Women's tennis signs 'multi-year partnership' with Saudi investment fund

Kevin Foster, Head of Corporate Affairs for the Saudi Public Investment Fund and and Marina Storti, chief executive of WTA Ventures, announce a new multi-year partnership between the women's tennis circuit and PIF (ELSA)
Kevin Foster, Head of Corporate Affairs for the Saudi Public Investment Fund and and Marina Storti, chief executive of WTA Ventures, announce a new multi-year partnership between the women's tennis circuit and PIF (ELSA)

The women's tennis tour (WTA) on Monday announced "a multi-year partnership" with the Saudi Arabian sovereign wealth fund (PIF), emulating a deal made by the men's tour (ATP) in February.

The WTA said in a statement that it shared with PIF an "ambition to grow women's professional tennis and inspire more women and girls around the world to take up the game."

"We look forward to sharing the journey of our talented players across the season, as we continue to grow the sport, creating more fans of tennis and inspiring more young people to take up the game," said Marina Storti, CEO of WTA Ventures, in the joint statement.

PIF will become the "first-ever naming partner of the WTA Rankings".

"Through our partnership with WTA, PIF will continue to be a catalyst for the growth of women's sport," said Mohamed Alsayyad of PIF in the statement. "This partnership aligns with our ambition to elevate the game and bring positive growth to the sport around the world."

The partnership between the WTA and PIF follows the recent announcement that the season-ending WTA Finals, featuring the eight top singles players and doubles pairings, will be held  in Riyadh for the next three years, starting this year.

Much like its forays into golf and football, the Saudi tennis push has met some resistance, with legends Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert denouncing Riyadh's record on women's rights in an op-ed published by The Washington Post in January.

The article was headlined: "We did not help build women's tennis for it to be exploited by Saudi Arabia".

Conservative Saudi Arabia's bid to become a sports powerhouse is part of a larger attempt to soften its austere image.

That rebranding is central to the success of its Vision 2030 economic and social reform agenda, designed to prepare the world's biggest crude exporter for a prosperous post-oil future.

Last year, the kingdom hosted its first ATP Tour event with the Next Gen Finals.

It has also hosted exhibition matches pitting Novak Djokovic against Carlos Alcaraz and Aryna Sabalenka against Ons Jabeur.

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

The country, which hosts a Formula 1 and MotoGP Grand Prix, as well as the Dakar rally-raid, has recruited a large number of top football players to its national league in recent years.

The Kingdom has also hosted a series of headline-grabbing boxing matches including the heavyweight unification bout between Oleksandr Usyk and Tyson Fury last Saturday.

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