Golfers put aside the “reprehensible” Saudi moves to join the series

Street. Albans, England (Associated Press) – The stars of a new Saudi-funded golf league tried to stave off concerns Tuesday over human rights abuses and sign up to accept hundreds of millions of dollars despite the risk of being barred from long-running events.

After announcing his withdrawal from the PGA Tour to join the LIV Golf Series, Dustin Johnson avoided inquiring about the source of the $25 million prize fund for each event flowing from Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund. The first LIV Golf Invitational will take place outside of London from Thursday.

Another former major winner – Graeme McDowell – is left at a press conference trying to publicly reconcile causing golf fractures by signing on to a rebel series that appears to be part of Saudi Arabia’s attempt to reshape its image as a champion of lavish sporting events rather than one linked to abuses human rights.

The Northern Irish golfer, who won the US Open and the Ryder Cup in 2010, raised the 2018 murder of Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul as legitimate grounds for concern about joining a series he accepts as “unbelievably polarizing” for the sport.

“Take Khashoggi’s situation, for example,” he said. “We all agree that this is reprehensible. No one will argue with that fact.”

And US intelligence services said they believed that the killing of the Saudi journalist based in the United States came on the orders of the Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, who heads the Public Investment Fund. The prince denies any wrongdoing.

The fund provides hundreds of millions of dollars in login fees and prize money that lure players away from scheduled rounds and jeopardize their participation in major tournaments and the Ryder Cup.

Human rights groups describe Saudi Arabia’s efforts as a “sportswashing” of its image.

McDowell tried to avoid discussing the specifics of the country he was actively working for.

“I really feel like golf is a benevolent force in the world – I’m just trying to be a role model for kids,” he said. We are not politicians. I know you guys hate that expression, but we don’t, unfortunately. We are professional golfers.

“If Saudi Arabia wants to use golf as a way for them to get to where they want to be and have the resources to accelerate that experience, I think we are proud to help them on that journey using golf and the capabilities we have to help grow the sport and take them to where they want to be.”

How, though, McDowell asked, is that journey to help persecuted women in Saudi Arabia, LGBT people whose rights to live freely have been criminalized, migrant workers whose rights are violated, victims of the Saudi-led bombing of Yemen, or the 81 men executed. From the Kingdom in March?

“I wish I had the ability to have that conversation with you,” McDowell said. “As golfers, if we try to address the geopolitical situations in every country in the world in which we play golf, we don’t play much golf. It’s a difficult question to answer.

“We’re just here to focus on golf and kind of do it globally to set an example for these guys.”

McDowell conducted most of the talk on Saudi rights issues, with the two-time winner Johnson responding: “I would say pretty much the same. I agree with what Graeme said.”

Greg Norman oversees the series with 54-hole championships and a rifle start that sees each group start at the same time on different holes. The winner gets $4 million, and the last place gets $120,000.

Golfers are exposed to more heat than some of the other athletes who have participated in Saudi Arabia. While sports, including golf, football and Formula 1, have chosen to move events to Saudi Arabia without the stars having a say, LIV is a case of players who have chosen not to participate in the existing structures to participate in the Kingdom project. Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy are among the players who have rejected any approach from Liv.

“An opportunity comes along like this, where you can play the last three or four years of your career, in a very financially lucrative environment. It would be crazy to walk away from that as an entrepreneur,” said the 42-year-old.

Ari Fleischer, the former White House press secretary during the presidency of George W. Bush, was the tournament organizer’s host for the players’ two press conferences on Tuesday. Ask golfers questions before the media has the opportunity.

Fleischer was asked about a tweet he posted in 2011 that talked about Saudi Arabia and suggested that the king was willing to “spend hundreds of billions not to be ousted”. He said the comment was made “a long time ago.”


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