In a recent hearing, the proposed merger between LIV Golf, a Saudi-backed organization, and the PGA Tour became the center of attention. This merger has sparked a debate about the influence of a repressive regime and its impact on an esteemed American institution. Senators had the opportunity to voice their concerns regarding this alliance during a Tuesday Senate subcommittee panel.
LIV Golf’s Challenge to the PGA Tour
LIV Golf, established in 2021 as a direct competitor to the PGA Tour, has successfully enticed golfers away from the traditional league by offering lucrative contracts worth millions of dollars. Backed by the Saudi Arabia sovereign wealth fund, LIV Golf has positioned itself as a powerful force in the golfing world.
The Defense of the Deal
During the panel, PGA Tour board member Jimmy Dunne defended the proposed merger against critics who pointed out Saudi links to the 9/11 terrorist attack. Dunne vehemently denied any collaboration with individuals connected to such grave offenses, emphasizing his unequivocal commitment to protecting the integrity of his country.
The Concerns of 9/11 Families United
Representatives from 9/11 Families United, a group comprised of individuals who lost family members during the devastating attack in 2001, attended the hearing. Since the formation of LIV Golf and the recruitment of athletes to its league, this group has consistently raised concerns and criticized both the organization and the athletes involved.
Maintaining Control: PGA Tour’s Assurance
Both Jimmy Dunne and PGA Tour COO Ron Price reassured the senators that despite the merger, the PGA Tour would retain full decision-making power concerning all aspects related to competitions. They emphasized that golf’s future would remain under their jurisdiction.
Human Rights Concerns
Senators utilized a significant portion of their time during the hearing to bring attention to the well-documented human rights abuses carried out by the current Saudi regime. Senator Richard Blumenthal, a vocal critic of the LIV Golf-PGA Tour merger, had previously condemned the deal, suggesting that the PGA Tour had compromised its commitment to human rights.
The Issue of Sportswashing
Many senators have raised concerns about the concept of “sportswashing,” which refers to the use of sporting events to improve the image of tarnished entities. Senator Ron Johnson, a Republican from Wisconsin, acknowledges that sportswashing is a legitimate issue. However, he emphasizes that no amount of money can erase the stain of the brutal Khashoggi assassination and other human rights abuses.
Despite this, Sen. Johnson believes it would be unfair to place the full burden of holding Saudi Arabia accountable on the PGA Tour. He points out that individuals who drive cars or use oil-based products have indirectly contributed to the Saudi public investment fund, and therefore, there is nothing inherently wrong with the PGA Tour negotiating its own survival.
In light of the merger between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf, both parties have mutually agreed to drop their lawsuits against each other. Additionally, Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund will make a significant financial investment in the newly-formed entity and become a corporate sponsor for events.
Notably, several high-profile golfers have already joined LIV Golf, including Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau, and Patrick Reed. Reports suggest that Mickelson was offered a staggering $200 million just to play in the league, while Johnson was offered $150 million for his participation. Furthermore, tournament winnings for LIV Golf events could potentially result in even bigger payments for these golfers.
According to the U.S. Department of State, Saudi Arabia has faced numerous accusations of human rights violations in recent years. These include unlawful killings, executions for nonviolent offenses, forced disappearances, torture and mistreatment of prisoners by government agents, harsh prison conditions, arbitrary arrest and detention, and targeting political prisoners.