Cameron Norrie and other top men’s players appearing at the Diriyah Tennis Cup in Saudi Arabia have been urged by Amnesty International to use their platforms to speak out against the country’s human rights abuses.
“Everyone playing in Diriyah will surely realise that this tennis tournament is yet another example of Saudi Arabia trying to sportswash its bloody human rights record,” said Amnesty International in a statement.
“With Saudi Arabia currently throwing sizeable bundles of money at everything from golf and Grand Prix to boxing and football, it’s really important that top sporting figures use their high profiles to speak out about Saudi human rights abuses.”
Following the LIV golf tour and the growing presence of Saudi Arabia-backed promoters in other major sports, the exhibition tournament Diriyah Tennis Cup represents Saudi Arabia’s latest attempt to enter the world of professional tennis. There has been interest from the country in hosting an officially sanctioned Women’s Tennis Association event, which the WTA has not yet pursued.
A slew of current and former top players have already committed to the lucrative exhibition in December during the short off-season, including Norrie, who is the British No 1, Daniil Medvedev and Andrey Rublev of Russia, Alexander Zverev of Germany, Stan Wawrinka of Switzerland and Austria’s Dominic Thiem. The inaugural edition was held in December 2019, which also featured Medvedev and Wawrinka.
In a statement, Norrie said he would not be commenting on any political issues on his arrival in Saudi Arabia and that he is attending the Diriyah Tennis Cup to prepare for the Australian Open. “I’m not a politician and I don’t feel it’s right for me to get involved with individual government politics,” said Norrie.
“My job is to be a professional tennis player and this event in Saudi allows me to train with some of the best players in the world and to potentially win the Australian Open.”
Amnesty International UK’s Felix Jakens suggested Norrie and others could use their presence in Saudi Arabia to show solidarity with Salma al-Shehab, the Leeds University student jailed for 34 years there for using Twitter.
“We were never going to be telling people like Cameron Norrie where they should or shouldn’t play tennis, but by appearing in Diriyah Cameron should realise he’s effectively being deliberately hired in to take part in the latest jamboree of Saudi sportswashing,” said Jakens.
“Cameron has a big platform and genuine influence, and he should use this to show solidarity with people like Salma al-Shehab who are being cruelly persecuted in Saudi Arabia. What Saudi Arabia appears to look for with these competitions is a smiling high-profile sports star who will studiously avoid talking about human rights – Cameron should speak out.”
Up to seven-figure appearance fees have been offered to some top tennis players since the inaugural event in 2019, but not all have entertained them. Matt Gentry, Andy Murray’s agent, revealed at the beginning of the year that he had turned down an offer to compete in the 2019 edition, which Murray echoed at Wimbledon.
“I know a number of the other guys on the tour were offered to play there. I don’t think the player field that went was what they were hoping. A lot of the, I would say, top players and bigger names turned it down. And I personally wouldn’t go and play there,” said Murray.
BSG Sports Group, the organisers’ media team, have been approached for comment.