Barry Hearn hails 'major step forward for snooker' as he reveals women referees will be used at new Saudi Arabia Masters, while Amnesty condemn move as PR stunt
World Snooker Tour chairman Barry Hearn has revealed women referees will be officiating at the new Saudi Arabia Masters in October.
The English promoter recently revealed the Middle Eastern nation will stage a ranking event for the first time as the curtain-raiser to a new ten-year deal in the sport.
And despite women's rights concerns in the country, Hearn insists female referees will be present at the tournament.
"The fact that we are using women referees is a major step forward," he said.
"We are all aware of the situation, but sport knows no boundaries in our view and we are there to spread the gospel of sport and in this case the gospel of snooker."
The tournament will take the sport's prize money to a new level as the Riyadh-based competition is set to become the richest ranking event on the tour with a total prize fund of £2.5 million.
But the move has come under criticism from human rights organisation Amnesty International UK, with the body's head of campaigns, Felix Jakens, describing the move as a 'public relations tool to distract from the darker realities'.
He said: "We're not telling snooker players whether they should or shouldn't go to Riyadh.
"But they certainly need to be aware of how this tournament fits with Saudi Arabia's recent drive to 'sportswash' their abysmal human rights record."