Home » Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert accused of ‘turning backs on women’ by Saudi ambassador

Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert accused of ‘turning backs on women’ by Saudi ambassador

Navratilova, 67, and Evert, 69, each won 18 Grand Slam singles titles between 1974 and 1991.

Their opinion column in The Washington Post last week was headlined: ‘We did not help build women’s tennis for it to be exploited by Saudi Arabia’.

In it they said moving the “crown jewel” women’s event to Saudi Arabia was “incompatible with the spirit and purpose of women’s tennis and the WTA itself” and was a “significant regression”.

“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 criminalises 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,” they wrote.

But in a statement issued on Tuesday, Princess Reema – who is also a member of Saudi Arabia’s Olympic Committee and an International Olympic Committee board member – said they had “turned their back on the very same women they have inspired and it is beyond disappointing”.

She did not address the pair’s criticism of laws which criminalise the LGBTQ community.

Al-Saud said the pair should “get your facts straight” on matters of Saudi law affecting women and said their arguments were “based on outdated stereotypes and western-centric views of our culture”.

She added: “Failing to acknowledge the great progress women have made in Saudi Arabia denigrates our remarkable journey. This not only undermines the progress of women in sports, it sadly undermines women, progress as a whole.

“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.”

Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur – an icon in the Arab world, and the runner-up at Wimbledon for each of the past two years – said in August she would be “very excited” if the WTA Finals were to be held in Saudi Arabia.

But critics of Saudi Arabia have accused the oil-rich kingdom of using its wealth to invest in sports in a bid to improve its image – known as ‘sportswashing’.

It follows recent heavy investment in golf, Formula 1, football and boxing in particular.

Campaigning organisations remain critical of Saudi Arabia’s record on human rights and equality.