LIV Golf tournament is next step in sportswashing for Saudi Arabia

EDITORIAL


MAYBE the PGA Tour isn’t your cup of tea.

Perhaps the idea of more tournaments, free agency and the choice to follow the money is a better way to run the international golf circuit.

But even if so, players who have departed the traditional tour for the new Saudi-backed LIV tournament – currently taking place in London – are contributing to the further sportswashing of the despotic regime.

The Saudis eventually broke through into the world of elite sport through their Public Investment Fund (PIF) with their purchase of Newcastle United last year.

That was almost a perfect chance to make their name on the scene. A historic club with passionate fans, desperate to rid themselves of a controversial owner in Mike Ashley. In that case, the Saudis came to the rescue, pumped money into the club and lived to tell the tale in the Premier League for another season.

It’s not an uncommon sight to see Saudi garb at St James’ Park these days. The proposed new away kit is adorned in the green and white of the nation.

And now the PIF – which has direct links to Crown Prince MBS – has been used for even bolder means.

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Golf giants such as Phil Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau and Sergio Garcia have all joined the LIV series. More than a means to reform golf, the series is being used to enhance Saudi Arabia’s reputation.

Sacha Deshmukh, Amnesty International UK’s chief executive, said: “It’s been extremely disappointing to hear a number of golf’s best-known figures attempting to play down the terrible murder of Jamal Khashoggi while sidestepping the real gravity of Saudi Arabia’s appalling human rights record.

“Platitudes about golf being a ‘force for change’ mean very little if players are acting as unofficial arms of the Saudi government’s PR machine.”

Golfers have struggled to answer questions about Saudi Arabia’s human rights record. Many have admitted it’s for the money.

Phil Mickelson himself, in an interview last year, said: “They’re scary motherf—ers to get involved with.

“They killed Khashoggi and have a horrible record on human rights. They execute people over there for being gay. Knowing all of this, why would I even consider it? Because this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape how the PGA Tour operates.”

But there’s little excuse for this greed – and the reform argument isn’t fooling anyone.

The likes of Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy have stayed firm to the PGA which, while imperfect in its own right, doesn’t outwardly execute and oppress minorities. It’s crucial that the backbone of golf remains firm to its tradition – or risk burnishing a reputation that needs to be exposed.

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Featured Image: Omar Rawlings @ Flickr

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