Give in to Saudi money? Anger and misunderstanding about new series of golf tournaments

Added together, 255 million dollars (more than 238 million euros) in prize money will be distributed on the eight tournaments that the LIV tour is rich, sports channel ESPN revealed.

‘A once in a lifetime opportunity’

Each event involves a minimum of $25 million, with each participant pocketing $120,000 in any case and the winner receiving $4 million. At the last team game in Miami, even $ 50 million is distributed. By comparison, the biggest prize at the prestigious Masters tournament this year was $2.7 million.

In total, Saudi Arabia will invest 2 billion dollars in the LIV tournament in the coming years through state fund Public Investment Fund. “A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to really grow golf,” says LIV director and former top golfer Greg Norman.

‘murderous regime’

Certainly not everyone agrees. Critics see the sponsorship as ‘sportswashing’: countries or companies that invest a lot of money in sports competitions to use them to enhance their dubious reputation.

The American organizer PGA Tour does not allow players to play. Seventeen of their players do and are suspended. That includes big names: Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter, Martin Kaymer, Graeme McDowell, Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzel and Lee Westwood.

Human rights organizations also view the Saudi government as a murderous regime that violates human rights, especially of women and minorities. The murder of critical journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018 has also been attributed to the regime of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

More controversy over Saudi sponsorship money

Saudi Arabia has also made its appearance in Formula 1 and football. For example, the country invests hundreds of millions in the premier class of motorsport and invested around 350 million euros in the acquisition of the English football club Newcastle United. In both cases, this led to controversy and discussion.

Criticism of participants

Greg Norman and famous golfers who participate in the tournament at the Centurion Club in Hertfordshire near London, such as Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Graeme McDowell, have therefore been criticized.

“Clichés that golf can force change mean very little when players act as unofficial employees of the Saudi government’s PR machine,” said Sacha Deshmukh, director of Amnesty International in the UK.

According to Deshmukh, some players are circumventing the seriousness of the situation in Saudi Arabia. “It is extremely disappointing when some well-known golf figures try to downplay the murder of Khashoggi. Contrary to the rhetoric of some players, Saudi Arabia has not become less repressive in recent years. Human rights defenders and peaceful critics are incarcerated, torture in prisons is widespread and mass executions have shocked the world.”

‘Bad for our sport’

Director Jeroen Stevens of the Dutch Golf Federation is also critical. “This is bad for our sport for several reasons. These kinds of sponsorships are abhorrent and when you hear who is behind it, which I don’t know the best about, it’s all bad. Especially when you know that these participants already earn millions : these people can go for principles.”

Dustin Johnson is therefore one of the participants. He has already earned a whopping $74 million in prize money on the PGA Tour. Yet he now opts for the LIV tour. “This is a choice that is best for me and my family. It’s something new and it’s exciting.”

Johnson could therefore have made different choices based on money. For others it is more difficult, Stevens notes. “For example, the Saudi oil company Aramco is a sponsor of the Ladies Tour and also supports the Dutch golfer Anne van Dam. These women earn much less than the men and at a time when there is scarcity and people cannot live off it, I can maybe understand. But if you mix it with human rights, it’s very complicated.”