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Nadal Named Saudi Tennis Federation Ambassador

The 22-time Grand Slam champion is “part of a long-term commitment to help the sport grow and inspire a new generation of athletes in Saudi Arabia.”

By Richard Pagliaro | @Tennis_Now | Monday, January 15, 2024

The king of clay has signed on as tennis ambassador for the Kingdom.

Rafael Nadal has been named new ambassador for the Saudi Tennis Federation, the organization announced today.

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In his new role, Nadal is “part of a long-term commitment to help the sport grow and inspire a new generation of athletes in Saudi Arabia,” the Federation said in a statement.

أُمسية لا تنسى لأبنائنا وبناتنا، شكًرا لسفيرنا الجديد @RafaelNadal

An unforgettable evening for our boys and girls. Thank you, new ambassador @RafaelNadal pic.twitter.com/AdkFm02xwk

— الاتحاد السعودي للتنس (@sauditenfed) January 15, 2024

The former world No. 1 recently visited Saudi Arabia with plans for a Rafa Nadal Academy in the works for the Kingdom. The Saudi Tennis Federation said the nation currently hosts 177 tennis clubs, which marks a near 150 percent increase in clubs compared to 2019.
 

Growth and progress that’s important to see and the STF is working on that.
In a recent visit I saw the interest in both aspects and I want to be part of that role of growing the sport of tennis around the world.
The kids are looking to the future and I saw they are passionate… pic.twitter.com/vF3VaJXazH

— Rafa Nadal (@RafaelNadal) January 15, 2024

“Growth and progress that’s important to see and the STF is working on that,” Nadal posted on social media. “In a recent visit I saw the interest in both aspects and I want to be part of that role of growing the sport of tennis around the world.

“The kids are looking to the future and I saw they are passionate about sports… I want to encourage them to pick up a racket and enjoy the benefits of a healthy living.”

The announcement signals Saudi Arabia’s latest investment in tennis, which has divided some in the tennis world. Supporters of Saudi Arabia’s deepening ties in the sport, including Ons Jabeur, Billie Jean King and Jessica Pegula, say tennis can help create cultural and social impact in the middle east while receiving much-needed financial support.

Critics, including John McEnroe, Daria Kasatkina and Chrissie Evert, oppose it citing the Kingdom’s human rights violations.  

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.

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.

In fact, Hall of Famer McEnroe said “I’d be surprises if the Saudis don’t buy those [Miami and Madrid] tournaments.”

“It wouldn’t shock me, let’s put it this way, because it’s the old money talks,” McEnroe told the media in an ESPN Zoom call last week. “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.”

Photo credit: Saudi Tennis Federation

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