Saudi Arabia Ignites A Golf War Showcasing Greed & Who Prefers Money Over Human Rights
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Saudi Arabia Ignites Golf War Showcasing Who Prefers Money Over Human Rights

LIV Golf invitational Series Coined as “Sportwashing”

Saudi Arabia ignites a golf war through their soft power strategy to enhance its international status. Thus, Saudi Arabia is hosting the LIV Golf Invitational Series. This event started in London on June 9th 2022. This golf event meticulously established the tactful method of “sportswashing” to protect the Saudi’s tarnished reputation. Critics have been comparing the LIV Tournament to Nazi Germany hosting the Olympics in 1936. This golf industry showdown begs many moral and legal questions.

Specifically, Saudi Arabia uses this sporting event to gloss over and divert attention from the regime’s ongoing human rights abuses. These include, amongst others, a brutal penal system, intolerance of political dissent and the mistreatment of girls and women.

Moreover, Saudi Arabia has moved beyond investing in a sport and has now made a play to control one. The Saudi sovereign wealth fund offers high-profile professional golfers record-breaking contracts and tournament prizes. Shockingly, the first LIV Series individual winner will receive a staggering $4 million in prize money. This is coming from a total prize fund worth $20 million. This tournament is promising top players multimillion-dollar paydays.

The PGA Tour Strikes Back: An Illegal Monopoly?

The Saudi golf league represents a considerable obstacle to the PGA Tour’s dominance. In retaliation to Saudi’s brutal fight for control over elite professional golf, the PGA Tour suspended 17 players participating in the LIV event’s first rounds.

Phil Mickelson, whose name is in the spotlight, signed a $200 million contract to play in the LIV golf tour. Despite Mickelson admitting the Saudi’s despicable human rights record, he held that the PGA tour needed competition. Consequently, the PGA tour suspended Mickelson from participating in all future PGA Tours, the primary North American circuit of professional golf.

Greg Norman, the CEO of LIV Golf, an Australian former pro golfer, has held that the PGA Tour is perpetuating an illegal monopoly over golf in what should be a free and open market. The PGA’s decision faces criticism, with some calling the suspension anti-golfer, anti-fan, and anti-competitive.

What Human Rights Abuses Are Saudi Arabia Committing?

Restricted Freedom of Expression, Association and Belief

Human rights activists speaking out against the regime routinely face repression. Saudi Arabia consistently carries out arbitrary arrests, trials and convictions of peaceful dissidents. Many activists face lengthy prison sentences in response to peaceful protests.

Abdulrahman al-Sadhan, an aid worker, faces 20 years in prison and a 20-year travel ban due to an arrest related to his peaceful expression. Moreover, there have been many reports that the Saudi authorities reportedly torture prisoners and compel them to sign false confessions.

A US intelligence report confirmed that Jamal Khashoggi was likely murdered under the approval of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. In the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Khashoggi, a journalist, was strangled to death. Subsequently, the journalist’s body was dismembered with a bone saw. One official Saudi present that day called Khashoggi “the sacrificial animal.”

The Trump administration ignored the killing of Khashoggi. Furthermore, the current Biden Administration has stated they are willing to move past the killing to maintain relations with Saudi Arabia. Moreover, the CIA did not conclude that Salman ordered the assassination, and the Saudi government has not admitted any involvement. Greg Norman stated, “look, we’ve all made mistakes”, when questioned about the murder.

A Brutal Criminal Justice System

Saudi Arabia’s horrific justice system applies its uncodified interpretation of Sharia (Islamic law) as its national law. Saudi Arabia has no written penal code or narrowly worded regulations. Consequently, judges and prosecutors can convict people on various offences under broad charges. Specifically, these charges include “breaking allegiance with the ruler” or “trying to distort the kingdom’s reputation”. Prisoners are consistently denied their due process and fair trial rights, including arbitrary arrest.

Saudi Arabia Has Committed Numerous Violations of International Humanitarian Law

Since the Saudi-led coalition entered Yemen seven years ago, millions of children in the country have faced poverty and starvation. The United Nations confirms that more than 10,200 children have been killed or injured. However, the actual figure is likely much higher.

The Saudi-led coalition has imposed an aerial and naval blockade in Yemen since March 2015. This coalition has restricted the flow of life-saving goods and has restricted Yemenis from travelling into and out of the country to varying degrees throughout the conflict.

Mistreatment of Girls and Women’s Rights

Saudi Arabia offers women very little freedom and autonomy. In recent years, women’s rights have slightly improved. Women over 21 years have a legal right to a passport and to travel abroad without a guardian’s permission. In July 2018, Saudi Arabia lifted its ban on female drivers.

Women face considerable discrimination concerning marriage, family, divorce, and child custody. Men can file cases against girls and women under their guardianship for “disobedience”. This gives men ultimate power over women resulting in a forcible return to the male guardian’s home or potential imprisonment. However, a male guardian must still approve girls and women getting married, leaving prison, or accessing certain healthcare services.

Saudi Arabia has gender-segregated public transport, entrances to buildings, and public eating areas in restaurants. Men and women are not allowed to show public displays of affection even if married.

Saudi Arabia Has Invested Billions Into “Sportswashing”

In 2021, the Saudi Public Investment Fund owned 80% of Newcastle United FC’s English football team. Saudi Arabia has cut major deals with Formula 1 racing, alongside WWE, horseracing, tennis and chess championships.

In 2021, it was estimated that the oil-rich nation spent at least $1.5 billion on high-profile international sporting events to bolster its reputation and cover its abuses.

Saudi Arabia Ignites Golf War Through Sportswashing Showcasing Who Prefers Money Over Human Rights
Caption: Saudi Arabia ignites golf war by bribing golfers with money in the LIV tours to cover their ongoing human rights abuses.

Saudi Arabia Has Changed Golf Forever Through Sportswashing

Saudi Arabia uses sports disingenuously to launder its reputation and simultaneously distract the world from its abysmal human-rights record. Therefore, the LIV tournament has changed golf forever.

Watching golfers like Mickelson, Johnson, Schwartzel, and all of their morally bankrupt colleagues playing at the LIV tournament truly showcases who prefers money over supporting human rights. They are chasing obscene wealth while saying nothing that would offend their masters. These golfers claim to be exercising their right to free agency, all in the name of supporting a barbaric nation responsible for numerous ongoing human rights violations.

Saudi Arabia’s brutal regime has got “sportswashing” down to a tee, and the west is more than willing to be its caddie.

Laura Shorten
Laura Shorten is an Irish human rights consultant and researcher based in the Netherlands. Laura qualified with an International Bachelor of Social Sciences degree from University College Dublin. She majored in politics, international relations and social policy. Laura graduated from Technological University Dublin with a Postgraduate Diploma in Law. In 2021, she graduated with an Advanced LL.M in International Children’s Rights at Leiden University. Laura specializes in international law, children’s human rights, political science, international relations, middle eastern studies, refugee/migration law, gender studies, strategic litigation and global diplomacy. Laura has published various articles pertaining to international law and human rights violations occuring worldwide. Laura defended her Advanced Master’s Thesis entitled “An Analysis of the Convention on the Rights of the Child’s Legal Framework in Protecting Children’s Right to Health and Right to Life in the Face of Climate Change”. This thesis is published on the Leiden University website under the Advanced Master of Law Theses for children's rights. Laura has previously worked for UNICEF Ireland, campaigning for children worldwide who are facing discrimination and living in war zones.

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