Northern Lowlands, Ore. – The LIV Golf Invitational series, sponsored by the Saudi government, arrives in the United States on Thursday as it continues to spoil the delicate sport with a slogan that promises: “Golf, but louder.” Also, it probably isn’t the kind of noise his supporters had in mind.
There has been fierce opposition from some to a three-day tournament at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club, about 20 miles northwest of Portland. The outcry was followed by politicians, a group of 9/11 victims and family members, club members who resigned in protest, and at least one member of the club board. Critics have dismissed what they describe as Saudi Arabia’s attempt to use sport to soften perceptions of human rights in the West over its horrific history.
Portland is the first of five LIV (Roman numerals indicating 54 hole format) tournaments to be held in the United States this year. The newly formed tour, with its lucrative prize money and eight-point participation fee, quickly became a threat to the long-established PGA Tour as players such as Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka joined Saudi Arabia.
The Portland Tournament comes at a time when local outrage is still raging over the death in 2016 of Fallon Smart, a 15-year-old high school student who was killed while crossing a Portland street by a driver who was traveling at nearly 60 miles per hour. A student of the College of the Commonwealth of Saudi Arabia, who was threatened with murder and the death of Smart, removed the tracking device and disappeared before the trial, apparently returning home with the help of Saudi officials.
Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, has been pushing for justice for smarts and begging the White House to impose more responsibility on Saudi Arabia. He criticized the LIV Golf Tournament, backed by the Saudi Sovereign Wealth Fund, as an attempt to clean up the country’s human rights reputation, a tactic known as sports laundering.
“No matter what they say, they will not be able to get rid of this reputation,” Widen said in an interview. Referring to Smart’s death, he added: “The Saudi Arabs could not have chosen a more offensive and painful place to hold a golf tournament.”
Terry Lenahan, the mayor of Little North Plains, with a population of 3440, has signed a letter to 10 other mayors in the area who are protesting the LIV tournament, but they admit they cannot stop it. Some members of Pumpkin Ridge have resigned in protest.
Some family members and survivors of the 9/11 attacks scheduled a press conference on Thursday to discuss what they called “any complicity” in golfers taking money from a country whose citizens included 19 of the 19 kidnappers.
Critics of the tournament point out that U.S. intelligence officials have concluded that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto leader of Saudi Arabia, has ordered the assassination and dismemberment of dissident and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018; That 81 men were executed in one day in Saudi Arabia in March, calling into question the fairness of the criminal justice system; And that Saudi women have not obtained a driving license until 2018 after a long ban and still have to obtain a permit from a male relative to make many decisions in their lives.
“I really felt a moral obligation to speak out and say we could not support this golf tournament because of where the funds came from to support it,” Lenahan said in an interview. “The issue is that the government of Saudi Arabia has publicly executed people, oppressed women and considered them second-class citizens. And killed the journalist and disbanded him. This is disgusting. “
Escalante Golf, a Texas firm that owns the Pumpkin Ridge course, did not respond to a request for comment.
The LIV tournament will continue against the background of realpolitik. As a candidate, President Biden has vowed that Saudi Arabia will become the “shield” of Khashoggi’s assassination. But Biden will travel to Saudi Arabia in mid-July to alleviate, among other things, the sharp rise in gasoline prices in the oil-rich United Kingdom.
In fact, the issue of human rights often leads to financial and marketing problems in the field of international sports. For example, China was named host of the 2022 Winter Olympics and the 2008 Summer Games. And the NBA runs strong business there. A recent ESPN report states that the owners of the league’s core team have invested more than $ 10 billion in China.
The creation of the LIV Tour again raised long-standing questions about the athletes’ moral commitment and their desire to compete and earn money.
In general, Wyden, who briefly played college basketball, said that Saudi Arabia’s approach “is really part of an autocratic game book.” He continued: “They come in and try to ransom everyone, to buy their silence,” they think, “something will upset someone on Tuesday, everyone will forget on Thursday.”
There will be a $ 25 million prize pool for the Portland tournament, including $ 5 million for team play and $ 4 million for individual winners.
At press conferences held here, golfers acknowledged the financial attractiveness of the LIV tour. And they said they respected the different opinions about their involvement. Some have denied human rights issues, while others, such as Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood, have said that golf can be a good force.
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“If we can help any country or anywhere in the world, that is what we are going to do,” Garcia said.
Pat Perez, an American golfer, frankly said that playing golf and spending less time on the road while participating in the LIV series is his “only concern”.
“I understand the topics you are trying to raise and these are terrible events, but I’m here to play golf,” Perez said. “This is my business.”
Koepka, a former world number one golfer and two-time winner of the U.S. Open and PGA Championships, called Perez’s remarks “quite spot-on” and said, “We are here to play golf.”
Bryson Dechambo, the 2020 US Open champion, was asked if he was bothered by the source of the prize at the LIV events. Deshambo said he believes golf is “the power of good and I think as time goes on, hopefully people will see the good that they are doing and what they are trying to achieve rather than look at the bad that has happened before. “I think it’s important to get out of here,” he said.
Andy McNeese, a member of Pumpkin Ridge’s board of directors who acts as a strict consultant, was unable to move forward.
Escalante Golf, the owner of the club, seems to be only interested in money for hosting the LIV tournament, McNeese said in an interview. As he told other reporters, McNee said Escalante had sold his honor, the Pumpkin Ridge Dignity, and “strangely, they sold part of my honor and I do not like it.”
He said he plans to visit the course to see the tournament set-up, but does not watch the competition. He handed out four tickets for three days to others. In this way, McNee said, “LIV does not take money from them.”