Judy Murray and Cameron Norrie accused of Saudi 'sportswashing'

Amnesty International urges the pair to speak out about human rights in Saudi Arabia during the Diriyah Tennis Cup.

Judy Murray and Cameron Norrie accused of taking ‘sportswashing’ roles at Saudi Arabia tennis event Getty ImagesGetty Images

Judy Murray and Cameron Norrie have both been accused of engaging in “sportswashing” by taking up roles at a tournament in Saudi Arabia.

The Diriyah Tennis Cup runs from December 8 to 10 in the UNESCO heritage site of Ad Diriyah, on the outskirts of Riyadh, and has a a top prize of $1m (£815,250).

It was announced last month that Norrie will play at the event, along with stars such as Andrey Rublev, Daniil Medvedev, Dominic Thiem, Stan Wawrinka and Alexander Zverev.

Meanwhile, Murray – mum of Andy and Jamie – will hold tennis classes for girls during the tournament.

Amnesty International has accused them of taking part in “the latest jamboree of Saudi sportwashing” and urged them to speak out about human rights abuses in the kingdom.

Sportswashing is the practice of a controversial company or country using sports sponsorship to improve its reputation.

Other high-profile events including the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, the Saudi-financed LIV golf tour and the ongoing 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar have faced similar accusations.

Felix Jakens, Amnesty International UK’s head of priority campaigns and individuals at risk, said: “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 hired to take part in the latest jamboree of Saudi sportswashing.”

“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.

“Earlier this year, 81 people were executed in a single day in Saudi Arabia, we’ve recently seen Twitter users like the Leeds student Salma al-Shehab given huge jail sentences, and there’s been no accountability for the shocking murder of (journalist) Jamal Khashoggi.

The Diriyah Tennis Cup first took place in 2019 and Andy Murray revealed earlier this year that he had rejected an offer to play in the country.

“A lot of the top players turned it down,” said the former British number one. “I wouldn’t go and play there.”

But his mother will oversee tennis events for school and university students and taster sessions for children and their parents at the event.

In a statement, Judy Murray said she wanted to “remove barriers to participation” in the sport.

“Throughout my involvement in tennis, I have championed the cause of giving as many people as possible the opportunity to try tennis and to fall in love with it the way I have, and the way Jamie and Andy have,” she said.

“I am particularly keen to ensure girls and women are given an equal opportunity to enjoy and experience tennis, whether for fun, for fitness or for friendship.”

She added: “I look forward to bringing that message and the practical skills and knowledge to the tennis community in Saudi Arabia in the effort to introduce more girls and women to tennis.”

Norrie said he would not be commenting on any political issues on his arrival in Saudi Arabia and that he was 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,” he said.

“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 believe, however, that Murray and Norrie are being “used” as part of a wider campaign to create a positive image for Saudi Arabia that takes attention from human rights in the country.

Regarding Judy Murray’s role, Amnesty Scotland Director Naomi McAuliffe said: “Promoting women’s sport in a country where women and girls are so often denied their rights is a positive thing, but it is important that Judy Murray realise she’s being asked to perform a sportswashing role at the Diriyah Tennis Cup. 

“The reality is that earlier this year, Saudi Arabia executed 81 people in a single day, part of a continuing spate of executions, and we’ve recently seen Twitter users like the Leeds student Selma al-Shehab given huge jail sentences, while there’s been no accountability for the horrendous murder of Jamal Khashoggi.

“We encourage Judy Murray, as we would other attendees at the Diriyah Tennis Cup to use the opportunity to speak out and show solidarity with those who are being persecuted in Saudi Arabia.”

The tournament takes place from December 8-10.

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