Every sport Saudi Arabia has bought into or failed to as WTA tennis moves to Riyadh

Saudi Arabia will host the WTA Tour Finals for the next three years (Image: Getty)

Saudi Arabia will host the next three WTA Tour Finals in its latest major investment in global sport. Players who participate in the season-ending event will see an eye-watering rise in prize money, with the pot increased to around £12million (€15m).

Sport is a key part of Saudi Arabia’s strategy to improve its image and prepare for a world without oil. Saudi state-linked entities have taken stakes in several sporting enterprises and will continue to build a portfolio. Express Sport looks at how Saudi has already grown its involvement in sport.

Tennis

Riyadh will host the WTA Tour Finals event in November, and in 2025 and 2026. The kingdom’s role in tennis has been rising in recent years.

Jeddah hosts the ATP tour’s Next Gen Finals, the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF) is the title sponsor for the men’s rankings, and Rafael Nadal recently became an ambassador for the Saudi Tennis Federation.

Critics have seen the latest move as an attempt by Saudi Arabia to ‘sportswash’ its poor record on human rights – particularly with women.

Saudi Arabia is keen to expand its portfolio in sport (Image: Getty)

Football

PIF, the Saudi sovereign wealth fund, is an abbreviation well known in football circles. It bought a majority stake in Premier League side Newcastle in October 2021 and the club – previously criticised by its fans for a lack of spending – has ploughed £400m on player transactions alone in that time.

Four Saudi Pro League clubs were brought under the majority ownership of PIF last summer. Cristiano Ronaldo’s transfer to Al-Nassr shortly after the 2022 World Cup had already earned huge global interest in the country’s top-flight football league.

Ronaldo’s move and the PIF purchase of four clubs were the catalysts for a huge summer spending spree, in which several high-profile stars ditched European football for the wealth of the Pro League. Even those teams not owned by PIF made huge splurges, including Al-Ettifaq luring Steven Gerrard and Jordan Henderson.

In the ultimate verification of the country’s rise in football, Saudi Arabia will host the 2034 World Cup after being announced as the sole bidder. Spanish and Italian Super Cups, among several other exhibition matches and tournaments, have been hosted in the region.

Snooker

Keen to extend its portfolio of sports, Saudi Arabia hosted its inaugural Snooker Masters tournament in March. The competition, which was won by seven-time world champion Ronnie O’Sullivan, had a prize pot of £2m.

The non-ranking event has a 10-year agreement to be part of the World Snooker Tour’s calendar.

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PIF’s most high-profile investment has been in Premier League side Newcastle (Image: Getty)

Golf

In the same month that PIF bought an 80 per-cent stake in Newcastle, it announced a bombshell £1.5billion investment to create a new competition called LIV golf. The controversial breakaway division – compared with football’s failed European Super League – saw players split on whether to join or not, with stars having to give up their PGA membership to move.

The split has caused acrimony within the sport, although LIV, the PGA Tour and the PGA European Tour agreed to form a single entity last summer in a move that could see PIF take over golf. That deal has not been finalised, though. Rory McIlroy, who stayed on the PGA tour, believes we are a long way away from seeing the merger.

PIF created a golfing storm with the introduction of LIV golf (Image: Getty)

Boxing

Big boxing fights not taking place in Saudi Arabia feel like a rarity. Anthony Joshua’s knockout win against Francis Ngannou in March was just one of many events to take place in the kingdom.

It was Joshua’s victory over Andy Ruiz Jr. in 2019 that started boxing’s big Saudi boom. Tyson Fury vs Oleksandr Usyk remains scheduled for Saudi Arabia despite Fury’s withdrawal from the original fight earlier this year.

Turki Al-Sheikh, chair of the General Entertainment Authority, has led Saudi Arabia’s move into boxing and has become an influential figure in the sport.

Horse racing

The biggest prize pot in the history of horse racing is the Saudi Cup at the King Abdulaziz Racetrack in Riyadh — $15.5million. Saudi Arabia wants to grow its investments in horse racing.

Formula One

Saudi Arabia hosted a Grand Prix for the first time in 2021 and will remain on the calendar until at least 2030. The track is often a target for protestors.

PIF bought a £400m stake in McLaren in the same year but that was sold to Bahrain’s sovereign wealth fund in 2023.

Saudi Arabia hosted its inaugural Formula One Grand Prix in 2021 (Image: Getty)

Wrestling and MMA

WWE started hosting untelevised events in Saudi Arabia way back in 2014. More recently, WWE announced a 10-year strategic partnership with the Ministry of Sport in 2018. WWE now hosts two major events annually in Saudi Arabia. Islamic norms mean that women wrestlers wear bodysuits.

In terms of MMA, SRJ Sports Investments, a subsidiary of PIF, bought a minority stake in the Professional Fighters League (PFL) last year.

Olympics

Saudi Arabia has ambitious plans to launch a bid for the Olympic Games in the 2030s, which, if successful, would see them host a World Cup and an Olympics in the same decade.

Source: https://www.express.co.uk/sport/tennis/1885072/Sport-Saudi-Arabia-WTA-tennis-football-golf-F1