The new LIV Golf Invitational series, a Saudi-proposed contender for the PGA Tour, continues to suffer setback after setback, some external and some very self-inflicted.
Earlier this week, the PGA Tour and the DP World Tour (formerly the European Tour) both indicated that they would not be giving their players releases to play in LIV Golf’s inaugural event early next month. LIV Golf chief executive Greg Norman added fuel to the fire on Wednesday by appearing to play down the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, saying, according to the Times, “we’ve all made mistakes.”
Norman attempts to portray LIV Golf as an entirely sporting, non-political business. But given that LIV Golf is backed by the Saudi government’s Public Investment Fund, to the tune of the promised billions of dollars, critics wonder how Norman, and many players from the two legacy tours, could ally themselves with a regime that has committed multiple ongoing human rights violations. offences.
One of the most notable crimes: the murder of Khashoggi, a US resident and Washington Post reporter who was abducted and dismembered in 2018 from the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Human rights organizations and intelligence services said Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, chairman of the PIF, approved of the killing. Salman denied the charge but said he took “full responsibility” as the nation’s leader. That, apparently, was enough to satisfy Norman.
Pressed by Khashoggi’s murder, Norman tried to brush off the issue. “Everyone recognized it, didn’t they?” he said. “We talked about it, from what I’ve read, from what you’ve reported. Take ownership, whatever it is. Look, we’ve all made mistakes and you just want to learn from these errors and how you can correct them in the future.
More recently, Saudi Arabia put 81 people to death in a mass execution on March 12 that also drew international criticism. Norman also sought to avoid questions about this incident.
“I got a lot of messages, but honestly, I can’t wait,” he said. “I don’t look back. I don’t look at the politics of things. I’m not going to get into the quagmire of whatever’s going on in someone else’s world. I heard about it and kept going.
While Norman moves on, human rights defenders and critics of the Saudi regime are not. Amnesty International has taken issue with longtime Ryder Cup star Lee Westwood, who has defended his decision to attend LIV events due to the huge sums of money involved.
“Lee Westwood is obviously entitled to his opinion on the extent to which sport and politics should mix, but with the Saudi authorities pumping huge sums of money into golf and other sports precisely to wash their international image beaten, it is clear that golf tournaments like this are already political through and through,” Amnesty International said in a statement.
“Riyadh’s newfound love for promoting sport has come at a time when Saudi authorities have carried out mass executions, many human rights defenders have been imprisoned in the Kingdom, and Saudi missiles are still raining down on civilians. in Yemen.
“We urge all golfers tempted to play in Saudi-funded tournaments to consider how the sports wash works and how they could break its spell by speaking out against human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia. The persecuted human rights community in Saudi Arabia will be bitterly disappointed if well-paid golf superstars take LIV Golf’s money but remain silent about what is happening in Saudi Arabia.”
Westwood, Sergio Garcia and Phil Mickelson are among those who have requested releases to play in LIV Golf events. Mickelson’s own comments about Khashoggi’s death, dismissing him in service of his intent to hurt the PGA Tour, were what triggered his current de facto exile.
“They are scary mothers to get involved with,” Mickelson told biographer Alan Shipnuck. “We know they killed Khashoggi and they have an awful human rights record. They execute people there because they are gay. Knowing all that, why would I consider it even? Because it’s a unique opportunity to reshape the way the PGA Tour works.”
Mickelson hasn’t played since early February and hasn’t made a public statement since the end of the month. He is still signed up for the field for next week’s PGA Championship, the tournament he won last year at age 50.
The first LIV Golf event is scheduled for June 9-11 at the Centurion Club in England, with a $4 million prize money for the winner. The 2022 Masters, on the other hand, paid $2.7 million to winner Scottie Scheffler.
A total of eight events are on the schedule for LIV 2022, ending at Trump National Doral in Miami in October. Earlier this week, Saudi Arabia committed an additional $2 billion to the venture, with the aim of expanding to a full slate of 14 events in 2024 and 2025.
Jay Busbee is a staff writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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