LIV Golf: What Is It? Why Is It So Controversial?

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The famous PGA Tour has some unwanted competition now thanks to the LIV Golf Invitational Series (LIV Golf League), but it isn’t without controversy.

LIV Golf League is fronted by former World No. 1 and two-time major winner Greg Norman. He isn’t the only big name attributed to the tournament (which includes Phil Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau, and Brooks Koepka) thanks to massive appearance fees and payouts. The LIV system is run completely different to the PGA, with greater financial gain at the forefront. Each event will have a $25 million prize – $20 million spread across the field with $4 million going to winner. Compare this with the British Masters purse which sits at $120,000.

How does LIV Golf pay for these massive prizes and fees? The tournament is backed by the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund, the country’s sovereign wealth fund and that’s where the controversy lies.

The Controversy

Golf fans have been very quick to criticise the LIV Golf League because of its connection with the Saudis. Human rights groups are arguing that the tour is an example of ‘sportswashing’ which suggests that the tour is part of a political strategy to clean up their global image.

This connection has been particularly contentious for American fans who are aware and very critical of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s involvement in the murder of Washington Post journalist, Jamal Khashoggi.

Greg Norman responded to this criticism with, “Everybody has owned up to it, right?… We’ve all made mistakes and you just want to learn from those mistakes and how you can correct them going forward.”

Accusations have been thrown at the Saudi government for their alleged involvement in 9/11 (15 of the 19 terrorists involved in 9/11 were Saudi nationals). In 2021, the FBI released previously classified intel that suggested the Saudi government supported some of the hijackers. Saudi Arabia has denied this.

As a result, almost 2,500 survivors of the family members killed or injured in the attack wrote an open letter to PGA Tour golfers thanking them for not defecting to LIV Golf.

“Thank you for standing up for decency. Thank you for standing up for the 9/11 Families. Thank you for resisting the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s efforts to cleanse its reputation by buying off professional athletes… To those of you who have chosen what is right over blood money from a corrupt, destructive sports entity and its Saudi backers, please continue to stand strong.”

The Validity Of These Complaints

Tiger Woods

Is this accurate? Are these complaints valid? Sort of.

Ben Hubbard, Middle East correspondent for The New York Times, wrote a book about the Crown Prince and explained that this is just another way for Gulf monarchies to use their wealth to invest in sports and cultural institutions to raise their countries’ international profile. Which agrees with the idea of ‘sportswashing.’

Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, from the Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University, said that “They are looking for an older, more professional market to try to make inroads to a wealthier demographic.”

Tiger Woods, arguably the most famous golfer in history, is against the new league. At the 150th British Open, Woods said that “Greg [Norman] has done some things that I don’t think are in the best interest of our game.

“I know what the PGA Tour stands for and what we have done and what the Tour has given us, the ability to chase after our careers and to earn what we get and the trophies we have been able to play for and the history that has been part of this game.

“I know Greg tried to do this back in the early 90s. It didn’t work then, and he’s trying to make it work now. I still don’t see how that’s in the best interests of the game.”

Greg Norman confirmed that Woods had turned down a spectacularly large figure (something around $800,000) to participate in the LIV League. Speaking to Tucker Carlson, Norman said he doesn’t understand why people are upset and that he “really [doesn’t] care, quite honestly.”

He called out the PGA Tour alleged hypocrisy, “The PGA Tour, I think, has about 27 sponsors who do 40-plus billion dollar’s worth of annual business on an annual basis in Saudi Arabia.”

He continued, “It is a monopoly. They just want to shut us down whatever way they can, so they will use whatever leverage point they can.”

Whataboutism is a common tactic with Trump allies and the former U.S. President is heavily involved with the LIV Tour and has personal ties with Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The 9/11 families criticised Trump’s involvement as well, “It is incomprehensible to us, Mr. Trump, that a former president of the United States would cast our loved ones aside for personal financial gain.”

In response, Trump stated that “nobody has gotten to the bottom of 9/11, unfortunately.”

Trump has changed his tune since 2016 when he told Fox News, “Who blew up the World Trade Centre? It wasn’t the Iraqis, it was Saudi – take a look at Saudi Arabia, open the documents.”

The LIV Tour has started with small crowds and a middling reception on their streaming service.

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