We Did Not Help Build Women’s Tennis for It to Be Exploited by Saudi Arabia
Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova are members of the International Tennis Hall of Fame. Between 1974 and 1991, each won 18 Grand Slam singles titles.
Lately, we seem to be so inseparable that you might as well call us Evertilova. We have not always been so in step with each other; one of us is quiet, the other unquiet. But there is a matter on which we have always been perfectly united. Over many years we were opponents, sometimes in matches with an intensity that felt personal. Then we became friends, and then we met cancer together. Over the years, 50 of them now, no matter what occurred on the court or in our lives, we shared an understanding that we were engaged in a common cause, one that connected our hearts and amounted to our life’s work: the building of a Women’s Tennis Association tour founded on equality, to empower women in a male-dominated world.
That work is now imperiled. WTA Tour officials, without adequate consultation with the players who are the very foundation of the sport, are on the verge of agreeing to stage the WTA Finals in Saudi Arabia. This is entirely incompatible with the spirit and purpose of women’s tennis and the WTA itself.
We fully appreciate the importance of respecting diverse cultures and religions. It is because of this, and not despite it, that we oppose the awarding of the tour’s crown jewel tournament to Riyadh. The WTA’s values sit in stark contrast to those of the proposed host. Not only is this a country where women are not seen as equal, it is a country where the current landscape includes a male guardianship law that essentially makes women the property of men. A country which criminalizes the LGBTQ community to the point of possible death sentences. A country whose long-term record on human rights and basic freedoms has been a matter of international concern for decades.
Staging the WTA final there would represent not progress, but significant regression.
Under Saudi law, a woman must have a male guardian to marry, and when she does, the guardianship passes to her husband. Wives are required to “obey” their husbands in such matters as whether to travel together, where to live, and the frequency of sexual relations. The unequal status of women remains deeply embedded in Saudi law, and women who actively protest this injustice risk indefinite imprisonment — for they need a male guardian’s permission to leave prison even after they have served their sentences.
We can’t sit back and allow something as significant as awarding a tournament to Saudi Arabia to happen without an open, honest discussion. To clarify and ensure transparency on these issues, we make the following common-sense recommendations.