Tennis legends Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova on Wednesday publicly showed their opposition amid growing speculation that the 2024 WTA Finals will be held in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
Evert and Navratilova wrote a joint opinion piece for the Washington Post, saying the idea would be “entirely incompatible with the spirit and purpose of women’s tennis and the WTA itself.”
Evert and Navratilova, both former world No. 1s and 18-time major singles champions who were fierce rivals during their playing days, emphasized Saudi Arabia’s record of human rights violations, specifically in regard to the treatment of women and members of the LGBTQ community.
Not only is this a country where women are not seen as equal, it is a country where the current landscape includes a male guardianship law that essentially makes women the property of men,” Evert and Navratilova wrote. “A country which criminalizes the LGBTQ community to the point of possible death sentences. A country whose long-term record on human rights and basic freedoms has been a matter of international concern for decades.
“Staging the WTA final there would represent not progress, but significant regression.”
The pair urged the WTA to have “an open, honest discussion” before committing to the location and called for presentations to be made to players by human rights experts. Evert, an ESPN tennis analyst, and Navratilova also encouraged the organization to put a human rights framework into place to protect its players, and others, if the event was to be held in the country.
Speculation about a partnership between the WTA and Saudi Arabia started last year, and its capital city was believed to be in consideration to host the 2023 WTA Finals. Following backlash and criticism, from Evert and others, the event was ultimately held in Cancun, Mexico.
There have been reports indicating the 2024 tournament — featuring the top eight singles players and the top eight doubles pairs — will be held in Riyadh later this year.
Caroline Wozniacki, another former world No. 1, hoped it could help create change in the country.
“I think it’s inevitable that that’s going to happen, and I think when that does happen, I think we have a chance to make a change and do something good there,” Wozniacki told reporters last week. I obviously realize, you know, the human rights and everything else, but I think when it’s inevitable that they have so much money to put into sports, I think when you’re put in that situation, you can maybe change, make a change and do something positive.
Evert and Navratilova wrote that they would be more open to playing in Saudi Arabia after change has happened.
“The WTA should revisit the values upon which it was established. We believe that those values cannot even be expressed, much less achieved, in Saudi Arabia,” Evert and Navratilova wrote. “Taking a tournament there would represent a significant step backward, to the detriment not just of women’s sport, but women. We hope this changes someday, hopefully within the next five years. If so, we would endorse engagement there.”
Tennis’ governing bodies and several top players have already begun building relationships with the Middle Eastern nation. The ATP held its 2023 Next Gen Finals event in Jeddah and it was announced to be the host city for the year-end event through 2027.
Novak Djokovic, Aryna Sabalenka, Ons Jabeur and Carlos Alcaraz participated in an exhibition event in Riyadh in December, and Rafael Nadal was announced as the ambassador for the Saudi Tennis Federation earlier this month.