British No1 Cameron Norrie has responded defiantly to claims that he is participating in “a jamboree of Saudi Arabian sportswashing” in Riyadh next month.
Under criticism from Amnesty International for his involvement in the Diriyah Cup, Norrie hit back by saying that the controversial event “allows me to train with some of the best players in the world and to potentially win the Australian Open”.
Norrie was announced on Wednesday morning as the latest addition to the field of this three-day exhibition event, which already boasts three former US Open champions in Daniil Medvedev, Dominic Thiem and Stan Wawrinka.
But a spokesman for Amnesty International has called for Norrie to speak out about human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia. Earlier in 2022, 81 people were executed by the government in a single day.
Felix Jakens, head of campaigns at Amnesty International UK, said that Norrie should use the Diriyah Cup as an opportunity to call for change.
“Cameron has a big platform and genuine influence,” said Jakens, “and he should use this to show solidarity with people like Salma al-Shehab [a Leeds University student who was jailed for 34 years for tweeting in support of women’s rights].
“What Saudi Arabia appears to look for with these competitions is a smiling high-profile sports star who will studiously avoid talking about human rights – Cameron should speak out.”
Norrie’s involvement in the Diriyah Cup comes after Andy Murray told reporters that he had turned down the opportunity to participate in the same event three years ago.
“They put on an event in Saudi Arabia a few years ago and I was offered to play there,' Murray said shortly before this year’s Wimbledon. “I know a number of the other guys on the tour were offered to play there. A lot of the top players turned it down. I wouldn't go and play there.”
Medvedev won that first edition of the Diriyah Cup, claiming $3m in prizemoney, but the pandemic then prevented a restaging until this year. No Briton has yet appeared in this exhibition, although there have been low-level ITF Futures events – as well as junior tournaments – where British players have competed.
As Telegraph Sport reported in June, the Saudis have long been exploring the possibility of staging regular tournaments on the ATP and WTA Tours, although their big-money offers have thus far been rejected.
There is a parallel here with the LIV Golf series which has caused such strife in the golfing world this year. For the moment, the flirtation with tennis remains lower-key, but the Saudi bids are likely to continue.
According to Amnesty, the Diriyah Cup represents “the latest jamboree of Saudi sportswashing” after events such as LIV Golf, boxing and Formula One.
As Jakes put it, “Everyone playing in Diriyah will surely realise that this tennis tournament is yet another example of Saudi Arabia trying to sportswash its bloody human rights record”, which includes the murder and dismemberment of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.
But Norrie insisted that such concerns are not part of his decision-making process. “I’m not a politician,” he said, “and I don’t feel it’s right for me to get involved with individual government politics.”