Two of women’s tennis’s biggest stars have expressed reservations to the WTA about hosting a tournament in Saudi Arabia


Human Rights Watch is completely in agreement with the open letter that was filed by the two persons described above.

Due to the fact that Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova have voiced their fears about the World Tennis Association Championships that are planned to take place in Saudi Arabia, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has chosen to offer its support to the two tennis superstars.

Both Evert and Navratilova sent an open letter to Steve Simon, the chairman of the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), as well as to other members of the board of directors. According to the American sports magazine Sports Illustrated, this letter was published on January 17, 2024. It was caught by the publication. It was said in the document that having the finals in Saudi Arabia “would represent a significant step backwards” and that it is “entirely incompatible with the spirit and purpose of women’s tennis and the WTA itself.” According to the women who have won many Grand Slams, this would be a significant step backwards.

Following this, the two persons proceeded by expressing that they “fully appreciate the importance of respecting diverse cultures and religions,” but that they are of the opinion that the World Tennis Association needs to represent beliefs that are fundamentally different from those of the Kingdom. It was imperative that “an open, honest, and transparent discussion” take place before any decisions were made, as the two persons in question asked.

According to Minky Worden, who is the head of global programs at Human Rights Watch, DW News was told that HRW agrees with the attitude that was conveyed in the letter. Furthermore, she said that any and all sports federations that wish to participate in any type of activity with Saudi Arabia, or any other country for that matter, are required to carry out three particular tasks. This obligation applies to any and all sports organisations.

To begin, it is necessary to do full due diligence on human rights. According to Worden himself, “You can look on the Internet and see that Saudi Arabia is an outlier on women’s rights, and not in a good way.” He referenced the law on personal status that was approved the year before, which essentially established male guardianship over women, as well as the erasing of LGBTQ rights, as examples. He also mentioned the fact that the legislation was passed.

It is necessary for them to do a thorough risk assessment for female athletes, since the competition would not be feasible without the participation of women. This is the second item on the agenda. It is important that this evaluation takes into account not only the risks to their mental and physical health, but also the threats to the media and the people who are watching the event. For the third thing to take into consideration, the World Trade Organization (WTA) is required to be transparent and honest about the process in line with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. This is the third thing to take into consideration.

In an effort to get a response from the WTA about the letter, DW News made an effort to contact them; but, as of the time that this article was published, they had not yet replied to our question.

Steve Simon, the CEO of the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), spoke to reporters at an event that was conducted in June of the previous year to honor the 50th anniversary of the WTA. He stated that the WTA had not yet taken any choices and that the organization was “evaluating like everybody else.”

Worden is of the opinion that there is a possibility that the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) might introduce a tournament to Saudi Arabia; however, in order to accomplish this goal, a significant amount of work and openness is necessary. The failure to do so would not only be in direct opposition to the ideals of the WTA, but it could also result in a scenario that is comparable to the one that occurred in the golf industry, when players on the PGA Tour discovered on social media that LIV Golf, which was supported by the Public Investment Fund, had been established. This scenario would be similar to the one that occurred in the WTA. During the two hearings that followed, Worden said that they “should really put the scare into any federation that is thinking about doing a deal without a full stakeholder consultation with players and without transparency.” Worden’s statement included the phrase “should really put the scare into any federation.”

“The WTA should be doing its human rights due diligence by talking to Saudi women’s rights defenders, but they won’t be able to do that because they’re either in jail or in exile, so they can talk to the ones in exile and if they did, I think it’s a cautionary tale,” Worden said in an interview.

Concerning hearings and the likelihood of cautionary tales did not prevent the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP), the most famous men’s tennis organization, from staging the Next Generation ATP Finals in Jeddah in the previous year (where they are set to stay until 2027). Jeddah is scheduled to continue to host the tournament until 2027. Recently, Rafa Nadal, who has won 22 Grand Slam championships, was elevated to the role of ambassador for the Saudi Tennis Federation. Nadal has won a total of over 22 Grand Slam titles. Nadal made the following statement during his victory speech: “Everywhere you look in Saudi Arabia, you can see growth and progress, and I’m excited to be a part of that.”

Worden asserts that there is no evidence to support the claim that the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) conducted any form of human rights due diligence before to scheduling the tournament in Saudi Arabia.

“The ATP, the WTA, and the ITF [International Tennis Federation] need to do the work,” Worden wrote. “The work needs to be done.” “Even FIFA and the International Olympic Committee do not have a human rights policy,” “They need to get one as soon as possible because failure to do so will reflect back and harm athletes, as we saw in Qatar,” Worden states in his argument. He is alluding to the ineffectiveness of FIFA’s efforts to protect the LGBT community, which led to an increase lack the amount of pressure placed on players to campaign for LGBT rights in an environment that may be dangerous.

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