By Richard Pagliaro | @Tennis_Now | Friday, November 3, 2023
Saudi Arabia is targeting two of tennis’ top 1000 tournaments—the Miami Open and Mutua Madrid Open—as it increases its investment in the sport.
The Athletic’s Matthew Futterman reports Saudi investors have begun negotiations with IMG, which owns both Madrid and Miami, in an effort to purchase tournament rights. If Saudi Arabia acquires either tournament, it would be a major player in the sport.
There is also the prospect of the Saudis buying a Masters 1000 event and moving the tournament to the Kingdom.
Skeptics charge tennis is flirting with a fault line taking money from Saudi Arabia given the Kingdom’s record on human rights violations and the fact same sex activity for both men and women is illegal in Saudi Arabia.
Why would tennis, a sport that prides itself on equality and integrity, sell out foundational values to partner with a regime that represses women and criminalizes same-sex relationships, critics ask?
Supporters say tennis can help inspire positive change by competing in Saudi Arabia, increase player prize money, tap a valuable revenue stream and potentially grow the game in the Middle East.
Players supporting Saudi investment in tennis cite several positives, including:
* Saudi Arabia is already invested in tennis as it hosts the ATP NextGen Finals this month. By working with the Saudis as tournament owners and Tour allies, the game’s governing bodies not only increase revenue, they decrease the chances of the nation launching its own rival tennis tour, as it did with the LIV golf tour, and poaching top stars away from the ATP and WTA.
* The Tours receive an infusion of resources from a wealthy investor, which is particularly vital to the WTA, reportedly battling financial issues.
* Players could see more prize money and benefits, which has been a primary aim, with the WTA goal of equal prize money at all tournaments more feasible with more money in the game.
Last summer, the PGA Tour announced its plan to merge with Saudi-sponsored LIV Golf. It’s the latest sports venture the Public Investment Fund, the Saudi sovereign wealth fund, has tapped in moves critics call “sport washing”—an attempt to obscure Saudi Arabia’s human rights violations and connection to the 9/11 terrorist attacks with high profile sporting investments.
Human Dignity Trust, an organization that “uses the law to defend the rights of LGBT people globally,” has…