The most controversial tournament right now in the sport kicks off Thursday and threatens to blow up men’s professional golf.
Some of the biggest names in the game will take part in the first ever LIV Golf event in Hertfordshire despite lifetime bans from the PGA Tour.
The breakaway series is supported by Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund (PIF), the owners of Newcastle United, and involves huge sums of money for competitors.
This led to players being criticized for participating in the Saudi-backed event due to the kingdom’s dismal human rights record.
So why is LIV Golf so controversial, how much money are players willing to win, and what are the concerns about the series? Sky News explains.
What is LIV Golf?
Reports of plans for a rival league to the PGA Tour first surfaced in 2019, but it wasn’t until late 2021 that the proposal really started to take shape.
LIV Golf Investments was formed, with PIF, Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, as majority shareholder.
In March, the PGA Tour threatened to ban players who defect to the rival league for life, casting doubt on their future appearances at major tournaments and the Ryder Cup.
Despite this, LIV Golf has announced the schedule for an eight-event invitational series worth $225m (£179m) which kicks off at the Centurion Club in St Albans on Thursday. Future tournaments are planned in the United States, Thailand and Saudi Arabia.
Coverage of this week’s inaugural event will be streamed on the organization’s website, as well as on YouTube and Facebook.
Which players are affected?
Star names include six-time Major winner Phil Mickelson, former world number one Dustin Johnson and Ryder Cup heroes Sergio Garcia, Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter.
Former grand champions Graeme McDowell, Martin Kaymer and Louis Oosthuizen are also in contention.
Off the course, former world number one Greg Norman is the general manager of LIV Golf.
Why doesn’t Tiger Woods play?
Tiger Woods reportedly turned down a “shockingly huge” offer to join the show.
Speaking to The Washington Post, Norman suggested the 15-time Major winner turned down a sum of more than $150m (£120m) and possibly close to $1bn (£798m).
How is it different from other golf tournaments?
LIV is the Roman numeral for 54, which is the number of holes to be played in each event, instead of the usual 72.
There is no cut and golfers will all play at the same time, with one shotgun shot, meaning all groups of players will play different holes simultaneously.
The 48 players will compete in a traditional stroke-play format, with the lowest scorer after 54 holes winning. They will also be divided into 12 teams of four.
How much money will players win?
The $25m (£20m) purse for the Hertfordshire event is the largest in golf history.
Much of the prize money – $20 million (£16 million) – is up for grabs in the singles stroke play portion of the event, while the remaining $5 million (£4 million) will be shared among the top three teams.
The winner will receive $4 million (£3.2m), far more than the $2.7m (£2.2m) awarded to recent Masters and PGA Championship winners, while each player is guaranteed at least $120,000 (£96,000) just for completing 54 holes.
Why is this controversial?
Amnesty International UK has accused LIV Golf players of being “willing servants of Saudi sports laundering” due to the Gulf kingdom’s “appalling human rights record”.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who heads the PIF, allegedly ordered the Murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.
In March this year, Saudi Arabia announced the mass execution of 81 men for terrorism and other crimes, including holding “deviant beliefs.”
And last year, Saudi aid worker Abdulrahman al-Sadhan was sentenced to 20 years in prison for writing satirical tweets criticizing the authorities.
According to Amnesty, women in Saudi Arabia continue to face severe discrimination in marriage, divorce, inheritance and child custody.
There is also “substantial evidence” that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are frequently arrested in the kingdom, according to the Human Dignity Trust.
Amnesty International UK Executive Director Sacha Deshmukh said: “It has been deeply disappointing to hear several of golf’s best-known personalities trying to downplay the horrific murder of Jamal Khashoggi while avoiding the true gravity of Golf’s appalling human rights record. Saudi Arabia.
“Instead of acting like the willful henchmen of Saudi sports laundering, we would like to see golfers at the LIV Golf Invitational speak out against human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia.
“Solidarity with the beleaguered human rights community in Saudi Arabia is extremely important and at the moment the LIV Golf series shows very little of it. »
What did the players say about Saudi Arabia’s human rights record?
Norman claimed that Saudi Arabia was “changing its culture within its country” and downplayed its government’s role in LIV Golf, telling Sky Sports News: “I don’t answer to Saudi Arabia. I don’t answer to your government or to MBS. ”
Mickelson got into trouble earlier this year when he described the Saudis as “scary shit” and said he was well aware of Saudi Arabia’s “horrendous human rights record.”
The American, who refused to confirm whether he would receive $200m (£159.5m) to take part in LIV Golf – said Wednesday“I do not condone human rights abuses at all.
“I’m certainly aware of what happened with Jamal Khashoggi and I think it’s terrible.
“Here no one tolerates human rights violations and no one tries to compensate for anything. »
But he added: “I’ve also seen the good that the game of golf has done throughout history and I think LIV Golf will do a lot of good for the game as well.”
McDowell called Khashoggi’s killing “reprehensible” but said, “We’re not politicians, we’re professional golfers.”
He added: “If Saudi Arabia wants to use golf as a way to get to where they want to be, I think we are proud to help them on that journey. »
Meanwhile, Westwood noted that the players previously competed in European Tour-sanctioned tournaments in Saudi Arabia.
What other sports have been criticized for their links to Saudi Arabia?
Golf is not the sport to follow due to its ties to Saudi Arabia.
Newcastle United was bought in a £300m deal within October, with Saudi Arabia PIF taking an 80% stake.
The takeover was confirmed by the Premier League after it said it had received “legally binding guarantees” that the Saudi state would not control the football club, one of the main obstacles to a deal.
Formula 1 driver Lewis Hamilton previously expressed discomfort while competing at the Saudi Grand Prix over human rights concerns in the kingdom.
The decision to host Anthony Joshua’s world heavyweight title fight against Andy Ruiz Jr in Saudi Arabia in 2019 has also been criticized.
What did the British government say?
The British government has underlined the importance of the country’s close links with Saudi Arabia and Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited the Gulf Kingdom in March for the oil negotiations.
In May, Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston said the UK’s relationship with Saudi Arabia was “really important” and “we can have a frank exchange because of the nature of our relationship.”
“Saudi Arabia is an important cultural, intelligence and investment partner for the UK,” Huddleston said.
“We welcome Saudi investment.
“Many jobs in the UK depend on our relationship with the Saudis, but we take this opportunity to speak frankly and openly with Saudi Arabia. »