Amnesty International campaigner urges ATP stars to speak out against Saudi 'sportswashing'

By Sports Desk June 30, 2023

Leading tennis players should speak out against "appalling" human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia as the Public Investment Fund (PIF) targets a partnership with the ATP Tour.

That is the view of Amnesty International's regional campaigner Reina Wehbi, who sees the prospective link as a way of distracting from the country's "crackdown" on basic rights. 

Earlier this week, ATP chairman Andrea Gaudenzi told The Financial Times that talks had been held over a partnership between the PIF and the men's tour. 

Saudi Arabia's numerous sports investments – including the PIF's majority ownership of Newcastle United and the controversial LIV Golf circuit – have been denounced by critics as efforts to improve the country's reputation through 'sportswashing'. 

Speaking exclusively to Stats Perform, Wehbi said tennis stars should not shy away from criticism of Saudi Arabia's record on human rights.

"Saudi Arabia is promoting its colossal investment in sporting events and entertainment as progress and reform. This is a far cry from its appalling human rights record," Wehbi said.

"Saudi Arabia's interest in the ATP fits into a wider pattern of sportswashing that the country has been using to divert attention from its escalated human rights violations.

"Authorities continue their crackdown on the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly. Almost every single human rights defender has been unlawfully detained in Saudi Arabia. 

"Last year, Amnesty recorded the highest number of executions in 30 years in Saudi Arabia. Human rights should be a primary consideration when choosing where to host international sporting events and sporting bodies have the responsibility to undertake due diligence to identify and mitigate human rights violations directly linked to their events.

"Tennis players and all other celebrities should make sure to use their celebrity status and their popular platforms to speak up against abuses and be the voice of those put behind bars for exercising their rights.

"They should make sure not to offer Saudi Arabia uncritical praise and not to help it avoid scrutiny for its continued human rights violations behind the scenes. 

"All players should advocate for the respect and protection of human rights wherever they are."

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