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Historic Deal: WTA Finals in Riyadh with Record Prize Pot - Mixed Reactions from Tennis Community

WTA Finals to be held in Riyadh with record $15.25 million prize, marking a significant step in Saudi Arabia's sports expansion.

By Athena Xu

4/4, 08:04 EDT
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Key Takeaway

  • WTA Finals to be held in Riyadh for 3 years with a record women's prize pot of $15.25 million, matching the men's ATP Finals.
  • Saudi Arabia continues its sports expansion, aiming to diversify its economy and boost its global sports presence.
  • The decision has sparked debate over Saudi Arabia's human rights record, with mixed reactions from tennis legends and players.

Historic Deal for Women's Tennis

The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) has announced a groundbreaking agreement with Saudi Arabia’s tennis federation to host the next three annual WTA Finals in Riyadh, from this year until 2026. This arrangement marks a significant expansion of Saudi Arabia's involvement in global sports, following a similar partnership with the men’s ATP Tour established over a month ago. The women’s prize pot for the event will see a substantial increase to a record $15.25 million, up from $9 million in the previous year, aligning it with the men’s ATP Finals prize money. This move is part of the WTA's ongoing efforts to bridge the earnings gap between male and female players. The total prize money for female players across all tennis competitions this year is projected to rise to around $212 million, a notable increase from $170 million the previous year.

Saudi Arabia's Sports Expansion

Saudi Arabia's strategic partnership with the WTA underscores the country's ambitious push into the realm of international sports, diversifying its investments beyond its traditional oil-based economy. The country's sovereign wealth fund, along with other Saudi entities, has previously supported various sports, including football, golf, motor racing, and combat sports, through significant financial backing. The decision to host the WTA Finals in Riyadh is part of a broader series of investments aimed at enhancing Saudi Arabia's global sports footprint and promoting the country as a premier destination for major sporting events.

Controversy and Support

The choice of Riyadh as the venue for the WTA Finals has sparked debate, with concerns raised about Saudi Arabia's human rights record and its treatment of women and the LGBT+ community. Tennis legends Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert have expressed apprehension, suggesting that the deal could represent a setback for women's sports and rights. Conversely, Tunisian world number six Ons Jabeur has voiced support for the move, highlighting the potential to inspire women in Saudi Arabia to pursue tennis. The Saudi Tennis Federation, led by Arij Mutabagani, the first woman to head a sports federation in the country, has assured that all participants will be warmly welcomed, viewing the event as a catalyst for further progress and development in the sport within the region.