Entertainment, Sports

Andy Murray takes the lead in rejecting Saudi cash – Susan Egelstaff

Entirely separate from anything he has achieved on the tennis court, he has been one of the loudest voices in the push for equality for female tennis players and, over the past decade, has established himself as something of tennis’ moral authority. 

Another snippet came out this week to highlight the difference between Murray and so many of his fellow athletes. 

It was revealed by Murray’s agent, Matt Gentry, that the Dunblane man had instructed Gentry to turn down any offers to play in Saudi Arabia. 

Murray has, Gentry went on, been offered seven-figure sums to play exhibition matches in Saudi Arabia but due to the country’s human rights record, will not entertain the prospect. 

That such a stance is quite so newsworthy is notable in itself. 

Murray is in the minority in the sporting world, by quite a margin, in putting morals over money. 

The list of those who have, in contrast, turned a blind eye to human rights breaches, social injustices or downright illegal activity is longer than my arm. 

From individuals like heavyweight boxer Anthony Joshua to entire sports such as golf, football and Formula One, there’s a worrying number of people who will look the other way when they believe there is the potential to rake in fortunes. 

Certainly, the amounts are eye-watering.  

Gentry revealed the top tennis players could command several million dollars while Joshua, in defeating Andy Ruiz Jr in the Saudi capital of Riyadh a couple of years ago, reportedly pocketed £60 million. 

Turning those amounts down would be quite a prospect for anyone but where exactly should athletes draw the line and decide that in fact, maintaining at least a semblance of moral decency is worth forfeiting a pay-day for, however mega it may be? 

The easy answer for any athletes who make the trip to Saudi Arabia to ply their trade and line their pockets is they are not politicians and so, in turn, are not getting into a political discourse about particular country’s record whether that be in human rights or elsewhere. 

Up to a point, this is a legitimate argument. 

In many of these cases, it is not justifiable to expect athletes to make right the bad decisions their sporting leaders have taken. 

As in the case of Lewis Hamilton, who was uncomfortable about the F1 championships being taken to Saudi Arabia, he ultimately made the trip because, as he said: “it’s not my choice to be here. The sport has taken a choice to be here”.  

Hamilton, at least, spoke of his unease about racing in Saudi Arabia; in contrast, when golf’s PGA Tour headed there, almost all of the game’s top players kept their heads down and mouths shut, trotting out the defence they are not politicians. 

However, there becomes a point when athletes, particularly those at the top of their sport who have both the prominence and the platform to make their views known, have some kind of obligation to stick their neck out. 

And when it comes to sports as a whole, there is little question that they should be taking a stand rather than pretending sport and politics are entirely separate entities.  

Almost without exception, any athlete, or any sport for that matter, who is in a position to command these astronomical sums of money is also in healthy enough financial position to turn it down. 

When Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic accepted an offer to play an exhibition match in Saudi Arabia in 2018, which was ultimately called off due to the Spaniard being injured, did they really need the money? I would suggest not. 

The term sports-washing, whereby nations attempt to distract from their questionable reputation by bringing major events to their shores, has come into the mainstream in recent years.  

Unless more athletes take the lead of Murray and put their money where their mouth is, there will be no sign of the end of it. 

AND ANOTHER THING… 

When Laura Muir won her glorious Olympic silver medal in Tokyo last summer, fulfilling a longstanding and, at times, precarious-looking ambition, it would be forgivable if she deigned to take her foot off the gas slightly. 

She is doing nothing of the sort. 

Her announcement this week that she is targeting the indoor 1000m record next month is proof that she believes she has considerably more to give. 

Her Olympic medal, rather than diminishing her motivation, may well aid her this season by taking the pressure off. 

She has made attempts at this record, set by Maria Mutola in 1999, previously and fallen short but just perhaps, coming off the back of the best year of her life on the track, the achievements will begin to accumulate at an even greater pace. 

Incidentally, it is not only the best of the best within Scottish athletics who are thriving at the moment. 

With the entry deadline for the National Cross-Country Championships looming, over 2000 entries are expected for the event in Falkirk at the end of next month. 

With the 2021 edition cancelled due to Covid, it is hugely encouraging to see these kind of numbers flocking back to what is one of the biggest, and best, events in the Scottish athletics calendar. 

With the grassroots of Scottish athletics flourishing in the manner it is, perhaps it should come as no surprise that the elite aspect of the sport in this country is also blossoming in quite the way it is. 

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