WASHINGTON — It was said by the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United States that Hall of Famers Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova relied on “outdated stereotypes and western-centric views of our culture” when they urged the women’s tennis tour to refrain from having its season-ending tournament in the kingdom.
“These champions have turned their back on the very same women they have inspired, and it is beyond disappointing,” Princess Reema bint Bandar Al Saud said on Tuesday in reaction to an opinion piece written by Evert and Navratilova that was published in The Washington Post the previous week.
“Sports are meant to be a great equalizer that offers opportunity to everyone based on ability, dedication and hard work,” the diplomatic representative from Saudi Arabia. “Sports should not be used as a weapon to advance personal bias or agendas … or punish a society that is eager to embrace tennis and help celebrate and grow the sport.”
They asked the WTA Tour in their opinion article whether “staging a Saudi crown-jewel tournament would involve players in an act of sportswashing merely for the sake of a cash influx.” Evert and Navratilova were referring to the fact that the tournament will be held in Saudi Arabia.
In recent years, Saudi Arabia has implemented a wide range of social reforms, such as providing women the ability to drive and essentially removing male guardianship rules. These laws had previously permitted husbands and male relatives to govern many aspects of women’s lives including transportation, education, and employment.
There is still a requirement for both men and women to dress modestly; however, the regulations have been relaxed, and the religious police, who were formerly in a position of intimidation, have been marginalized.
However, relations between people of the same gender are punishable by death or flogging, although trials are uncommon.
“While there is still work to be done, the recent progress for women, the engagement of women in the workforce, and the social and cultural opportunities being created for women are truly profound, and should not be overlooked,” said Princess Reema, who in addition to being a member of the Gender, Equality and Inclusion Commission of the International Olympic Committee, has been serving as the ambassador to the United States since 2019.
“We recognize and welcome that there should be a healthy debate about progress for women,” the foreign ministry official stated. “The situation for women in my country is not yet ideal,” she said.