Saudi ambassador Princess Reema: Evert and Navratilova views beyond disappointing

Princess Reema Bandar Al Saud issues statement in response to tennis legends who criticised plans to take the WTA Finals to Saudi Arabia

Princess Reema Bandar Al Saud, Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the US, at the 2024 World Economic Forum in Davos. Bloomberg
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Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the US, Princess Reema Bandar Al Saud, has responded to an opinion piece by tennis legends Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova which criticised the WTA Tour's plans to move the Finals to the kingdom, saying their stance is based on "outdated stereotypes".

The WTA Tour, the governing body of women's professional tennis, is reportedly close to agreeing to a deal with Saudi Arabia that would take the tour's season-ending Finals tournament to the kingdom for the foreseeable future.

Evert and Navratilova wrote a column for The Washington Post opposing the proposal, claiming a partnership with Saudi Arabia would be "entirely incompatible with the spirit and purpose of women’s tennis" and that "staging the WTA final there would represent not progress, but significant regression".

In response, Princess Reema issued a statement on Monday night defending the plans and imploring Evert and Navratilova to "get their facts straight".

"As a woman who has dedicated her life to the cause of women, it pained me deeply to read a column in The Washington Post objecting to Saudi Arabia hosting the Women's Tennis Association Finals based on arguments that are outdated stereotypes and western-centric views of our culture," read the statement on social media.

"Failing to acknowledge the great progress women have made in Saudi Arabia denigrates our remarkable journey. Like many women around the world, we looked to the legends of tennis as trailblazers and role models ... glimmers of hope that women truly could achieve it all. But these champions have turned their back on the very same women they have inspired and it's beyond disappointing."

Addressing claims from Evert and Navratilova's column which said women in Saudi Arabia "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", Princess Reema responded: "On this, let me simply say: get your facts straight. What is often referred to as 'guardianship' no longer describes the status of Saudi women today.

"Women do not need the approval of a guardian to travel, work, or be the head of their household. Today, Saudi women own more than 300,000 businesses and roughly 25 per cent of small and mid-sized start-up companies, which is about the same percentage as the United States. Women in Saudi now enjoy equal pay, leading the way towards something that should be universal.

"While there's still work to be done, the recent progress for women, the engagement of women in the workplace, and the social and cultural opportunities being created for women are truly profound and should not be overlooked."

Turning her focus to the specifics of women's sport in Saudi Arabia, Princess Reema detailed the huge growth of female involvement and participation in the kingdom, not only as athletes but across the athletic landscape.

"Today we not only have women's sports leagues and federations, we also have more than 330,000 registered female athletes, with 14,000 actively playing tennis," she wrote. "We have thousands of women coaches, mentors, referees, and sport doctors. Women participate across sports in local, regional, and international competitions – and win.

"Yet it is at this time when we hear voices from overseas – even from those we honour and would welcome women-to-women conversations with – write us all off as victims and the voiceless, whose desires should be relegated to trendy political arguments in favour of exclusion. This not only undermines the progress of women in sport, it sadly undermines women's progress as a whole."

Princess Reema also urged Evert, Navratilova and others who may hold similar views to engage in dialogue and come together to champion women's causes, both in sport and beyond, in Saudi Arabia and across the world.

"To those who seek to deny our women the same opportunities that others enjoy, I say that what I hear loudly and clearly is that there is no seat for me at their table. But I will welcome them at mine," she wrote. "Because my table is not limited by political views, borders, race or geography.

"And I hope they accept my invitation to sit at my table and meet the women that they may not have intended to inspire but their hard work nonetheless has. I hear you. You didn't fight for us. But as we work to continue to fulfil our dreams, we will look back at your journey and carry your wins with us.

"As President of the Women's Committee for the Saudi Olympic and Paralympic Committee and a member of the Gender, Equality & Inclusions Commission at the International Olympic Committee, I have a responsibility to share our narrative with the world – not for approval – but for productive dialogue. To fight for our common cause – not only in Saudi Arabia, but in other places where women are no longer content to sit on the sidelines."

Updated: January 30, 2024, 5:47 AM