Rafa Nadal has surprised the tennis world having announced he will become the Saudi Arabia tennis ambassador with icon John McEnroe previously blasting the sport's transition as 'laughable'. Nadal withdrew from the Australian Open ahead of the tournament having sustained an injury in his troublesome hip in the lead-up.
Fans were left devastated they might not see Nadal again at the Australian Open as the Spaniard headed home to recover. And in a surprise move, Nadal has made the announcement he will be the tennis ambassador for Saudi Arabia as he looks to set-up a Rafa Nadal Academy in the Gulf Nation.
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His surprise move has sparked some backlash with Saudi Arabia coming under fire in recent years for accusations of 'sportswashing', which has seen the nation throw huge money at golfers to join their breakaway tournament LIV Golf and footballers to join the domestic league.
The huge sums of money and the nation's controversial human rights record has many tennis fans surprised with Nadal's move. And tennis great McEnroe recently let rip at how the game is allowing Saudi Arabia to introduce itself as part of the sport, which he claimed was nothing more than a 'money ploy'.
While McEnroe was critical of reports Saudi Arabia are looking to purchase some tennis tournaments, he also claimed it wasn't new for governments and businesses all around the world. “Personally, I disagree with it completely, with the golf and the tennis,” he said on an ESPN call last week. “The ladies are going to play the WTA Finals there? Are you kidding me? Because they treat women so well? That part is to me laughable.
“At the same time, which is also laughable, is the people that can criticise tennis players or golfers for doing something that virtually every business and the government do, which is deal with Saudi Arabia. This idea that tennis players have to set the moral standard, or golfers for that matter, when they're all making the money, it's a total joke as far as I'm concerned. We'll see what happens.”
Rafa Nadal cops backlash over Saudi Arabia move
Saudi Arabia hosted its first ATP Tour event in 2023 for the next generation tournament. And Nadal claimed his intention was to build the sport of tennis in Saudi Arabia with the younger generation. "Everywhere you look in Saudi Arabia, you can see growth and progress and I'm excited to be part of that," the 22-time grand slam champ said in a press release.
"I continue to play tennis as I love the game. But beyond playing I want to help the sport grow far and wide across the world and in Saudi there is real potential." However, the tennis community was quick to raise their concern over the move.
This is incredibly disappointing from Rafa. Inexcusable. If they get Roger too, I'm done. https://t.co/KxPKeJMGMv
— Neil McMahon (@NeilMcMahon) January 16, 2024
Not a fan of this move. I hope Saudi girls see a real benefit from this over the years though.
— 🎾nebby🎾 (@1gamesetmatch) January 15, 2024
Worst choice of all, boycott Saudi Arabia they are just making sportswashing
— cristina criswald (@criscriswald) January 15, 2024
That’s disappointing from Rafa
— Stefano (@stritenata) January 15, 2024
The Saudi federation made a five-year deal to bring the Next Gen ATP Finals to Jeddah and claimed it: "signals the country's intent to make tennis a major part of its international calendar and is the first of many likely professional tennis tournaments to be held in the country". Saudi Arabia has been accused of using sportswashing to improve their international reputation after years of controversy surrounding their human rights and environmental records.
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