Cameron Norrie has been accused of making himself part of “the latest jamboree of Saudi sportwashing” by agreeing to play in the Diriyah Tennis Cup.
That is the view of Amnesty International UK on the British number one’s participation in next month’s exhibition event in Saudi Arabia.
Norrie was announced on Wednesday as the latest player to sign up along with Russian Andrey Rublev, joining Daniil Medvedev, Dominic Thiem, Stan Wawrinka and Alexander Zverev in the field.
“I’m looking forward to playing at the Diriyah Tennis Cup for the very first time in December,” organisers quoted Norrie as saying. “It will be a memorable tournament at a unique location and a great experience to come to Saudi Arabia.”
Felix Jakens, Amnesty International UK’s head of priority campaigns and individuals at risk, urged the 27-year-old to use his platform to speak up about human rights abuses in the country.
“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,” said Jakens.
“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.
“We’d like to see any player who agrees to compete in Diriyah refusing to be passively used for sportswashing by speaking out on human right issues – not least by calling for the release of people like Salma al-Shehab.
“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 has a big platform and genuine influence, and he should use this to speak out and show solidarity with people like Salma al-Shehab who are being cruelly persecuted in Saudi Arabia.”
Norrie defended his participation, saying: “I’m not a politician and I don’t feel it’s right for me to get involved with individual Government politics.
“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.”
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 Norrie’s predecessor as British number one. “I wouldn’t go and play there.”
The tournament takes place from December 8-10.