WTA Finals to be held in Saudi Arabia from 2024-2026 with record prize money

Tunisia's Ons Jabeur has previously said she was fully supportive of the Women's Tennis Association moving the prestigious WTA Finals to Saudi Arabia this year. (Reuters/File Photo)
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Updated 04 April 2024
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WTA Finals to be held in Saudi Arabia from 2024-2026 with record prize money

  • Riyadh will host the season finale — which features the top eight singles players and doubles teams — from Nov. 2 to 9
  • Saudi Tennis Federation will offer record prize money of $15.25 million this year

RIYADH: The season-ending WTA Finals will be held in Saudi Arabia’s capital Riyadh from 2024-2026, the women’s tennis body said on Thursday.
Riyadh will host the season finale — which features the top eight singles players and doubles teams — from Nov. 2 to 9 and replaces last year’s hosts Cancun, Mexico.
The WTA said its agreement with the Saudi Tennis Federation will offer record prize money of $15.25 million this year with further increases in 2025 and 2026.
“To have a women’s tournament of this magnitude and profile is a defining moment for tennis in Saudi Arabia. The WTA Finals has the power to inspire far beyond the sport, especially for our young girls and women,” the Saudi sports minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki told Reuters.
Talk that the event could be shifted to Saudi Arabia had intensified after the men’s ATP Tour said last August its Next Gen Finals would be held in Jeddah from 2023 to 2027.
“The WTA selected Riyadh following a comprehensive evaluation process over several months, which has included assessment of multiple bids from different regions and engagement with players,” it said in a statement.
Rafael Nadal was named ambassador of the Saudi tennis federation with plans also in the pipeline for a training academy.
The men’s ATP tour also signed a multi-year “strategic partnership” with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), which is now the official naming partner of the men’s rankings.
Saudi Arabia has invested heavily in sports like soccer, Formula One and golf in the last few years.
WTA chief Steve Simon said last year that Saudi Arabia presented “big issues” as a host for women’s tour events but also acknowledged the progress it had made and continued to engage with players.
“Bringing the WTA Finals to Riyadh is an exciting new opportunity for us and a positive step for the long-term growth of women’s tennis as a global and inclusive sport,” Simon said.
“We’ve been impressed by the commitment shown by the Saudi Tennis Federation to grow the sport at all levels.”
World number one Iga Swiatek and Caroline Wozniacki said at the Australian Open that engagement offered the chance to spark positive change.
There has been pushback from greats Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova saying the WTA’s values were in stark contrast to those of Saudi Arabia and holding the event there would not represent progress but “significant regression.”
But the country’s ambassador to the US Princess Reema bint Bandar said the criticism represented stereotypical and western-centric views.
The tournament was looking at a long future in Shenzhen, China, when the WTA held the 2019 edition of the Finals there with a prize pot of $14 million after the Asian city saw off rival bids to secure a 10-year deal.
However, China’s response to the COVID pandemic forced the event to be canceled the following year and it was shifted to Guadalajara, Mexico in 2021.
It did not return to Shenzhen in 2022 as expected after the WTA suspended its billion-dollar business in China amid concerns over the treatment of former doubles number one Peng Shuai.
The WTA eventually resumed operations in China last year.
Fort Worth, Texas hosted the 2022 tournament, drawing sparse crowds and the WTA was expected to shift it to Saudi Arabia last year before naming Cancun as the venue less than two months from the start.
That edition was criticized by Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka, who said that she felt “disrespected” by the standard of organization, prompting Simon to send a letter to players admitting the event was “not perfect.”


UEFA fines Albania, Serbia $10,700 each for nationalist fan banners at Euro 2024 games

Updated 56 min 6 sec ago
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UEFA fines Albania, Serbia $10,700 each for nationalist fan banners at Euro 2024 games

  • Each federation was charged with “transmitting provocative messages not fit for a sports event”
  • UEFA also opened a separate investigation into alleged discrimination by Serbia fans

FRANKFURT: UEFA fined the Albanian and Serbian soccer federations 10,000 euros ($10,700) each on Wednesday for fans displaying banners with nationalist maps at European Championship games.
Each federation was charged with “transmitting provocative messages not fit for a sports event” because they are responsible for the conduct of their fans at stadiums.
Albania fans displayed a banner with a map of their country extending its borders into the territory of neighboring countries. It was shown during the 2-1 loss against Italy on Saturday in Dortmund.
Serbia fans’ banner included the independent territory of Kosovo and a slogan “No Surrender” at a 1-0 loss against England in Gelsenkirchen. A case was prosecuted by FIFA at the 2022 World Cup when players were photographed with a similar banner in their locker room ahead of a game against Brazil.
UEFA also opened a separate investigation into alleged discrimination by Serbia fans. The Kosovo soccer federation field a formal complaint with UEFA.
The Albanian federation was fined a further 27,375 euros ($29,400) for fans lighting flares and fireworks, throwing beer cups and a fan who went on the field.
Fans invading the playing area have been a regular feature in the first week of games at Euro 2024.
UEFA announced the sanctions of its disciplinary panel hours after Albania drew 2-2 with Croatia in their second Group B game.
Serbia’s federation must pay 4,500 euros ($4,800) more for fans throwing beer cups.


Southgate in a ‘happier’ place shut off from criticism

Updated 19 June 2024
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Southgate in a ‘happier’ place shut off from criticism

  • The Three Lions men got off to a winning start, but a 1-0 victory over Serbia attracted criticism for not maximizing the use of the attacking talent on offer to England
  • "My world is a happier place if I shut myself off," Southgate said

FRANKFURT: England boss Gareth Southgate said he will ignore media coverage during Euro 2024 as his joy at winning matches lasts just “45 seconds” due to the scrutiny he is under.
The Three Lions men got off to a winning start, but a 1-0 victory over Serbia attracted criticism for not maximizing the use of the attacking talent on offer to England.
Jude Bellingham stole the show with the only goal in Gelsenkirchen, but Phil Foden and Harry Kane were among those who struggled to shine in a slow start by one of the pre-tournament favorites.
“My world is a happier place if I shut myself off,” Southgate said at his pre-match press conference ahead of facing Denmark on Thursday.
“It’s not good from a global perspective because I haven’t got a clue about politics or (world) events, but for the next month that’s going to be a better place for me.”
Under Southgate England have risen back into contention for glory, reaching a final, semifinal and quarter-final in his three attempts at major tournaments.
However, that record has not sheltered him from a backlash at times due to the wealth of talent he has to choose from.
And Southgate conceded there should be more joy in leading his country.
“We’ve had some good results over the years so maybe even we take wins for granted. I should let the boys enjoy it more than they do,” he added.
“I get about 45 seconds of enjoyment. The whistle blows, I cuddle everybody, walk off the pitch and that’s about it. I hope they have a little bit longer than me!
“There should be more joy in it but that’s not my reality if I’m frank. My focus is to get qualified from the group, two tough opponents and two games to achieve that.”
Manchester City defender Kyle Walker said he is also keen to shut out any outside noise — apart from the opinion of his mum.
“I don’t read it at all,” said Walker. “If you have outside noise, positively or negatively, it can have an impact so I’d rather not see it and concentrate on what it’s in camp, what the gaffer says, and mainly what my mum says. She always tells me if I’ve had a good game.”
Victory over Denmark in Frankfurt will secure England’s place in the last 16 with a game to spare.
Luke Shaw remains the only player unavailable to Southgate as he continues his rehabilitation of a calf injury.
The Manchester United left-back has not played at all for club or country since February, but Southgate remains confident Shaw will have a role to play in the tournament.
“Luke won’t be involved tomorrow. He is actually on track for where he was originally.
“He needs a bit more volume work. There are days he needs to do more than the rest of the group and other days he needs to recover.”


Germany ease past Hungary to reach last 16 at Euros

Updated 19 June 2024
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Germany ease past Hungary to reach last 16 at Euros

  • Musiala struck for the second game running midway through the first half
  • Julian Nagelsmann’s men can wrap up top spot when they play Switzerland in Frankfurt in their final group fixture on Sunday

STUTTGART, Germany: Jamal Musiala and Ilkay Gundogan scored as hosts Germany became the first team to qualify for the last 16 of Euro 2024 on Wednesday after beating Hungary 2-0 in Stuttgart.
Musiala struck for the second game running midway through the first half, much to the anger of Hungary players who felt a foul should have been awarded in the build-up to the goal.
Gundogan grabbed his side’s second on 67 minutes as Germany eased to a second successive win in Group A, making sure they will progress to the knockout phase at least as one of the best third-placed sides.
Julian Nagelsmann’s men can wrap up top spot when they play Switzerland in Frankfurt in their final group fixture on Sunday.
Hungary are staring at elimination after back-to-back defeats and must beat Scotland if they are to stand any chance of reaching the last 16.
Germany unsurprisingly stuck with the same line-up that battered Scotland 5-1 in the first game of the tournament, ending a run of three major finals in which they had lost their opening match.
Hungary coach Marco Rossi made two changes following a disappointing 3-1 loss to Switzerland, bringing Marton Dardai into his three-man defense and starting Bendeguz Bolla at right wing-back.
A dismal first half left Hungary with too much to do against the Swiss and Rossi admitted beating Germany would require a “perfect match” from his team.
Hungary almost struck in the opening seconds as Manuel Neuer raced out to take the ball off the toe of Roland Sallai.
Kai Havertz outmuscled Willi Orban only to be superbly denied by Peter Gulacsi, who thrust out his right hand to deny the Arsenal attacker.
Robert Andrich’s volley from the resulting corner was bravely headed behind by Bolla, but it wasn’t long until Germany’s persistence was rewarded.
Musiala cushioned the ball through for Gundogan and the Germany captain kept the attack alive after jostling with Orban, knocking it back for Musiala to slam in off the crossbar with a touch off Attila Fiola.
Hungary were furious no foul was given for the contact between Gundogan and Orban that knocked the defender to the ground, the goal confirmed after a brief VAR check.
Dominik Szoboszlai’s curling free-kick drew a terrific stop from Neuer soaring to his right, the goalkeeper kicking away the follow-up as Hungary tried to scramble in the rebound.
A key block from Jonathan Tah foiled a second opportunity in quick succession for Szoboszlai, with Musiala then drilling into the side-netting at the other end.
Hungary had the ball in Germany’s net in first-half stoppage time, but Sallai’s effort was ruled out for offside after Neuer palmed away an Orban header.
Gulacsi clawed away a deflected Toni Kroos drive early in the second half before Hungary forward Barnabas Varga, who scored in the loss to Switzerland, nodded narrowly over from an inviting cross.
Germany picked apart the Hungary defense with a patient attack to double their lead just past the hour.
Maximilian Mittelstaedt found space down the left and slid across a pass for Gundogan to sweep home from near the penalty spot.
Niclas Fuellkrug failed to get a finishing touch as Joshua Kimmich powered across the face of goal, with Gulacsi making smart saves to keep out Kimmich and Leroy Sane as Germany sought a third goal.
Julian Nagelsmann withdrew his front three with the game under control to keep them fresh for the Switzerland clash.
Neuer had a nervy moment late on when he spilled a cross, but Kimmich cleared Orban’s shot off the line to preserve the clean sheet for Germany — their first in eight games at the European Championship.


Kylian Mbappé trains at Euro 2024 with bandage on broken nose and social media post causing intrigue

Updated 19 June 2024
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Kylian Mbappé trains at Euro 2024 with bandage on broken nose and social media post causing intrigue

  • “Without risks, there are no victories,” the striker wrote on Instagram
  • “A fractured nose isn’t the end of the world,” midfielder Adrien Rabiot said Wednesday

PADERBORN, Germany: Kylian Mbappé returned to light training Wednesday with a bandage covering his broken nose in the first public appearance by the France superstar since his bloody injury that shook the European Championship.
A cryptic post on social media earlier hours might have provided an insight into Mbappé’s mindset as the world waits to discover how long he will be out of action.
“Without risks, there are no victories,” the striker wrote on Instagram in the only comment so far from Mbappé or the French team management on a day when the Real Madrid-bound player underwent more tests on the nose injury sustained in the 1-0 win over Austria on Monday.
Mbappé emerged for a late-afternoon practice session at the Home Deluxe Arena in Paderborn about 30 minutes after his teammates came out. He was initially seen running with the ball alone, with a trainer, and later speaking to France coach Didier Deschamps, before taking part in a shooting drill with other players.
France’s next match is against the Netherlands on Friday and the team have yet to officially confirm whether Mbappé is available.
Earlier Wednesday, the diagnosis on Mbappé had been fairly encouraging from two of his teammates.
“A fractured nose isn’t the end of the world,” midfielder Adrien Rabiot said Wednesday through a translator at a lunchtime news conference in Paderborn, where France hold their training sessions at Euro 2024, “and Kylian should be with us pretty soon.”
William Saliba said he spoke to Mbappé and reported the striker was feeling a “bit better.”
Mbappé broke his nose when his face collided with the shoulder of Austria defender Kevin Danso. Blood was seen pouring from Mbappé’s badly swollen nose, turning parts of his white France jersey red. He will have to wear a face mask if he plays on at the tournament, his team said.
“I saw him this morning, he was a bit better,” Saliba said through a translator. “I think he was off to do more tests. I don’t know anything more.
“But when I saw him this morning, he was a bit better.”
Rabiot has compared the injury to one suffered by his teammate at Juventus, goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny. The Poland international broke his nose against Torino in April, underwent surgery and was back in the team the following week.
The widespread expectation is that Mbappé will play a further part at Euro 2024, especially since France’s win over Austria means the team are likely to advance to the knockout stage, which begins on June 29.
France will not be playing their match in the round of 16 before June 30.
Rabiot stressed he didn’t know how long Mbappé will be out, but said “playing without Kylian could be tough.”
“He is a very important teammate and he is our captain, so it will have an effect on us, but also for the opponents — it will be different for them to prepare their game,” Rabiot said.
“I’m not going to hide it, we definitely want him to play. (But) looking at who we have on the bench, I think we have what it takes to replace Kylian. If he’s not there, it’s going to be a bit more tough but I trust all the great players we have on the team.”
Olivier Giroud and Randal Kolo Muani are the options to come in for Mbappé, who was nominally a center forward against Austria but was given license to roam to the left or right. It was from the right wing where he played in the cross for the only goal — a header into his own net by Maximilian Wober.


Brussels refuses to host Belgium-Israel football match over security fears

Updated 19 June 2024
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Brussels refuses to host Belgium-Israel football match over security fears

  • Holding such a match while the war in Gaza was continuing “will undoubtedly provoke large demonstrations and counter-demonstrations”
  • The Belgian Football Federation (URBSFA) said it would have accepted that the match take place behind closed doors

BRUSSELS: Brussels has refused to host a Nations League match between Israel and Belgium on September 6 because it could spark demonstrations, city authorities said on Wednesday.
They said in a statement that holding such a match while the war in Gaza was continuing “will undoubtedly provoke large demonstrations and counter-demonstrations, compromising the safety of spectators, players, Brussels residents and also the police.”
The Belgian Football Federation (URBSFA) said it would have accepted that the match take place behind closed doors but it deeply regretted that the Belgian capital had refused to host the game at all.
“We deplore the decision taken by the City of Brussels — which has a lot of experience of organizing big events — to not organize the match in our stronghold,” the federation said.
The federation said it was in contact with several cities and the security services about finding an alternative venue.
The city of Louvain has already said it would not host the match either.
Concerns were likely raised by the attack in Brussels in October in which an Islamist gunman killed two Swedish football fans, although the motive of the attack was not anti-Semitic.
France and Italy are in the same Nations League Group A2 as Belgium and Israel.