Saudi Arabia has been investing heavily in sports in recent years, and with the PGA Tour and Saudi-backed LIV Golf merger being the hot topic, it summarizes the power of its money and illustrates how the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF) is truly changing sports.

Saudi’s breakaway LIV Golf tour created many tensions in the sport, with the PIF prepared to invest $2 billion into the tour to attract golf’s biggest talents. We are now seeing the same issue in soccer, where the PIF has backed clubs from the Saudi Pro League to offer lucrative contracts to top soccer players, to lure them to play in the country, increasing the level of the league.

In the last year, Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, and N’golo Kante have all made the move over to the Middle East, with the trio having all agreed contracts reportedly worth over $100 million annually, further demonstrating the level of sports washing currently happening.

Saudi’s PIF has also entered the English Premier League, taking control of Newcastle United, giving them an incomparable edge over their competitors in terms of spending power.

On Sunday (June 25), ATP Tour chief Andrea Gaudenzi admitted that there have been positive talks with Saudi’s PIF about a potential partnership but has also made it clear that history and traditions of the sport will need to be respected.

Whilst the exact implications of Saudi investment in tennis is still unclear, it is certainly another example of sports washing as the Saudi PIF attempt to dominate another major sport.

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Many believe that the Saudis’ interest in “buying” tennis has been in the works for a while, as seen by the Diriyah Cup, an exhibition event held in December 2022 which saw many famous tennis stars competing, offering $1 million in prize money for the winner.

Saudi Arabia is still yet to host a main ATP Tour event but is reportedly winning the race to stage this year’s Next Gen ATP Finals, with more events only inevitable in the future on both the ATP and WTA Tours.

Would Saudi involvement in tennis be beneficial?

Tennis players have complained about prize money for years, with many claiming that players do not get paid fairly for the commitment and travel they put into each tournament, providing exciting tennis for spectators and viewers around the world.

In addition, lower-ranked players on the challenger tour are more susceptible to this, earning less prize money than ATP tournaments and struggling to make a living, with all the additional costs of travel, accommodation, and coaches to name a few.

The pay gap is drastic from the grand slam level players to the challengers, representing an issue that has been ever present in tennis, making it difficult for less fortunate talented tennis players to make a breakthrough onto the ATP Tour.

The involvement of Saudi Arabia could eliminate this issue, as a major cash injection can be used to increase prize money across the board and ease the financial burden on the players.

Controversial Australian tennis player, Nick Kyrgios, publicly displayed his excitement at the possible Saudi investment in tennis, indicating that the PIF understand the true value of the sport and concluded that players will earn what they “deserve to be paid.”

Current world number one, Spain’s Carlos Alcaraz, admitted he has “no doubts” that he will play in Saudi Arabia eventually, indicating he is comfortable with the change currently on the horizon in tennis and welcomes the Kingdom which has the financial power to host tournaments and ensure players are well looked after.

Other players, however, aren’t as supportive of Saudi’s involvement, with Andy Murray confirming he will not be participating in any tournaments in that country, revealing he had previously turned down millions to play in the Middle East years ago.

Murray explained that he would never jump at the Kingdom’s lucrative cash offer in return for his ethical conscience, highlighting the awful human rights record associated with the nation.

Moreover, despite Saudi Arabia’s strong entry into other sports, causing disruption in golf and soccer, the move into tennis is less likely to have the same impact, as Australian Open chief Craig Tiley explained that the investment will go towards improving the “current structure of the game” instead of an alternative tennis tour to lure players away.

Overall, the potential benefits of Saudi investment in tennis are clear to see but there is no doubt that the source of the cash injection is completely unethical.

Saudi Arabia is trying to use the biggest professional sports as a platform to boost their public image and diminish their human rights violations, including numerous counts of brutality, no freedom of speech, misogyny, and many other forms of discrimination.

The ease at which the PIF can embed itself in the most prestigious sporting properties needs to be restricted, as the traditions and history built within many sports should not be allowed to mix with a culture of human rights abuse, lack of LGBTQ+ acceptance, and discrimination against women.

Image: Christian Kaspar-Bartke/Getty Images