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A part of Spain is starting to question Rafael Nadal

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A part of Spain is starting to question Rafael Nadal

Recently the impeccable public image that the Spanish tennis player Rafael Nadal has maintained for about twenty years in his country is creaking, mainly due to his decision to become ambassador of the tennis federation of Saudi Arabia, a very rich country in the Persian Gulf which is bringing is carrying out a massive campaign to improve its international reputation through sport, which is very bad due to the systematic violations of human rights. A recent interview of Nadal in the television broadcast The Objective brought the Spaniards’ attention back to the news, which had already come out in mid-January, and further worsened the tennis player’s position due to some of his responses in this regard, judged on social networks and in the media to be evasive and unsatisfactory.

“Let me realize my project and we’ll see if I can achieve my goal, which is to improve people’s lives through sport,” Nadal told journalist Ana Pastore, who had asked him, believing he was interpreting a widespread question among Spaniards, what need he had to compromise his image by accepting that type of proposal from a country so low in the rankings on respect for human rights. “None” replied Nadal, visibly in difficulty, later explaining that that money doesn’t change his life and that he hasn’t signed a “super contract”, unlike other athletes who have linked themselves to Saudi Arabia.

The role of Nadal, who is now near the end of his great career in professional tennis, will essentially be one of promotion and representation, and it is expected that he will spend time in the country to participate in events and involve other athletes, investors and new players with his presence. public. Nadal is also expected to open in Saudi Arabia new branches of the tennis academies that he already runs in many developing countries around the world. In October, moreover, Nadal will participate in the “6 Kings Slam”, an exhibition tournament in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, together with Novak Djokovic, Carlos Alcaraz, Daniil Medvedev, Holger Rune and Jannik Sinner. The event had already attracted criticism and controversy on the tennis players involved, who will be guaranteed exceptional compensation: the winner will earn the equivalent of 5.5 million euros, almost three times the prize reserved for the winner of the last edition of Wimbledon, the most important and prestigious tennis tournament.

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Tennis is one of the sports in which Saudi Arabia has recently been investing the most capital, after having done so with football, golf and Formula 1: among other things from last year and until 2027 in the Saudi city of The Next Generation ATP Finals will be held in Jeddah, the tournament in which the best eight under-20 tennis players of the season will participate (until 2023 there were up to under-21s). These operations are part of a broad strategy by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to give a positive and attractive image of his country at an international level, which replaces that of a theocratic dictatorial regime in which women have no fundamental rights and homosexual people are persecuted , the death penalty is in force and heads of state order the murder and mutilation of unwelcome journalists, as happened to Jamal Khashoggi.

According to Nadal, the Saudi monarchy does not need him to clean up its image, and his objective is another, consistent with what he has always believed in in his career: «I believe that sports education has the power to transform opportunities into complicated situations.” Nadal attributed the public’s negative reactions to a “communication error” in the way the collaboration was announced, believing he could have explained it better. “Everywhere you look in Saudi Arabia you see growth and progress, and I’m thrilled to be part of it,” Nadal said when announcing he had accepted the job.

But for many Spaniards, Nadal’s justifications were not enough. Since the beginning of his career, over twenty years ago, the tennis player has been elevated to a national symbol and treasure, also because until well into the 2000s Spain was not used to excelling in world sport, which it would later do in football , basketball and Formula 1, among other disciplines. With five victories in the Davis Cup, the main team tennis competition for national teams, and 22 victories in Grand Slam tournaments (14 times at Roland Garros, 4 at the US Open, 2 at Wimbledon and 2 at the Australian Open), Nadal became one of the twenty years later one of the greatest tennis players of all time, engaging with Novak Djokovic and above all with Roger Federer some of the most spectacular and followed rivalries in the recent history of sport.

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Nadal has always accompanied this formidable career with an almost perfect management of his public image. He has always been a composed, polite champion, seen as morally upright, capable of brilliantly overcoming many injuries, faithful to his wife with whom he got engaged at 19 and to whom he is still married. Furthermore, Nadal lives in Palma de Mallorca, the Balearic island where he was born, and not in more fiscally advantageous countries like many other Spanish and international athletes: one of those things that is usually very much appreciated by public opinion.

This respectability had already been somewhat damaged when Nadal had expressed his opinion on the issue of the salary disparity between male and female tennis players. When asked what he thought about the fact that women earn much less than men, Nadal gave a sarcastic response last year, asking rhetorically why models in fashion earn more than male models. It is not the kind of response that garners unanimous sympathy in a country like Spain, where feminist sensibilities are widespread and where the women’s national football team has carried out a tenacious and popular campaign against discrimination in sport and against the president of the federation, who had non-consensually kissed the footballer Jennifer Hermoso during the World Cup awards ceremony.

In the interview with Pastore, Nadal returned to the topic, arguing that «if wanting women to have the same opportunities as men means being a feminist, I am a feminist. But equality, for me, does not mean giving gifts: what I want is for women to earn more than men if they generate more than men. (…) If Serena Williams generates more income than me, I want Serena to earn more.”

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– Read also: Equal pay between men and women in tennis is still a long way off

The disparity in the earnings of male and female tennis players is a topic that is discussed periodically and with greater concreteness than in other sports. For many years now, the prizes for men and women have been the same at the Grand Slam tournaments, but this does not apply to the other tournaments, which are many and still represent a fundamental part of the tennis players’ income, for many the most important. The position supported by Nadal is a widespread position, but according to his critics it does not take into account the fact that in the professional history of tennis, male tennis players have always had greater visibility and opportunities than female tennis players, due to the way the tournament circuit is structured and their exploitation. media.

On the Countrythe scripture Ángeles Caballero published an editorial in which he defined Nadal as “an alien on the pitch, but an average Spaniard off it”, claiming that his transformation into José María Aznar, the former conservative Spanish prime minister known among other things, is now “98%” complete for being particularly awkward and boring. Even Nadal, writes Caballero, appears particularly tense and awkward in his expressions and responses, which in his opinion bring out a certain right-wing indifference.

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