Golfers set aside ‘reprehensible’ Saudi measures to join series


ST. ALBANS, England (AP) — Graeme McDowell admits it’s “incredibly polarizing” to join the Saudi-funded rebel golf tour. He even offered a reason.

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

The Northern Irish golfer was referring to the 2018 murder of Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. US intelligence has said it believes 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.

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

The tour is the latest leg of Saudi Arabia’s bid to reposition itself as a funder of lavish sporting events rather than an associate of human rights abuses, which advocacy groups rights call “sportswashing”.

McDowell tries to avoid discussing the specifics of the country he actually works for.

“I really feel like golf is a force for good in the world – I just try to be a great role model for the kids,” he 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 the game of golf as a way for them to get to where they want to be and they have the resources to accelerate that experience, I think we’re proud to help them on that journey by using the game of golf and the abilities we have to help develop the sport and take them where they want to be.

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

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

“We’re just here to focus on golf and what it’s doing globally for the role models these guys are.”

McDowell has done most of the talking about Saudi rights issues, with two-time Major winner Dustin Johnson earlier responding: “I would say pretty much the exact same thing. I agree with what Graeme said. ___

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