In 2023 we saw Saudi Arabia's forceful incursion into sport. Many prominent sportspeople - such as soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo - have moved to compete in Saudi Arabia's championships and leagues. Even the legendary Martina Navratilova spoke out on the issue, saying how money from Saudi Arabia will sooner or later buy everything.
Navratilova explained, during an interview with On With Kara Swisher podcast: "Don't give them the tournament until they prove that they are making changes. Women still cannot divorce a man in Saudi. Men can just say, 'I divorce you,' and they're done.
And a woman has to come in front of a panel. The inequity there is very glaring. Where do you draw the line? I don't know, but I do know that Saudi Arabia at the moment is not acceptable. I think it's, it's inevitable that the Saudi money will buy everybody eventually.
It's just a matter of when, not if. The money is enormous. I mean, Aramco posted like $34 billion profit in one quarter. So, it's hard to fight that kind of money. You know, I've spoken against sport washing, how countries are just buying these sporting events."
Saudi Arabia breaks into tennis
According to the Times, the ATP has succumbed to the lure of petrodollars and will include a new prestigious tournament in Saudi Arabia.
It will be played in Riyadh and will begin in late 2024 and end on Saturday 4 January 2025, a week before the Australian Open. The Saudi tournament will last 9 days (continuing the trend of expanding the Masters 1000 already seen this season, which will be uniform starting from 2025).
It will only remain to be seen whether this event will be added to the 9 already scheduled, or will replace one. ATP sacrificed a historic tournament like Newport (home of the tennis Hall of Fame and the last event that closes the grass-swing), to make room for the tournament in Saudi Arabia.
According to the Times, Miami would be the most interested in listening to offers, while Paris-Bercy is competing due to the quality of its facilities. Director Pioline, however, would prefer the tournament to change venue, after the countless criticisms received in recent weeks.
The Saudi government has shown that it gives particular prominence to the city of Riyadh during the European winter season, hosting a large number of sporting events.