Saudi Arabia breaks tennis, but fans are angry, also with Nadal: "It's Sport Washing"

The Spanish tennis player has become tennis ambassador of the Arab country, in which he will open a branch of his academy

by Lorenzo Ciotti
Saudi Arabia breaks tennis, but fans are angry, also with Nadal: "It's Sport Washing"
© Chris Hyde / Stringer Getty Images Sport

The impact of Saudi Arabia's investments in the world of sport is now clear for all to see. Just think of the amounts spent by Arab soccer teams to guarantee the presence of some of the best players: there is talk of transfers for a total of 800 million and 1.7 billion for wages.

Saudi Arabia has also scored its first coup in tennis, because the Next Gen ATP Finals will be played for the next four years in Jeddah, which will replace Milan. A significant increase will characterize the new prize pool: it will go from 1.4 to 2 million dollars.

From 2023 to 2027, the best prospects of the major circuit will compete at the King Abdullah Sports City. The first edition will be played from November 28th to November 2nd. This will be the first official tournament in Saudi Arabia.

"The ATP Tour is truly global and exploring new markets is key to growing tennis. Bringing the Next Gen ATP Finals to Jeddah is our chance to capture new fans in a region with a large young population. Our congratulations go to Jeddah and the Saudi Tennis Federation. We look forward to building an incredibly successful event together," explained ATP CEO Andrea Gaudenzi.

The CEO of the Arab Tennis Federation Arij Mutabagani said he was proud of this significant result. "We are extremely proud that the ATP has chosen Jeddah to host such an important tennis event. The Next Gen ATP Finals embody the philosophy of our Federation, which is to inspire young talents to reach the highest levels of the sport. We are thrilled to partner to promote the ATP Tour's most promising rising stars and showcase new sporting innovations, in our special city of Jeddah."

But not everyone, however, agrees with the new maneuver carried out by the ATP.

John McEnroe, one of the greatest legends, expressed his point of view without mincing words. "I wouldn't do it, honestly. I don't think our sport needs it. I don't think it will benefit the movement. Personally, I think we shouldn't do this. I think there are many hypocritical people. They say that tennis and golf should not open their doors to the Arab world and, meanwhile, they do business with their big companies right in Saudi Arabia. Even our governments do business there," he explained.

Jessica Pegula added: "There are pros and cons: certainly more money could come into women's sport and we can start to create a change in terms of women's rights in those countries. It would be something really important if we could give a signal to those people.

Unfortunately many places they don't pay women enough and it's a shame that we don't have the luxury of saying no to some things. If the money was right and enough and the deal was something where we can start a change, then I would be fine with playing there. These for me are the factors that depend."

Fans angry with Nadal's choice

And the latest big news has shaken the world that revolves around tennis. The Saudi Arabian tennis federation has appointed Rafael Nadal as its ambassador.

Nadal also plans to open a branch of his tennis academy in Saudi Arabia.

"Growth and progress are important to see and the STF is working on this. On a recent visit I saw interest in both aspects and I want to be part of that role in growing the sport of tennis around the world. Kids watch to the future and I saw that they are passionate about sports... I want to encourage them to pick up a racket and enjoy the benefits of a healthy life," he told.

However, many fans were against Rafa Nadal's choice. Fans have criticized how Saudi Arabia violates human rights, particularly regarding women's and LGBTQ rights.

Nadal© Chris Hyde / Stringer Getty Images Sport

The 22-time Grand Slam champion's announcement came at a time when Saudi Arabia is looking to bolster its image and reputation. Sports washing, as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have dubbed it (h/t the Guardian), is a topic that fans don't like very much.

Below, some of the harshest comments that can be read against Rafael Nadal's choice.