Toni Nadal hits out at ‘hypocritical’ criticism over controversial Rafael Nadal move

Ewan West
Rafael Nadal looks on
Rafael Nadal during a practice session in Brisbane

Toni Nadal has defended his nephew Rafael Nadal over his controversial move to become an ambassador for the tennis federation of Saudi Arabia. 

The legendary tennis coach declared that “we live in an excessively hypocritical world” and argued Nadal taking the role will help Saudi Arabia more than boycotting the country.

The Saudi Tennis Federation (STF) announced in January that Nadal had taken up a position as a tennis ambassador, with the Spaniard saying: “It’s a big opportunity to develop the sport in a country which is investing a lot in sport and encouraging younger generations to get into tennis.”

The tennis great has received criticism for his decision as Saudi Arabia has been accused of trying to improve its image and overshadow its poor human rights record by investing huge money in sport.

The ATP has already signed deals with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), with the Next Gen ATP Finals being held in Jeddah — a Saudi city — until 2027. PIF are reportedly set to buy the ATP ranking system and there is talk further major investments could follow in the coming years.

The WTA is also believed to be in talks with Saudi officials as it has been claimed the Middle Eastern nation could host this year’s WTA Finals.

In an interview with the El Mundo newspaper, Toni Nadal addressed the criticism levelled at his nephew and used an example involving former Spanish dictator Francisco Franco to make his point.

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“I think that today we live in an excessively hypocritical world,” the 63-year-old said. “How do you help improve a country more, by boycotting Saudi Arabia or helping its young people?

“This is the same as when the Americans included us, during the Franco era, in the famous Marshall Plan to contribute economically to the modernisation of our country. They thought that Franco and his regime were one thing, and the citizens were another.

“My nephew was offered to try to get young people to do sports in that country. Rafa believes that what he can contribute can help change and improve society and the lives of many young people just as if he did it in Cuba or in Venezuela.”

The Mallorcan coached his nephew Nadal from his childhood until 2017, helping him win 16 of his 22 Grand Slam titles. He is the director of the Rafa Nadal Academy in Mallorca and has also been working with ATP player Felix Auger-Aliassime since 2021.

Earlier this month, Nadal dismissed claims he was playing a role in a sportswashing operation and expressed hope that further progress would be made in the country.

“I don’t think Saudi Arabia needs me to wash any image. It is a country that has opened up to the world and it is a country with great potential,” the former world No 1 told LaSexta. 

“Therefore, it is logical that the world is going there and the feeling is that everything is bought with money and that now Rafa has also sold himself to money. I understand that people think that, of course they do.

“Are there things that need to be improved today? Without a doubt. It is a country that is very behind in many things, it has recently opened. If the country does not achieve the evolution that I believe it needs to follow in the next 10-15 years, I will tell you that I was completely wrong.

“I believe that I will have the freedom to be able to work with the values ​​that I believe I have to work on and that are correct. If it doesn’t happen, I will tell you that I made a mistake and that I was wrong.”

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