Moral outrage over Greg Norman’s extraordinary defense of Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses and assassination of Jamal Khashoggi in 2018 has spread far beyond golf, but has rarely penetrated the complexity within locker rooms. Norman’s outrageously lucrative advocacy series, funded solely by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, has attracted modest interest rather than condemnation from players over the past few months, and only then did it succeed. Phil Mickelson made a similar slip in February that reduced the competitive league’s potential to a series of eight disruptive events.
The first of those wills is next month at Centurion FC in St Albans, with Mickelson, Lee Westwood, Sergio Garcia and Ian Poulter among those seeking release to compete in the $ 25m (£ 20m) tournament. It became a legal battlefield in its own right, with Norman promising to “defend, indemnify and represent players” if their participation leads to fines and bans on the PGA and DP World Tours. This threat of uncertainty may cause a new wave of hesitation, but the ethical barriers were much less clear.
Mike Lorenzo Vera, a colorful and popular passenger on a European tour, said in February he would not accept an invitation to any Saudi-backed event after watching a BBC documentary on the war in Yemen. Now the Frenchman is urging his teammates to speak out and is calling on supporters to boycott the first meeting at Centurion.
“If you ever go to the players’ lounge, at least one table speaks of [the LIV Series]”says independent. “Even me, I will also play for that amount of money for my family, my passion, but there will come a time when you have to stand up a little and be human. I know there are players who are uncomfortable with it, but they seem to stay calm just in case a piece of the cake comes to them one day. “Some players will speak, but the fans must also boycott it, do not go there.”
The LIV Golf Invitational Series will be worth $ 225 million (£ 184 million) in 2022 alone, and Lorenzo Vera says the massive amounts spent on players are “irrational” and make it impossible to make the main rounds of the competitive league to threaten. as Norman announced that the Saudis had invested an additional $ 2 billion (£ 1.6 billion) on Tuesday.
“There is no chance of stopping it now,” said Lorenzo Vera. “They have a lot of money and they have Greg Norman. They will slowly build a round, and they will surely succeed. I only speak with my voice, but without hope. ”
Until such a competitive league is properly established, however, Lorenzo-Vera likes to invite events, which will be played uncut on 54 holes, to a “comedy show”.
“If you play like s ***, you still take a hundred thousand,” he says. “The guys at the top will fight back, but for the rest it’s like a paid holiday. Figure is not golf. It’s just a show. ”
Lorenzo Vera loved the whole of Norman, Westwood and Garcia when she was growing up and “respected them just as much as golfers”. But especially in the case of the latter two, who together take home £ 60 million in career prize money alone, Lorenzo Vera says he struggles to reconcile that admiration and their choice. “I like them a lot, but I do not understand them,” he says. “I do not understand it, I may be stupid, but only for the money you can spit on the PGA Tour? “
He is not blind to the hypocrisy of this statement, having twice in the past accepted invitations to play in Saudi Arabia, and does not claim to be virtuous or politically correct. But on the second of those visits to the controversial Saudi international gathering that was formerly part of the European tour schedule, Lorenzo Vera said he felt “uncomfortable” and that the experience left “a strange taste” in his mouth.
“I’m just an athlete,” he says, “I quit studying early, and I didn’t get much news when I was younger, so I talk about feelings and how I feel.” “I feel that some places are wrong for me to play and Saudi Arabia is definitely one of those places. And do not get me wrong, we’re going to places [on the European Tour] We should not go already. But that does not mean we should allow Saudi Arabia either. We can reduce the problem instead of continuing with it. “
It’s an individual choice and Lorenzo Vera ensures he can sympathize with less successful players who may need money to secure their future. “I would definitely have made a mistake when I was younger,” he says. But he is now 37 years old and is worried that one day, when his children are older, they might be ashamed that he took the money. It’s not a cross he wants to carry, nor does he think he’s alone in this regard.
You can not be perfect, but you can try to be a little better, ”he says. “The players are afraid to say it, they are afraid to be in the heat. Be respectful of people, but if you’re against something, just say so. ”