Golfers take on Saudi-funded golf league

Graeme McDowell admits it’s “incredibly polarizing” to join a new breakaway golf league funded by Saudi Arabia. He even gave a reason.

“Take the case of Khashoggi,” he said. We all agree that this is reprehensible. No one will dispute this fact. »

The Northern Irish golfer was referring to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi in 2018 at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. US intelligence has revealed that they believe the killing of the US-based Saudi journalist was on the orders of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who heads the Public Investment Fund. The prince denies any wrongdoing in the matter.

Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund provides hundreds of millions of dollars in entry fees and scholarships that help divert players from the established circuits and jeopardize their participation in major tournaments and the Ryder Cup.

The new league is Saudi Arabia’s latest move to restore the country’s image as a generous sponsor of sporting events rather than being associated with human rights abuses, which rights groups call “sports laundering.”

“We are not politicians”

McDowell tried to avoid talking about the particularities of the country with which he is associated.

“I really feel that golf is a force for good in the world. I just try to be a great role model for the kids,” she said. We are not politicians. I know you hate that expression, but unfortunately we really don’t. We are professional golfers. »

“If Saudi Arabia wanted to use golf as a way to get to where they want to be and have the resources to accelerate that experience, I think we’d be proud to help them on that journey using the sport of golf and the skills that we have.” they have to help grow the sport and get them to where they want to be. »

Does this adventure help, McDowell was asked, oppressed women in Saudi Arabia, LGBTQ+ people whose right to live freely is criminalized, migrant workers whose rights are violated, victims of Saudi bombing in Yemen, or the 81 men executed for the kingdom in March?

“I wish I had the ability to have that conversation with you,” McDowell said. As golfers, if we tried to fix the geopolitical situations in every country in the world where we play golf, we wouldn’t play much golf. This is a very difficult question to answer. »

“We are just here to focus on golf and what it is doing globally to provide role models. »

McDowell’s words resonated with Dustin Johnson: “I would say more or less the same thing. I agree with what Graeme said. »

long thought

Johnson, a two-time major tournament winner, has also confirmed that he is turning his back on the PGA Tour to join this new breakaway league.

The inaugural tournament of this circuit, which offers a prize pool of US $ 25 million, takes place from Thursday at the Centurion club in St. Albans, north London.

Johnson revealed that it “took him a long time to think” before leaving the PGA Tour, seemingly ending his hopes of competing in the Ryder Cup with the United States.

“In the end I decided to come and play,” confided Johnson present at the Centurion club. I am excited about this idea. Obviously the Ryder Cup is amazing and it meant a lot to me. … I hope to have the opportunity to play there again, but I don’t set the rules. »

Johnson, whose last victory came at the Saudi International in 2021, is No. 15 in the world, the highest-ranked golfer on the board. He has been at the top of the world rankings longer than any player since Tiger Woods.

“I chose what is best for me and my family,” he continued, explaining his decision to join the Saudi company run by Greg Norman.

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