Whether you like the game of golf or not, what happened in the world of golf this week was dramatic, shocking, and incredible to say the least.
Critics say Saudi Arabia has bought the entire game of golf by pouring in huge sums of money.
In the words of Time magazine, golf could not show the restraint to refuse the money that Saudi Arabia gave, because this money is more powerful than any human rights organization.
The two major tours in the world of golf are the PGA Tour and the DP World Tour. The Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund or PIF settlement agreement with them is like a thunderbolt without a cloud to many.
Together they now run the world’s leading men’s professional golf tournaments.
The PGA and DP World Tours launched a rival golf tour last year called Liv Tour, but Saudi funder PIF was behind it.
PGA Tour lawyers then began an uproar, saying the Saudis were trying to “wash sports” by siphoning their money. That is, using the popularity of sports, they are trying to hide their misdeeds or human rights violations and increase their image.
But PGA bigwigs who were clamoring for ‘sportswashing’ last year have now struck a deal with the Saudi PIF in what they describe as a ‘fantastic’ deal.
After such comments, allegations of ‘hypocrisy’ have been leveled against PGA officials.
But no matter what one says, there is no doubt that the Saudi Petrodollar is making a big change not only in golf but in the whole world of sports.
A big example of this is the surprise deal with the Saudi PIF for two traditional world golf series.
Under the leadership of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the country is now pouring hundreds of billions of dollars to organize various types of sports, sponsoring and buying various clubs-organizations-institutions. The country’s interest and interest in sports is well-established.
First, they tried tennis, then boxing. They have hosted many other sporting events, including Formula One, and European club football finals.
Then the English Premier League club Newcastle United was bought by PIF. They even invited Cristiano Ronaldo to play in the Saudi League.
However, as ambitious and ambitious as Saudi Arabia’s investment may seem, such questions have not been raised until recently. Now it seems that Saudi Arabia wants to buy the entire sport.
This remarkable step of Saudi Arabia in the world of sports seems to be gaining momentum now. It seems to have reached another level now.
Another surprise announcement came hours after it was announced that two of the world’s most estranged camps in golf had reached a settlement agreement. Karim Benzema, another legendary footballer in the world, has been confirmed to play in the Saudi professional league this time. The PIF has already taken control of four of Saudi Arabia’s top teams. As a result, it was assumed that they would spend a lot of money to collect such players in another round.
At one stage there was speculation that Lionel Messi, the greatest player of his generation, would join the Saudi league. But Messi is now going to Inter Miami instead. But there is growing speculation that Saudi Arabia may want to host the 2030 World Cup, given its preparations. However, if this is the case, there will be a big debate about it.
Human rights activists believe that Saudi Arabia is using the popularity of sports to undercut its image problems, calling it ‘sportswash.’ , the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and fueling the Yemeni civil war – Saudi Arabia is widely debated and criticized for many reasons.
“Golf fans, and commentators, may have been surprised by this incident. But the fact that Saudi Arabia is moving forward with such a ‘sportswashing’ plan is just one more proof of that,” says Felix Jakens of Amnesty International.
“They want to be a big sporting power, that’s part of that big plan. And its real aim is to divert attention from the terrible human rights situation in the country”, he says.
Several of the country’s high-profile human rights violations have been heavily criticized. These include the execution of 81 people in one day and the imprisonment of 34 for Leeds University student Salma Al-Shihab for tweeting criticism of the government.
But the Saudi authorities rejected the criticism as unfair and hypocritical. Saudi authorities claim that sports are an important part of the grand plan that the ruler of Saudi Arabia is working on now called ‘Vision 2030’. The aim, they say, is to make Saudi Arabia more physically active, boost tourism, and diversify the economy to prepare the country for a post-oil world.
Geopolitical and regional conflicts are also believed to have played a major role in Saudi Arabia’s investment in sports. Saudi Arabia is now competing with the Gulf countries UAE and Qatar to prove that they are the main hub of sports in the Gulf region.
Yassir Al-Rumaian is the governor of the PIF, he is also the chairman of the new organization formed by the amalgamation of Newcastle United and the two golf series. I spoke to him last year when a series of golf rivals Liv was launched. He told me he had never heard of sportswashing.
However, those who are supporters of Saudi Arabia, are drawing attention to the business and trade that Western countries do with this country. They say, when Western countries are selling billions of dollars worth of arms to Saudi Arabia, why would golfers turn down Saudi Arabia’s unprecedented investment offer?
Some argue that the way Saudi Arabia invests in sports, and the way it is held accountable, Saudi money may have contributed to some reforms in the country. For example, Saudi Arabia has recently invested in the development of women’s football. Even FIFA has praised it, saying that football has spurred “greater social change” in the country. And while China has hosted the Olympic Games, Russia and Qatar have hosted the World Cup, Saudi Arabia is not the only country with human rights issues.
But there is no doubt that welcoming Saudi Arabian investment is both a challenge and an opportunity for sports executives.
Let’s take Jay Monahan, head of the PGA Tour. Welcoming the merger of PGA with PIF, he said it will increase the popularity of golf, unite golf. But his credibility is now in question. Because a group of victims and families of the 9/11 terror attack said, “They should be ashamed of themselves for their hypocrisy and greed.”
Monahan had previously criticized the terrorist attacks as golfers left the PGA Tour to rival golfers. In a meeting of the players, many demanded his resignation amid heated arguments. In particular, those who stayed on the PGA Tour, ignoring the temptation to leave, feel betrayed.
Football authorities are now under similar pressure. English Premier League chief executive Richard Masters was recently asked by MPs whether he would reconsider approving Newcastle United’s purchase of Saudi Arabia’s PIF. Richard Masters declined to comment. An assurance was given that the Saudi Arabian government would have no control over the club, which would also have legal obligations. But recently doubts have arisen about this again.
Meanwhile, FIFA had to drop the plan that Saudi Arabia’s tourism company ‘Visit Saudi’ would sponsor the Women’s World Cup football. Because the tournament’s two host nations, Australia and New Zealand – and their players – all strongly objected.
FIFA president Gianni Infantino said he smelled a “double standard” or hypocrisy in the criticism. He pointed to Australia’s trade with Saudi Arabia.
The International Cricket Council has come under similar criticism after striking a multimillion-dollar Saudi money partnership with Saudi Arabia’s state oil company Aramco. Concerns arose about sports’ relationship with the petroleum industry.
The ICC said the deal would make the organization more self-reliant. But now critics charge that cricket is being used for ‘greenwashing’, meaning that companies that are damaging the environment are trying to boost their image by being involved in the sport.
Despite these controversies, it is clear where the world of sports is heading now. They are chasing Middle Eastern Saudi money petro-dollars.
The announcement of this new era of golf comes at a time when English Premier League champions Manchester City are trying to win the UEFA Champions League title. If they win, they will win three major football tournament titles in the same year, a long-held dream of the club’s owner Sheikh Mansour of Abu Dhabi and part of a long-term 15-year plan.
On the other hand, Qatar-owned PSG won the Ligue-1 title in France for the 11th time. On the other hand, another billionaire banker from Qatar tried once more to buy Manchester United.
The huge amount of money that Saudi Arabia is pouring into the world of sports is actually part of a larger trend. As a result, the question arises in the mind of many: what next? At the beginning of this year, PIF was considering buying the entire Formula One with billions of dollars. There are rumors that similar plans are underway in tennis.
The Club World Cup is going to be held in Saudi Arabia this December – this is the first major FIFA event to be held in the country. There are also reports of a major deal to sponsor a new African Super League. Saudi Arabia will also host the Asian Cup football in the next few years and the 2029 Asian Winter Games.
Saudi Arabia’s vast wealth and ambition are changing world sports in ways no one could have imagined. As a result, those in charge of the world of sports have to face difficult questions and challenges that they have not had to face before.