Gulf LIV backed by Saudi Arabia has nothing to be ashamed of


The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is using golf to strengthen its presence on the world stage. The new sovereign wealth fund-funded LIV golf tour launched in June, and many people are still not happy. Critics from the worlds of politics and golf suggest that sport will become a vehicle for Saudi political ambitions. And not everyone likes the recipe for faster gameplay and a festive atmosphere instead of a heavy one.

However, I think everything will be fine.

LIV spends a lot of money, causing feelings of envy among some players and fear in PGA that it could overwhelm them. The new round will spend at least $2.4 billion over the next four years, a lot of money in the golf world. LIV also faces Phil Mickelson – golf star – about $200 million to go on tour.

The nonprofit PGA, the dominant force in professional golf, has fallen behind in a well-funded competition. The Professional Players Association responded to the new Saudi project by banning its players from participating. It may be a violation of antitrust law, but at least it’s another sign that a lot of things in the golf world need to be turned around.

Is the new golf project an attempt to whitewash the reputation of Saudi Arabia? Former President Donald Trump said it would be “huge propaganda” for the Saudis, likely one of the reasons for the investment. But Saudi money has already been accepted by many other people, in sports and more. The British football team (or rather football) Newcastle United is a Saudi-backed club, but it does not appear – strictly speaking – to be a major source of controversy. Much Saudi investment flows to venture capitalists, enabling consumers to profit from technology products. Few seem to care or even know about him, although he gained attention when a Saudi prince endorsed Elon Musk’s program on Twitter. Why should golf be any different?

People accept foreign investment from other countries all the time, including countries that many find offensive. The Russian oligarch owns the American basketball team Brooklyn Nets. It is now owned by Joseph C. Tsai of the Alibaba Group, who has criticized the “separatist” movement in Hong Kong. I did not notice that such ownership made despotism more popular in Brooklyn.

America buys a lot of oil from Saudi Arabia – and has for a long time. It is odd that they would take their oil but not their golf investment, especially when the former involves so many complex foreign policy and climate change issues.

The problem may be that the Saudis will clearly be the main force behind the new golf league. But is this a major corruption of the American social fabric? Only about 8% of the American population plays golf.

Golf and Saudis may come under more scrutiny, and golf will end up looking less cool. Maybe the Saudis will eventually be less cool too. Martin Gorey, a former CIA analyst, noted that attention these days often leads to a more negative reputation, regardless of the reputation gained. Drop the chips where you can.

I am aware of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, including the killing of an American journalist in 2018 and the unjust execution of 81 prisoners in one day earlier this year. But I also see that the kingdom is capable of change. For example, in recent years, women in the country have gained more legal protection.

I remember my story as a champion chess player earlier in my life. I eagerly followed the chess tournaments of the Soviet and Communist blocs and used these tournaments as an opportunity to reflect on the bad (and sometimes good) sides of Soviet life.

In any case, there is no guarantee that a new golf venture will be successful, because most new ventures and most new tournaments end in failure. So far, LIV Golf has been unable to secure a major TV deal, so it is not on track to ensure dominance or even survival.

There is reason to be unhappy with the Saudi system, but their efforts to play golf should not be near the top of the list.

More writers at Bloomberg Opinion:

• Rushdie’s attack exposes hard truths about Iran’s soft power: Bobby Ghosh

• Why are some tax credits only modified to take inflation into account? : Alexis Leondis

• Are supersonic passenger jets making a comeback? Not So Fast: Thomas Black

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editors or Bloomberg LB and its owners.

Tyler Coen is a columnist for the Bloomberg Opinion. He is a professor of economics at George Mason University and writes for the blog Marginal Revolution. He is the co-author of Talent: How to Recognize the Powers, Creators, and Winners of the World.

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