Secret Saudi golf plans prepare to pit personal gain against human rights | Golf

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IIt seems far-fetched to suggest that Saudi Arabia, driven by a takeover of Newcastle United, will ride this wave of sporting achievements and conquer golf. Saudi interest in this particular sport is as old as it is undisputedly depressing despite human rights violations. There are now, however, signs of gradual progress.

At a hugely selective press conference in New York City over the next few days, the Saudis will break away from everything that has happened before and develop – albeit handpicked outlets, of course – on their plans for the ultimate disruption plan for professional gaming. Industry insiders believe Greg Norman will be confirmed as the public face of a series – possibly involving a dream of 10 events on the Asian Tour – as obvious direct competition to the European and PGA Tours. Saudi Golf and the Asian Tour are already in alliance for Saudi International in February. Norman would have been busy on behalf of the Saudis in the corporate world.

The running theme of any tournament with Saudi support is the money in appearance and the rafts of it. Think of a number and add zeros. A member of the U.S. Ryder Cup team has revealed to friends that he has been offered $ 150million (£ 109million) for a three-year engagement in several Saudi-backed events.

Some players have already signed on for multiple appearances in the Saudi international, which was once the domain of the European Tour. It remains unlikely that Dustin Johnson and others will be barred from being released by European or PGA tours for hosting this event in 2022, despite scheduling conflicts with other tournaments. Yet the European and PGA tours have shown no willingness to engage with a Saudi breakaway. This makes the issue of multiple versions for any extended series very problematic. It may also turn out to be a legal minefield.

Saudi Golf has always believed that golfers are independent traders and can play wherever they want. Yet despite years of Saudi planning, blinking and throwing in front of players and agents, no current top player has shown any formal willingness to break with the current model of the tour. There is also no discernible PR strategy despite – or perhaps because of – Saudi control of a UK-based golf PR firm. The Saudis, surely, are getting closer to the point where something significant needs to happen.

Rightly so, neither the PGA nor the European tour will publicly address the issue of releases just yet. If they do, it both recognizes a legitimate threat that may not seriously exist and gives the Saudis a contested position. At first glance, it seems unlikely that the members of the existing tours are not bound by any restrictions. If this were the case, the golf ecosystem would surely have been seriously challenged for a long time. Far from curling up in a corner, the European Tour has revealed a five-week Middle Eastern swing for the start of next year.

Greg Norman is expected to be revealed as the public face of Saudi Arabia’s golf plans. Photograph: Phelan M Ebenhack / AP

Norman’s Saudi involvement is interesting but not necessarily crucial. Frankly, his previous position in the sport is likely to be of little importance to the current golf aristocracy. Norman was at the heart of a World Golf Tour proposal in 1994 that had at least one TV broadcast deal but crashed after the crucial intervention of Arnold Palmer. The PGA Tour duly expanded and flourished.

This weekend, Saudi Arabia was once again catapulted into the consciousness of anyone in the United States willing to listen with revelations on CBS 60 Minutes by Saad Aljabri, a former senior intelligence official in the kingdom. Aljabri said he was warned after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi that a Saudi strike team was traveling to Canada to kill him. Aljabri called Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman a “psychopath without empathy”. Saudi Arabia has previously denied that there was an attempted assassination of Aljabri in Canada and, in response to the TV interview, called him a “discredited former public servant.” The kingdom has denied that Khashoggi’s murder was ordered by Prince Mohammed, but a declassified US intelligence assessment concluded that the murder was approved by the crown prince. It is an utterly menacing scene for any minded person to watch closely.

Speaking previously about Saudi Arabia’s silent spread in golf, Amnesty International said: “Golfers should consider the effects of Saudi sport washing and their role in it. Any golfer tempted by a lucrative Saudi-backed tournament should be prepared to speak out about human rights in Saudi Arabia in order to counter the sport washout effect they are aiming for. “

However, the specific desire of golf to turn the other cheek vis-à-vis Saudi Arabia remains curious. It is also undoubtedly one of the main reasons why the kingdom continues to plan several events. Living Golf, a CNN magazine, returned to the air last year with Golf Saudi as the title sponsor. Aramco, the Saudi Arabian oil company, has its name attached to four out of five Ladies European Tour events starting in mid-October. Catriona Matthew, European captain of the Solheim Cup, is among those who sing the praises of the Aramco Series. Meghan MacLaren, the English professional, refused to play in Saudi Arabia for moral reasons in 2020. “It’s obviously a huge tournament for us but for me it’s more than golf,” she told the ‘era. MacLaren appeared on the court for the recent Aramco series stop in New York City. Like, let’s face it, a lot of the best players in the world.

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“I’ve shared my thoughts on this before,” MacLaren said via her management when challenged to change her mind. “We have seen that events in all sports are going to unfold regardless of your personal feelings. This particular week is a very strong area; a chance for me to test my golf against some of the best in the world. I also have my future LET [Ladies European Tour] status to consider. I just completed a full season of the Symetra Tour and as I’m still in the US this event fits my schedule well. The change of language is brutal.

Now it is apparently Saudi Arabia’s turn to offer its own sentiment. It has to be hard-hitting, otherwise a ploy that has rumbled through the undergrowth of golf risks losing lingering traces of credibility.

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