If the LIV Golf Series is an attempt at a Saudi ‘sportwash’, it is not working

“And I don’t know that the Saudi funding of LIV really does that. I don’t think it distracts anyone from the role of Saudi Arabia in the contemporary moment.”

With its proximity to a number of Middle Eastern countries, its vast oil reserves have poured more than $600 billion into the kingdom’s Public Investment Fund that has flooded the LIV Tour, and its desire to diversify its economy by gambling in sports and entertainment . , culture and more, Saudi Arabia’s position in the geopolitical sphere and the economy is as central and complex as the entire planet.

This complication is the kingdom’s human rights record, and a stain that LIV Golf is not removing.

Starting with the killing and dismantling of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which US government sources believe was approved by Saudi leader Mohammed bin Salman, the list includes, according to Amnesty International researcher Dana Ahmed, arbitrary arrests and detentions of protesters, arbitrary travel bans against activists in, the use of the death penalty in a group Widespread crimes, and intentional medical and administrative neglect of immigrants, Saudi Arabia also persecutes members of the LGBTQ+ community.

Apart from LIV, Saudi Arabia has been active on other sports investment fronts, including the purchase of Premier League club Newcastle and Formula 1 racing events.

“The Saudi authorities have used this to distract the international community from their appalling human rights record,” Ahmed said. “Golf Leaf is a major event that takes place across continents and is part of the sports washing campaign in Saudi Arabia. This requires that the communities that host these events be examined against the backdrop of human rights in Saudi Arabia.”

Then there is the state’s role in the September 11 attacks. Recently declassified FBI documents indicate greater Saudi involvement in the planning and execution of the attacks than previously believed.

Almost 22 years later, the decision to hold LIV Golf this weekend in Bolton – not far from Boston’s Logan Airport, where two of the four hijacked planes used in the attacks took off – amounts to a mockery of those who still mourning the loss of nearly 3,000 people. their lives. .

“I think the PR game they tried to do was a fiasco,” said Brett Eggelson, son of John Bruce Eggelson, the World Trade Center victim and head of the 9/11 Justice Organization. “If anything, this LIV golf tournament has raised public awareness of the Kingdom’s role on 9/11.

“The controversy gave the 9/11 community a golden opportunity, and I think we were very efficient and smart in taking advantage of it; We will continue to do so.

Brett Eggelson (right), president of Justice for 9/11 Victims, talks with David Ferti (left), broadcaster for the LIV Golf Series, at a tournament in Bedminster, NJ, in July.Doug Mills / The New York Times

“The longer they continue to announce the suspension of the tournament, the more we will continue to speak, and we will continue to involve ourselves in that conversation and bring attention back to what Saudi Arabia has done.”

Despite Saudi Arabia’s record in those areas, its isolation from the Western world is waning, and LIV Gulf is a consequence rather than a cause. Oil profits boosted the Saudi economy and increased the reserves of the Public Investment Fund. The country has made significant investments in companies such as Uber, Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Nintendo and JP Morgan Chase.

“The thing to remember is that every sport is a game and every play has a political content,” Bass said. When has sport ever frozen global politics? Do we want to see a freeze in global politics or do we want to see sports as an opportunity to conquer terror with moments of greatness?

“That’s what I think golf strives for. Are you kind of cherry picking? I’m not for it or against it anyway, I think it’s a lot more complicated than ‘bad LIV’ because there’s Saudi money behind it. “

The modern history of sports washing begins with the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, which were held under the leadership of Adolf Hitler. The United States, where the Jim Crow laws admired by Hitler were then in full effect, was among the countries that resisted calls to boycott the Games.

These Olympics were a propaganda coup for the Nazis, with little representation of black and Jewish athletes – Jesse Evans being a notable exception. The city temporarily removed anti-Semitic banners and Roman street gangs and relaxed anti-homosexual laws in favor of international visitors.

Hosting a prestigious international event like the Olympics or the World Cup – trust the theme of sports washing to resurface before the FIFA Men’s World Cup in Qatar in November – the most common sports washing technique. The 2014 Vladimir Putin Winter Olympics in Sochi and the Beijing Winter Olympics last February are two notable recent examples.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (second from right) appeared at the closing ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.Daron Cummings/AFP

Buying or sponsoring a team in a prestigious league like Putin’s beloved team-mate Roman Abramovich with Chelsea in the Premier League (before Putin’s invasion of Ukraine forced Abramovich to sell) is another way the sport to wash up

LIV Golf charts a new course.

“LIV kind of breaks those rules by starting and disrupting a new round and throwing ridiculous amounts of money at people to join, which is a completely different thing,” says Victoria Jackson, a sports historian and professor of clinical history at Arizona State University. . “This is an insider and very power grab with powerful stakeholders.”

The more Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries such as Qatar and the UAE turn to sports, the more they shed light on human rights abuses and whether their claims of reform and their good intentions are genuine.

“What is important here is what Saudi Arabia does in the future,” Jackson said. “Do they start a war, invade their neighbors, or continue on this path? Do they keep killing journalists in really brutal ways?

“Are they trying to further reform the laws so that there is more freedom for all the people living in the kingdom, including migrant workers? If so, sport wash.”


Michael Silverman can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter: Embed tweet.

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