World Snooker Tour chairman Barry Hearn has rejected criticism of the decision to stage a tournament in Saudi Arabia for the first time next year.

Hearn insisted the Saudi Arabian Masters, which will take place in Riyadh in October and earn its champion £500,000, "can only be beneficial" to the opening-up of Saudi society.

Human rights organisations including Amnesty International have strongly criticised the staging of major sporting events in the Kingdom, chiefly Anthony Joshua's world heavyweight title fight against Andy Ruiz Jr last month.

Speaking at the launch of his governing body's re-brand, Hearn told media: "There are probably half a dozen countries in the world that have human rights issues.

"I am impressed with the attitude of the Saudi government and their investment in sport because they are making a push to make their younger people more active and that can only be beneficial.

"Sport is an issue that moulds countries together. It forms character in young people. It gives expression and an opportunity to those that may not have it. There is a bigger picture."

Hearn confirmed that female referees would be used in the tournament, a relatively significant move in the context that women were not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia until last year.

Hearn added: "The fact we are using female referees is a major step forward.

"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."