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ATP Tour partners with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund as country continues to invest in sport

By Thomas Schlachter and Amy Woodyatt, CNN

(CNN) — The ATP Tour has announced a new partnership with the Saudi government-controlled Public Investment Fund (PIF).

The men’s professional tennis tour announced the deal on Wednesday as a “multi-year strategic partnership” between the two parties.

ATP CEO Massimo Calvelli called the arrangement “a major moment for tennis.”

“It’s a shared commitment to propel the future of the sport,” Calvelli said.

“With PIF’s dedication to the next generation – fostering innovation and creating opportunities for all – the stage is set for a transformative new period of progress.”

Mohamed AlSayyad, the head of corporate brand at PIF, added: “This strategic partnership aligns with our broader vision to enhance quality of life and drive transformation in sport both within Saudi and across the world.”

While Calvelli hailed the ATP deal, tennis greats Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert are reticent about the reported hosting of the women’s tour WTA Finals in Saudi Arabia, describing any such move as a “step backward.”

Earlier this year, Navratilova and Evert wrote in the Washington Post that they were concerned about the kingdom’s record on women’s rights, human rights, and LGBTQ rights.

“Not only is this a country where women 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,” said the two former tennis stars.

“A country which criminalizes the LGBTQ community to the point of possible death sentences. A country whose long-term record on human rights and basic freedoms has been a matter of international concern for decades,” they added.

‘6 Kings Slam’

The kingdom has previously pushed back on allegations of “sportswashing,” which involves countries using high-profile sporting events to project a favorable image of their country around the world, often to draw attention away from alleged wrongdoing.

The ATP deal is just the latest move by the PIF when it comes to investing in sport across the globe.

Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Daniil Medvedev, Carlos Alcaraz and Jannik Sinnner are all due to compete in a new tennis tournament, the “6 Kings Slam,” in the Saudi capital Riyadh in October, according to the Saudi press agency.

In 2021, the PIF bankrolled LIV Golf, reportedly at a cost of $2 billion, attracting many of the sport’s top players away from the US-based PGA Tour and Europe-based DP World Tour by offering big dollar prize money. Last year, the US-based PGA Tour announced it was set to partner with the Saudi-backed breakaway LIV Golf.

Meanwhile, four PIF-owned soccer teams – Al-Ittihad, Al-Hilal, Al-Nassr and Al-Ahli – spent nearly $900 million (€835.1 million) last year on buying elite international players as the European summer transfer window closed, according to Transfermarkt data.

The newly acquired players joined five-time Ballon d’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo, who has a two-year contract with Al-Nassr and will earn a staggering estimated $200 million a year, according to Saudi state-owned media, currently making him the world’s highest paid soccer player.

The PIF also leads the investment group which owns English Premier League team Newcastle United. The PIF took over the club in 2021.

The PIF is the world’s sixth largest sovereign wealth fund with assets of $776 billion, according to the Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute

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