The Saudi ambassador to the United States Princess Reema bint Bandar al-Saud has responded to recent criticism from tennis legends Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova about Saudi money flowing into the sport.

In a statement published on Tuesday, the princess said the article published by The Washington Post had "pained me deeply" and overlooked recent advances for women in Saudi Arabia.

"Navratilova and Evert have turned their back on the very same women they have inspired and it is beyond disappointing," Princess Reema wrote.

The two retired players had written an opinion column in The Washington Post last week saying the Women's Tennis Association should back away from talks about staging the WTA Finals in the Gulf kingdom, citing the "unequal status of women (which) remains deeply embedded in Saudi law" and other human rights concerns, including the criminalisation of LGBTQ people.

Sport is a major component of Prince Mohammed's Vision 2030 economic and social reform agenda.

While the push has been denounced as a bid to distract from human rights abuses, Princess Reema on Tuesday said it was "part of a comprehensive programme to be the best version of ourselves".

"It is not about you. It is about us," she wrote.

Last year, the kingdom hosted its first ATP Tour event – the Next Gen ATP Finals in Jeddah – along with exhibition matches pitting Novak Djokovic against Carlos Alcaraz and Aryna Sabalenka against Ons Jabeur.

Earlier this month Rafael Nadal, winner of 22 singles Grand Slams on the men's side, was named ambassador for the Saudi Tennis Federation.

The world's biggest oil exporter has also spent huge sums luring star footballers and is due to hold the 2034 World Cup. It already hosts F1 and heavyweight boxing, and is in talks to take a prominent role in world golf.

Disclaimer: This article was generated with AI, and overseen by a Scroll journalist.