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Tennis’ Premier Tour plan must work over a takeover from Saudi Arabia, but ‘sportswashing’ is not why

Carlos Alcaraz is dripping in sweat, gasping for breath as he prepares to hit a serve to Jannik Sinner late in the fifth set. The clock reads 5 hours, the temperature celsius readings are soaring in the 40s. Sinner, too, is visibly heat exhausted. There is no room for the slightest of errors with the title on the line in the first Grand Slam of 2030. The winner, however, will not be crowned the Australian Open champion, but the Saudi Arabian Open champion.

This is how tennis could look like in the future in light of a powerful $2 billion offer from Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) for control of the sport. While a Grand Slam in Saudi Arabia is not part of the plans just yet, it is only a matter of time before that happens if the PIF’s offer is accepted.

Resistance against a Saudi takeover stems from the country’s ‘sportswashing’, or using sports as a vehicle to avoid backlash for its controversial human rights record. But I believe sportswashing pales in comparison to the climate crisis, one of the biggest global issues of our time. A Saudi takeover could be detrimental if tennis is to continue its fight against climate change.

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Alcaraz vs Sinner is not even tennis’ biggest rivalry right now. It has been overtaken by one between Saudi and the four Grand Slams, who have together launched the ‘Premier Tour’ counter offer to the PIF. While both offers promise to bring a long-awaited union of the men’s and women’s tours, the Premier Tour proposes the formation of a separate elite circuit for the world’s top male and female players, comprising 14 tournaments including the four Grand Slams and 10 Masters 1000 events. The top-100 ATP and WTA players would thus form part of a PGA-style tour with the lower-ranked players competing in a developmental tour formed by the current 500 and 250 level series.

As it stands, there are more questions than answers when it comes to the Premier Tour. Aspects of the Saudi offer make it more favourable, such as an immediate cash infusion of $1 billion each to the ATP and WTA. 

However, Saudi Arabia, the Middle East’s biggest oil producer, has repeatedly opposed ideas or deals promoting lesser fossil fuel usage. Negotiators at the COP28 climate summit earlier this year revealed that Saudi Arabia was against a global deal to end fossil fuel use. While the country eventually signed the deal to “transition away” from fossil fuels, the country’s energy minister later referred to it as just a choice on an “a la carte menu” and not something they are bound by.

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It is not that tennis, currently led by the ATP, WTA, and the four Slams, is not already grappling with the climate crisis. The future looks scarier. Extreme heat is already causing chaos and constantly rising average temperatures are increasingly affecting many tournaments, including the Australian Open and US Open.

“One player is gonna die. And they’re gonna see.” These words by Daniil Medvedev during last year’s US Open when the ‘feels like’ temperatures hit 99 F (37 C) formed a telling statement.

As per a forecast of future temperatures which considered average temperatures and relative humidity, and was produced by a report of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the 2050 Australian Open could feel as hot as 147 degrees Fahrenheit, with similar temperatures at the 2050 US Open. Travel is the biggest contributor to tennis’ carbon emissions. The ATP has estimated that 90% of its carbon emissions come from travelling. Additionally, a single tennis ball takes about 400 years to decompose due to the non-biodegradable rubber and plastic it is made of.

But tennis has been making inroads in the fight against climate change. The four Grand Slams all have extreme heat policies and sustainability initiatives in place, including the use of renewable sources of energy to power stadiums, waste management, recycling initiatives, and using a dominantly electric/hybrid transportation fleet at events. Wimbledon has set the tone for carbon accounting by releasing its carbon emissions and charting out a plan going forward. The four majors, the ATP, and the WTA are also signatories on the UN Sport for Climate Action Framework.

Additionally, through the ATP Carbon Tracker app and program, players on the men’s circuit can track their emissions through travel, make better travel decisions, and work on carbon offsetting.

“The amount of travel we do on Tour is no joke,” said US player Ben Shelton, one of those who used Carbon Tracker to good effect in 2023. “Using the Carbon Tracker to track my journeys made me so much more aware of the impact my travel has on the environment.”

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If the PIF is successful in its bid to takeover tennis, it is by no means a stretch to believe that all the plans on reducing tennis’ carbon footprint would suffer, particularly if they involve drastically reducing fossil fuel use. Another feature of the Premier Tour is that it would restrict the top players’ obligation to just 14 tournaments all year, with all other tournaments optional and not a requirement for ranking points. As most top players use private jets as opposed to commercial flights, the reduced travel would go a long way in reducing carbon emissions.

If the Grand Slams and those associated with its bid win the power struggle, there will still be a lot more work to be done to further mitigate tennis’ climate impact, such as cutting down on travel emissions, using more sustainable tennis balls, having more ATP and WTA level tournaments commit to sustainability and more top players inspiring change, among other things. But that’s more likely to happen if the Premier Tour plan works.

Tennis’ decision makers will favour the plan that drives greater revenues and adds more value to an underperforming sport in terms of commercial growth. It is the need of the hour that their decision making also takes into account the ever-increasing global threat of climate change.


  • Aayush Majumdar

    Sports journalist from India with over five years of work in the field, Aayush has previously covered ATP events and international cricket series, among other big events. He has a keen interest in cricket, tennis and football, but contributes content across sports. Now living and learning in London, he is co-editor of the Sports Gazette.