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McEnroe: I’d Be Surprised if Saudis Don’t Buy Miami and Madrid

“I mean [are] the ladies are going to play the WTA Finals there? Are you kidding me?” says John McEnroe of reported Saudi negotiations to buy tournaments.

By Richard Pagliaro | @Tennis_Now | Tuesday, January 9, 2024
 
Saudi Arabia will be a major multi-surface Masters player, says former world No. 1 John McEnroe. 

Asked to assess reports of Saudi Arabia negotiating to buy Masters 1000 events, including the Miami Open and Mutua Madrid Open, McEnroe replied: “I’d be surprised if the Saudis don’t buy those tournaments, actually.”

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IMG owns both the Miami Open and Mutua Madrid Open. John McEnroe has been represented by IMG for several years.

ESPN analyst McEnroe made the comment in a Zoom call with the media to promote ESPN’s Australian Open coverage, starting in the U.S. on Saturday, January 13th at 7 p.m. Eastern time on ESPN+ and at midnight on ESPN2.

Live AO coverage across ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN Deportes and ESPN+ will include all matches from all 15 courts, with every match streaming live on ESPN+. Comprehensive coverage will culminate with the Women’s and Men’s Championships on January 27 and January 28th, respectively, at 3:30 a.m. ET on ESPN, ESPN Deportes and ESPN+.

Last November, The Athletic’s Matthew Futterman reported Saudi investors have begun negotiations with IMG, which owns both Madrid and Miami, in an effort to purchase tournament rights. 

There is also the prospect of the Saudis buying a Masters 1000 event and moving the tournament to the Kingdom. Saudi Arabia has also reportedly negotiated for the rights to the WTA Finals.

McEnroe, who opposes Saudi investment in the sport because of its human rights violations, says given the millions of dollars at stake, and the fact the Saudis already created the LIV golf league in 2021, makes the Kingdom’s increased investment in tennis virtually inevitable.

“It wouldn’t shock me, let’s put it this way, because it’s the old money talks,” McEnroe told the media. “Oh no, I wouldn’t do that. Wait how much was I offered? On second thought maybe I’ll do that.

“Personally, I disagree with it completely in golf and tennis. I mean the ladies are going to play the WTA Finals there? Are you kidding me? Because they treat women so well?

“So that part, to me, is laughable. But at the same time what is also laughable is that people can criticize tennis players or golfers for doing something that virtually every business and the government do which is deal with Saudi Arabia.

“So this idea that tennis players have to set the moral standard or golfers for that matter when they’re all making the money. It’s a total joke as far as I’m concerned. But we’ll see what happens. I’d be surprised if the Saudis don’t buy those tournaments, actually. Not that they will. I’ll be surprised if they don’t have them.”

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by #MMOPEN (@mutuamadridopen)

Players and former players, including Ons Jabeur, Daria Kasatkina, Chrissie Evert and Billie Jean King have voiced disparate views on the Saudi’s Public Investment Fund buying prominent tennis tournaments.

Skeptics charge tennis is flirting with a fault line taking money from Saudi Arabia given the Kingdom’s record on human rights violations and the fact same sex activity for both men and women is illegal in Saudi Arabia.

Why would tennis, a sport that prides itself on equality and integrity, sell out foundational values to partner with a regime that represses women and criminalizes same-sex relationships, critics ask?

Supporters say tennis can help inspire positive change by competing in Saudi Arabia, increase player prize money, tap a valuable revenue stream and potentially grow the game in the Middle East.

Current and former players supporting Saudi investment in tennis—including Billie Jean King, Ons Jabeur, Jessica Pegula and Nick Kyrgios—cite several positives, including:

*Saudi Arabia is already invested in tennis as it hosted the ATP NextGen Finals in November. By working with the Saudis as tournament owners and Tour allies, the game’s governing bodies not only increase revenue, they decrease the chances of the nation launching its own rival tennis tour, as it did with the LIV golf tour, and poaching top stars away from the ATP and WTA.

*The Tours receive an infusion of resources from a wealthy investor, which is particularly vital to the WTA, reportedly battling financial issues.

*Players could see more prize money and benefits, which has been a primary aim, with the WTA goal of equal prize money at all tournaments more feasible with more money in the game.

Last summer, the PGA Tour announced its plan to merge with Saudi-sponsored LIV Golf. It’s the latest sports venture the Public Investment Fund, the Saudi sovereign wealth fund, has tapped in moves critics call “sport washing”—an attempt to obscure Saudi Arabia’s human rights violations and connection to the 9/11 terrorist attacks with high profile sporting investments.

McEnroe said given King’s support of Saudi sponsorship, he will take time to re-examine the issue.

“Billie Jean King endorsed it. So I have so much respect for Billie Jean maybe I have to think about it,” McEnroe said. “Maybe I’m the idiot.”

Photo credit: Lindsey Godwin/Miami Open

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