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Saturday, May 18, 2024

WTA Finals Latest Sporting Event To Take Saudi Millions

  • The tournament will get a record prize pool of $15.25 million and grow in 2025 and ’26.
  • There are no changes as to what players can wear, WTA tells ‘FOS.’
Syndication: Desert Sun

The WTA Finals will be held in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, for the next three years, the association and Saudi Tennis Federation announced Thursday. The prize pool will increase significantly and hit a new record, going from $9 million in 2023 to $15.25 million in ’24, and the WTA says it will be even higher in the next two years.

After rumblings of moving the finals to Saudi Arabia first emerged, former tennis stars Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova wrote a January op-ed in The Washington Post criticizing the potential partnership, saying a tournament there would be a “significant regression” given the nation’s extensive record of human rights abuses. Longtime WTA head Steve Simon said Thursday that he has met with Evert and Navratilova and that he “shared the concerns around women’s rights and LGBTQ+ rights within the Kingdom of Saudi,” but he does not expect any players to miss the event.

The WTA confirmed to Front Office Sports that players would be able to compete in their normal attire—Saudi Arabia typically requires both men and women to dress modestly—and it has been assured by Saudi authorities that there will be no restrictions as to same-sex couples sharing hotel rooms. “Definitely don’t support the situation there, but I hope that if we do decide to go there, I hope that we’re able to make change there and improve the quality there and engage in the local communities and make a difference,” Coco Gauff said in January about potentially playing in Saudi Arabia.

Simon apologized to players in November after the last finals in Cancún, Mexico, did not meet their standards. Then world No. 1 Aryna Sabalenka was one of dozens of players who wrote Simon about the quality of the tour and tournament, including court conditions, pay, scheduling, and a lack of options for childcare.
Saudi Arabia, whose sovereign wealth fund has become a massive player in global sports, has made major inroads in professional tennis recently. Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Carlos Alcaraz, Jannik Sinner, Daniil Medvedev, and Holger Rune are set to face off in Riyadh in October, a month before the WTA Finals. Nadal was announced in January as an ambassador for the Saudi Tennis Federation.

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