Chris Evert shares real intention when opposing 'controversial' move to Saudi Arabia

In January, Evert and Martina Navratilova strongly spoke out against the WTA going to Saudi Arabia.

by Dzevad Mesic
Chris Evert shares real intention when opposing 'controversial' move to Saudi Arabia
© Getty Images Sport - Matthew Stockman

Chris Evert says her decision to write an open letter opposing a move to Saudi Arabia wasn't made because she wanted to make someone feel guilty if that move happened, but rather because she just wanted to make the WTA and players think about some things before making the final call. 

Last year, the WTA was expected to announce Riyadh as the host city for the WTA Finals, but ultimately those plans were put on hold because they wanted to give themselves more time for that move and wanted to communicate every detail better with the players. 

And during this year's Australian Open - when it was becoming clear that the WTA was leaning toward striking a multiyear deal with Saudi Arabia - Evert and Martina Navratilova wrote a column for The Washington Post, in which they heavily opposed the move. In the article, Evert and Navratilova used some pretty strong words as they warned the WTA that they thought going to the Kingdom would mean "a significant regression" for women's tennis.

Evert and Navratilova's comments drew lots of attention but it didn't lead to a last-minute change since the WTA confirmed Riyadh as the host city for the WTA Finals through 2026. The decision was accepted by pretty much all top players as the majority said they were willing to give it a try.

“We wrote the letter, we voiced our opinion, which I’m very proud of. Steve [Simon] and the women decided to go play in Saudi Arabia. You’re not going to hear any more from me. I feel like the decision has been made, they're the players. They should make the decision. And I wish them well," Evert said, via Tennis Now.

“I feel like Martina and I had a responsibility to write that letter and voice our opinion. But that letter wasn’t in judgment of ‘If you go there…this is the kind of person you are.’

“That letter was basically just before you make your mind up, before you make that big decision, just do your research. And talk to some human rights activists and people who have been over there and who know the laws of the land over there.

“It was basically just to get some information. In saying that, the decision they made—they’re the players—I’m not the player. They’re the players and they’re the ones that have to live by their decision. And I hold no judgment. I accept it.”

Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova
Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova © Getty Images Sport - Matthew Stockman

Evert: I wanted the WTA to do some research before making any decision

In their column, Evert and Navratilova made it clear that they had concerns regarding Saudi Arabia's human rights track record. Also, the two tennis legends - both former 18-time Grand Slam champions - also aired some concerns about the treatment of women in the Kingdom. 

When players were asked about the Saudi Arabia issue, many said that they would try to be a positive influence there. 

“I just want to get the information out here: Women are second-class citizens there and pretty much controlled by men from birth until death. Are there changes going on there? Kind of research that," Evert said.

"What are they going to do for the WTA? What are they going to do for young Saudi Arabian girls? What are the benefits that are going to come out of this?”

Chris Evert
Chris Evert © Getty Images Sport - Clive Brunskill

Evert: We fought so hard for equality...

While women have managed to get equal prize money in Slams, they are still not anywhere near the money that the men are making. When addressing potential deals with the Saudis, some tennis officials suggested that their money could potentially help women get closer to achieving equal prize money in all tournaments. 

And this year's WTA Finals in Riyadh will offer a historic $15.25 tournament prize money and there are plans to increase those numbers in 2025 and 2026.

“I think the WTA fought so hard for equality and equal prize money. And I think that’s one of the reasons why [the move is controversial]. Everything that Billie Jean and the Original 9 tried to achieve and worked so hard for trying to get equal prize money at all these major tournaments and really stand up for ourselves as women athletes and make ourselves valuable," Evert concluded.

“I think that when you make a big move and go over to a country that doesn’t have quite the same principles, in a way, it’s supporting that country.”

Chris Evert
Chris Evert © Getty Images Sport - Matthew Stockman

The first edition of the Riyadh WTA Finals is slated to take place between November 2-9. 

Chris Evert Martina Navratilova