Tennis-WTA Finals to be held in Saudi Arabia from 2024-2026

  • Tennis
  • Thursday, 04 Apr 2024

Formula One F1 - Saudi Arabian Grand Prix - Jeddah Corniche Circuit, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia - March 17, 2023 Saudi sports minister Prince Abdul Aziz bin Turki Al-Faisal REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed/File Photo

(Reuters) -The season-ending WTA Finals will be held in Saudi Arabia's capital Riyadh from 2024-2026, the women's tennis body said on Thursday, ending months of speculation and marking the Gulf country's latest foray into the sport.

Riyadh will host the season finale - which features the top eight singles players and doubles teams - from Nov. 2-9 and replaces last year's hosts Cancun, Mexico.

"To have a women's tournament of this magnitude and profile is a defining moment for tennis in Saudi Arabia. The WTA Finals has the power to inspire far beyond the sport, especially for our young girls and women," the Saudi sports minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal Al-Saud told Reuters.

Talk that the event could be shifted to Saudi Arabia had intensified after the men's ATP Tour said last August its Next Gen Finals would be held in Jeddah from 2023 to 2027.

"The WTA selected Riyadh following a comprehensive evaluation process over several months, which has included assessment of multiple bids from different regions and engagement with players," it said in a statement.

Saudi Arabia has invested heavily in sports like soccer, Formula One and golf in the last few years while critics accuse the kingdom of using its Public Investment Fund to "sportswash" its human rights record.

The country denies accusations of human rights abuses and says it protects its national security through its laws.

WTA chief Steve Simon said last year that Saudi Arabia presented "big issues" as a host for women's tour events but also acknowledged the progress it had made and continued to engage with players.

"Bringing the WTA Finals to Riyadh is an exciting new opportunity for us and a positive step for the long-term growth of women's tennis as a global and inclusive sport," Simon said.

"We've been impressed by the commitment shown by the Saudi Tennis Federation to grow the sport at all levels."

World number one Iga Swiatek and Caroline Wozniacki said at the Australian Open that engagement offered the chance to spark positive change.

There has been pushback from within the game with greats Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova saying the WTA's values were in stark contrast to those of Saudi Arabia and holding the event there would not represent progress but "significant regression".

But the country's ambassador to the United States Reema bint Bandar Al-Saud said the criticism represented stereotypical and western-centric views.

(Reporting by Hamad Mohammed and Shrivathsa Sridhar, Additional reporting by Rohith Nair; Editing by Peter Graff and Christian Radnedge)

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