WTA Finals signs record deal with Saudi Arabia

Iga Swiatek, the World No 1, won the WTA Finals last season  (Getty Images)
Iga Swiatek, the World No 1, won the WTA Finals last season (Getty Images)

The WTA Finals, seen as the fifth major in women’s tennis, will be held in Saudi Arabia for the next three years.

The season-ending tournament featuring the top eight players in the world will offer record prize money of £12m, with further increases in 2025 and 2026.

Saudi Arabia has reportedly held an interest in hosting the WTA’s flagship event for several months, with legends of the sport in Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert among those who have criticised the partnership.

In an editorial for the Washington Post, Navratilova said Saudi Arabia staging the WTA Finals would be a “step backward” for women and women’s tennis.

Women’s rights are restricted in Saudi Arabia and same-sex relations are against the law. The state has been accused of human rights violations by groups such as Amnesty International.

Saudi Arabia has also been accused of targeting major sports such as boxing, football and golf to “sportswash” its international reputation.

While the deal to secure the WTA Finals is the state’s latest move in acquiring a major sporting event, previous efforts have focused on men’s sports.

Women’s tennis features some of the most prominent and highly paid women’s athletes in the world and Saudi Arabia’s move to host the WTA Finals represents its first significant deal yet in women’s sport.

The WTA Finals were staged in Cancun, Mexico in November last year but the tournament was heavily criticised by the players, and led to Saudi Arabia moving into pole position to host the tournament.

Saudi Arabia are offering a 70 per cent increase on prize money, and it follows increased efforts to host men’s tennis in the country. The ATP has moved its Next Gen Finals to Jeddah, while Saudi Arabia’s Private Investment Fund has signed a sponsorship deal with the ATP.

Steve Simon, the WTA Tour chairman and CEO, told the Associated Press that the organisation had met with Navratilova and Evert and said he “shared their concerns”.

“We’ve also shared the concerns around women’s rights and LGBTQ+ rights within the Kingdom of Saudi,” he said. “Our focus is on how we develop women’s tennis for the benefit of everybody involved in the game.

“The reality of it is we are truly a global tour, a global business. We have players from over 90 nations now. We have over 90 events. We participate in many countries that have different cultures and values systems across the board."