Authoritarian regime seeks sport to restore its image

Disclaimer: This is not a golf editorial.

Posted at 5:00 am

However, we have no choice but to talk about the anecdote of the last week in the sports world: the creation of the new LIV international golf circuit, which will have to compete with the PGA. Many top golfers defected from the PGA after LIV made them a golden bridge.

Does a new circuit offer millionaire golfers the opportunity to win even more millions? There is nothing to write to your mother.

Except this new circuit is created and owned by Saudi Arabia, an authoritarian regime that murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who has one of the worst human rights records in the world, which imposes the death penalty and treats homosexuality as a crime. punishable by death. . Freedom of expression does not exist in Saudi Arabia, as shown by the case of blogger Raif Badawi, released this winter after 10 years in prison (he is banned from leaving Saudi Arabia for another 10 years).

This is not the first time that an authoritarian regime has tried to use sport to restore its image and make people forget its systematic violations of human rights. This exercise that combines vanity and international relations is called the sports wash (free translation: “whitening through sport”).

The last Olympics were held in Beijing, China, a country where Uyghurs are victims of genocide, the House of Commons ruled.

The next World Cup will take place in Qatar, an authoritarian regime where conditions for migrant workers are deplorable and where both women and LGBTQ people face discrimination, according to Amnesty International.

When one of them wants to recover its image, Saudi Arabia (Newcastle), the United Arab Emirates (Manchester City) or Qatar (PSG) usually buy, through their sovereign wealth fund, a prestigious football team or host a major international competition.

With the LIV Golf Tour, Saudi Arabia is trying to bring the sports wash at a higher level: owning a complete sport. Or, more precisely, a sports circuit.

Do you think that this ethical debate does not concern you because you do not follow the sport? Think again. With its sovereign fund of 190 billion dollars, Saudi Arabia extends its economic tentacles in various multinationals.

For example, the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia is the third largest shareholder in Uber (3.7% of the shares) and Live Nation (5.5% of the shares), by far the largest producer of music shows in the world. world. (Live Nation also has financial interests in festivals like Osheaga, the Montreal International Jazz Festival, and the Montreal Franks.)

Suddenly, Saudi Arabia is no longer a distant authoritarian regime that can be easily ignored. It is part of our daily life…

We admire the talent of athletes. We forgive you many things. But if the LIV golfers have been nailed – rightly so – to the pillory of public opinion this week, it is because we have seen them for what they are: mercenaries without morals who only care about greenbacks. It doesn’t matter who signs the check.

As long as we judge Phil Mickelson, Greg Norman, Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau loud and clear, we might as well take the opportunity to do some navel-gazing.

Despite the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018, despite the systematic violations of human rights, despite the death penalty, despite the war in Yemen since 2015, despite all of this, Canada and the other G7 countries have never imposed real economic sanctions on Saudi Arabia. Arabian.

Canada continues to honor its $15 billion contract to deliver armored vehicles to Saudi Arabia as if nothing ever happened. In 2021, Canada sold $1.7 billion worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia, its second largest military customer, after the United States.

The international community turns a blind eye to the situation in Saudi Arabia because it needs its oil (the country is the second largest producer in the world, with 11% of world production).

During the election campaign, Joe Biden said he would stop selling them guns and treat this country like a “pariah.” Change: Washington now wants to convince Saudi Arabia to increase its oil production (in the hope of seeing the price of oil fall), and President Biden plans to pay an official visit there this summer. We no longer have the outcasts we used to have.

If we protest that golfers agree to be pawns in Saudi Arabia’s geopolitical strategy, we should rebel at least as hard as a country like Canada continues to sell weapons and armored vehicles.

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