Tennis-Saudi ambassador 'disappointed' over 'western centric' criticism of mulled WTA Finals move

- The criticism over moving the Women's Tennis Association Finals to Saudi Arabia represents stereotypical and western-centric views, Saudi ambassador to the United States 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to read a column in The Washington Post objecting to Saudi Arabia hosting the WTA Finals based on arguments that are outdated stereotypes and western-centric views of our culture.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 also a member of Saudi Arabia's Olympic Committee and an International Olympic Committee board member. 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 the field 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.

Last August, 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 had yet been made over the 2024 edition of the Finals. He also said last year that the kingdom presented "big issues" and the matter is being discussed with various groups.

Saudi Arabia has invested heavily in sports like soccer, Formula One and golf over the last few years. However, critics have accused the country of using sport to cover up its poor record on human rights and equality issues.

(Reporting by Shifa Jahan in Bengaluru
Editing by Christian Radnedge)


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