Thursday, October 28

The Uncomfortable Questions of Golf and Its Role in Saudi Sports Plans | Golf


IIt is no small thing to be instantly recognized by the best golfers in the world. But then Majed al-Sorour brings gifts like few others. It’s no wonder players lined up to participate in a video message for Sorour’s birthday, given that appearance fees for the recent Saudi International totaled around $ 15 million. When Sorour, the CEO of Golf Saudi, whistles, there are very few golfers who are unwilling to follow the line. The fact that Kevin Na can request a payment just for showing up says everything about the scale of this lucrative operation. No offense, etc.

Saudi Arabia’s golf maneuvers were the key topic of discussion among decision makers in the sport even before US intelligence services issued a report claiming that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the assassination of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. be at the best golf table and have the resources to make it possible. In theory, that is.

When the PGA Tour and the European Tour announced a strategic alliance late last year, Saudi Arabia remained on the outside looking inward. It may be telling that there is not yet an agreement with the European Tour for future Saudi International performances. However, the kingdom already has attachment to many elements of this game: female ambassadors, male ambassadors, a men’s event, women’s events, field building, base expansion.

Raine Capital has walked away from its leadership role with the Premier Golf League breakaway plan. Enter Saudi Arabia, which has a long-standing stake in that. It remains a long shot that the plan will come to fruition (aside from anything else, there is little room for maneuver for new competitions on a congested global calendar), but Saudi Arabia’s representation in Florida as the PGA Tour makes its Typical swing there has generated more speculation about the persuasion of the players to the PGL. There have also been discussions about Saudi Arabia’s participation in the Asian tour.

Saudi Arabia’s attempts to “play sports” after a series of human rights violations have long attracted the attention of Amnesty International and others. Boxing and WWE’s relationship with Saudi Arabia means that golf is not considered an isolated case. Likewise, the disposition with which golf collectively turns a blind eye to ethical issues when tournaments are held in the United Arab Emirates or China clouds the narrative.

However, Saudi Arabia must be evaluated differently in relation to golf specifically due to the increasing scale of attachment. If Sorour is the public face, Yasir al-Rumayyan is another key player. Rumayyan is not “just” the governor of the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia, but the chairman of Golf Saudi. He is a member of the board of directors of SoftBank, which sponsors the annual visit of the European Tour to Saudi Arabia, and is the president of Aramco, which recently announced the endorsement of four $ 1 million tournaments on the Ladies European Tour (LET) distributed in New York, London. Singapore and Jeddah. The Saudi golf course reaches far from Riyadh.

The LET did not respond when asked if Golf Saudi or Aramco are now involved with the Solheim Cup, or indeed if they are comfortable with such serious business ties given the Khashoggi report. In the LET, Saudi Arabia has a friendly partner. The business was desperate for higher prizes and additional tournaments even before Covid-19 did serious damage. Bluntly, LET players seem like helpful and willing pawns in a game.

On the men’s side, it’s depressing that Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Patrick Reed, and others are in and out of Saudi Arabia for their annual cash grab with just a murmur of discontent, let alone a decent explanation as to why: Golfers they already have more. money than the Beatles – believe it perfectly fair.

Camilla Lennarth from Sweden and Sergio García from Spain have their picture taken by Majed al-Sorour, President of Saudi Golf
Camilla Lennarth from Sweden and Sergio García from Spain have their picture taken by Majed al-Sorour, president of Saudi Golf. Photograph: Ross Kinnaird / Getty Images

Some, it should be noted, simply do not attend without drawing attention to that decision. Tiger Woods has never performed in Saudi Arabia and it will be a surprise now if he ever does. When Rory McIlroy denounced the PGL, he provided the crucial addendum of “not liking where the money came from.” At McIlroy, now chairman of the PGA Tour player advisory council, the status quo has a key ally. Joe Biden’s promise to recalibrate US-Saudi relations raises interesting questions about the future focus of Mickelson, Johnson et al. Should they care enough, of course?

Perhaps the 51-year-old Harvard-educated Rumayyan was so inspired by Woods’ greatness that golf became his favorite sport long ago. Those of us with a more cynical disposition can point to the safe and controversial domain that golf offers to anyone looking to enhance their reputation. Golf offers strong links to real estate development, tourism and money markets, even before the issue of so little backtracking is contemplated. Newcastle United’s takeover saga illustrates the problems Saudi Arabia has encountered with other sports.

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The evidence gathered by the Turkish authorities shows how dire the situation in Khashoggi was. The journalist was dismembered and the investigation focused on a large oven where his remains were probably discarded. Saudi Arabia has consistently denied any involvement of the crown prince, instead calling this a “dishonest” botched extradition. However, since Khashoggi’s death, evidence has emerged of several other kidnappings, kidnapping attempts and death threats directed at Prince Mohammed’s critics. If this whole scenario doesn’t make golf and its players deeply uncomfortable, it should. The Saudis have no apparent intention of backing down.


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