The shock announcement of a new commercial entity for golf backed by the financial power of Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund is “just more evidence of the onward march of Saudi sportswashing”, Amnesty International has said.
The PGA Tour and the Saudi-backed LIV Golf Tour have ceased their ongoing litigation and instead committed to working together on commercial matters, alongside the European Tour, currently called the DP World Tour under a sponsorship agreement.
The news has created shockwaves within the sport, with the heavy level of influence of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) in the new venture already very apparent even at this early stage.
PIF governor Yasir Al Rumayyan will chair the new entity’s board of governors, while the statement announcing the merger said the PIF “will make a capital investment into the new entity to facilitate its growth and success”.
It added that PIF will have the exclusive right to further invest in the new entity, including a right of first refusal on any capital invested in the new entity, including into the PGA Tour, LIV Golf and DP World Tour.
Amnesty says this is further evidence of Saudi efforts to draw attention away from the country’s human rights record.
“While this may have taken some golf fans and commentators by surprise, it’s really just more evidence of the onward march of Saudi sportswashing,” Felix Jakens, Amnesty International UK’s head of priority campaigns and individuals at risk said.
“It’s been clear for some time that Saudi Arabia was prepared to use vast amounts of money to muscle its way into top-tier golf – just part of a wider effort to become a major sporting power and to try to distract attention from the country’s atrocious human rights record.
“Away from the glamour of the golf courses and the TV cameras there’s been mounting repression in Saudi Arabia, with government critics and human rights activists arrested, a spate of unfair trials, and with the death penalty widely used, including as a tool of political repression.
“The world of golf may be about to put one of its most high-profile commercial battles behind it, but it’s vital that this latest surge in Saudi sportswashing isn’t allowed to obscure the increasingly dire human rights situation in Saudi Arabia.”
American star Phil Mickelson, one of the top professionals who signed up to the LIV Golf series, was much more positive.
“Awesome day today,” he wrote in a quote-tweet about the news of the merger.