qualifies goes to need to play.”

Areas in Europe, North America and Asia additionally have been thought of as attainable new websites for the WTA Finals, which have moved round to 5 cities over the previous 5 editions after a deal to place the event in Shenzhen, China, by till 2030 was disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic and issues over the protection of retired Grand Slam doubles champion Peng Shuai, who accused a Chinese language authorities official of rape.

The cities that hosted in 2022 (Fort Price, Texas) and 2023 (Cancun, Mexico) weren’t revealed till September annually, and final November’s occasion was strongly criticised by gamers. 4-time Grand Slam champion Iga Swiatek beat Jessica Pegula in final yr’s title match.

Simon mentioned Riyadh was chosen by the WTA in late December, however the particulars of the settlement have been simply accomplished.

“This partnership will construct on our publicity to a market and a area whose impression on the sports activities trade is actually rising quickly,” Simon mentioned. “We actually anticipate that you’re going to see extra occasions coming there sooner or later. So on the finish, we imagine that the WTA ought to be part of this growth, versus being on the skin.”

Saudi Arabia’s Personal Funding Fund (PIF) shaped the LIV Golf tour and put cash into Premier League facet Newcastle, and the dominion’s position in tennis has been rising. The ATP Tour moved its Subsequent Gen Finals for main 21-and-under gamers to Jeddah in November; the PIF is the title sponsor for the lads’s rankings; 22-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal not too long ago turned an envoy for the Saudi Tennis Federation; he’ll be part of 24-time main champ Novak Djokovic and rising stars Carlos Alcaraz and Jannik Sinner at an exhibition occasion in Riyadh in October.

There have been discussions about inserting a top-tier Masters 1000 event in Saudi Arabia, too, a part of a attainable bigger restructuring involving the WTA, ATP and the nation.

Rights teams say girls proceed to face discrimination in most points of household life and homosexuality is a significant taboo, as it’s in a lot of the remainder of the Center East.

In recent times, Saudi Arabia has enacted wide-ranging social reforms, together with granting girls the fitting to drive and largely dismantling male guardianship legal guidelines that had allowed husbands and male family members to manage many points of ladies’s lives. Women and men are nonetheless required to decorate modestly, however the guidelines have been loosened and the once-feared spiritual police have been sidelined. Nonetheless, same-sex relations are punishable by loss of life or flogging, although prosecutions are uncommon.

Martina Navratilova
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Martina Navratilova had warned in opposition to staging the WTA Finals in Saudi Arabia

In an opinion piece printed in The Washington Submit in January, Evert and Navratilova urged the WTA to remain out of Saudi Arabia as a result of, they wrote, staging the Finals there “would characterize not progress, however important regression” and requested whether or not “staging a Saudi crown-jewel event would contain gamers in an act of sportswashing merely for the sake of a money inflow.”

In response, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the USA, Princess Reema bint Bandar Al Saud, mentioned the 2 former athletes relied on “outdated stereotypes and western-centric views of our tradition” and “turned their again on the exact same girls they’ve impressed and it’s past disappointing.”

The ambassador joined the pinnacle of the Saudi Tennis Federation and different girls in a video convention with present WTA athletes to “communicate to the adjustments which might be taking place and to what nonetheless must be performed inside the area,” Simon mentioned.

The WTA mentioned the Finals prize cash will assist work to satisfy the tour’s pledge, made final yr, to extend pay and put it in keeping with what males earn in tennis. The $15.25 million on provide from November 2-9, 2024 – an quantity set to extend in 2025 and 2026 – is up from final yr’s $9 million and eclipses the event-high $14 million at Shenzhen in 2019.

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