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Martina Navratilova: WTA in Saudi is one step from going to North Korea

Martina Navratilova: WTA in Saudi is one step from going to North Korea
Martina Navratilova makes her point - Getty Images/Angel Martinez

Martina Navratilova has strongly criticised the WTA’s move to Saudi Arabia, saying it is one step away from being as bad as “going to North Korea”.

Earlier this month the WTA announced Saudi Arabia would host its tour-end Finals for the next three years, beginning this November with a record-breaking £12 million prize money on offer.

The deal went in direct opposition to Navratilova, the winner of 18-time major singles tiles, and fellow tennis legend Chris Evert’s views. They penned a joint op-ed published in the Washington Post in January to say a WTA move to Saudi would be a “step backwards” for women.

Speaking in Madrid, Navratilova confirmed she has “no plans” to attend the Finals in Saudi Arabia.

“We’re going to Saudi Arabia which is about as big a change as you can make except for maybe going to North Korea,” Navratilova, speaking in her capacity as a Laureus Academy member, said. “Chris Evert and I have made our views clear on that, but the players have made their choices. We’ll see how things work out. There’s a big change happening right now and maybe more will come in the future.”

Riyadh will host the Finals from 2024 to 2026, with promises the prize money will increase each year to match the current pot available at the ATP men’s event.

Navratilova, 67, said she felt the WTA’s decision was made on account of support from the current crop of top women players, but warned that the move was “as political as you can get”.

“We’re not playing so the players made their choice,” she said. “I honour that. [Chris and I] both do. I just wanted to make sure they made the decision not in a vacuum that they knew what they were getting into. “One of the comments I heard, one of the players said they ‘don’t want to be political’.

“Going to Saudi is about as political you can get. Welcome to sport. Sports is political. Sport has been at the forefront of social change. I don’t see how anything happens there without the blessing of MBS [Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud]. He decides what goes and what doesn’t.

“We’re a bit egotistical to think we can make a difference but who knows. Maybe this is a good thing, we’ll see how this goes. The players have to honour that, they’re the ones competing. We’re not affected by it. We’re not going there to play.”


The 25th Laureus World Sports Awards take place on Monday evening in Madrid. To find out more, and follow the ceremony, visit www.laureus.com

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