Tempting offers to boxers, golfers and soccer players to compete in Saudi Arabia are not reason enough for Andy Murray to put money above morality.
When the British tennis player has received offers to fly to Riyadh for exhibition matches, he has turned down those opportunities to pocket millions of dollars.
It was the agent of Murray himself, a three-time Grand Slam champion, who made the revelation in a week in which the Royal Spanish Football Federation has faced criticism from human rights activists for holding the Super Cup in Saudi Arabia.
Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atlético de Madrid and Athletic Bilbao had little influence on the decision about the venue for the quadrangular tournament. But for Murray, the offers involved matches outside of the ATP Tour.
“He has turned down offers in Saudi Arabia, and I don’t know if he would play there, just because of what’s going on,” said Matt Gentry, Murray’s agent and co-founder of 77 Sports Management. “If he is convinced of something, the rest does not matter. He is at a stage where he will cancel something with no problem and discuss it with people. I don’t think he’s afraid to voice his opinion on that.”
Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal had planned to compete in an exhibition tournament in Saudi Arabia in 2018, but this was canceled due to an injury suffered by the Spaniard. Roger Federer had already rejected an offer to participate.
Saudi Arabia is attracting sporting events not only in order to gain prestige for the kingdom, but to divert attention from human rights violations and gender inequity.
“As far as exhibition games, they’ve done quite a few over the last few years where they’ve paid staggering amounts of money for players to come. But he just wasn’t interested,” Gentry said from Melbourne, where the Australian Open is about to start. “If you are a player who has been number one in the world, you can earn in the Middle East a million or two million dollars for an exhibition match… This is for the main players, the big global names, and I think golf it’s probably similar in that regard.”
The Asian Tour in men’s golf will host the Saudi International tournament near Jeddah next month, with a $5 million prize pool. The sponsor is the Saudi sovereign wealth fund PIF, overseen by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.
Some planes owned by PIF are said to have been used by a death squad that flew to Istanbul in 2018 to assassinate Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the kingdom’s consulate. The US intelligence services believe that the murder was carried out on the orders of the crown prince, something that Saudi Arabia has denied.
This week, Bryson DeChambeau and Shane Lowry faced questions from the press about visits to Saudi Arabia. They dismissed concerns that the country uses athletes to whitewash its image, stressing that they are not politicians.
Lewis Hamilton, the former Formula One champion, said he was concerned about a race last month in Saudi Arabia. The Briton said he took part only because it was a decision made by motorsport leaders.
Two boxers, the British Anthony Joshua and the Mexican Andy Ruiz Jr., had the decision on whether they would fight in Saudi Arabia. They did so in 2019, despite criticism from Amnesty International.