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Saudi pushes equal pay at launch of women’s tennis finals

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Riyadh, Saudi Arabia—Saudi Arabia said on Wednesday it wanted to “send a strong message” about equal pay in men’s and women’s tennis when it hosts the women’s tour finals in November.

The oil-rich Gulf kingdom’s push into tennis has met some resistance from legends Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert, who in January denounced Riyadh’s record on women’s rights in an op-ed published by The Washington Post.

Nevertheless, the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) announced in April that Riyadh would host the next three editions of the tour finals featuring the top eight singles players and doubles teams.

The $15.25 million in prize money for the event set to take place November 2-9 is up from $9 million at the same tournament last year and roughly equal to the 2023 edition of the men’s tour finals.

“I think it’s very important to show equality, that women’s prize money is equal to the men’s,” Areej Mutabagani, president of the Saudi Tennis Federation, told Agence France Presse (AFP) on Wednesday on the sidelines of a press conference formally launching the November tournament.

“I think we’ll send a strong message that they’re equal since they’re basically similar events, the same sport, so why not have the men and the women have equal prize money?”

Saudi Arabia has been luring professional tennis players to exhibitions and tournaments since 2019, part of a broader campaign to turn the conservative and formerly closed-off kingdom into a sports hub.

It has also recruited top footballers including Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar into its professional league and hosted marquee heavyweight boxing bouts and Formula One races.

In early January, Saudi Arabia appointed Rafael Nadal as ambassador of the Saudi Tennis Federation.

The federation said on Wednesday it wants to grow the sport locally and “inspire one million into tennis by 2030.”

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