Jun 12, 2022
Saudi-backed tournament creates hazard for professional golf Transcript
The intersection of sports and geopolitics continued to play out Saturday during the first-ever LIV Golf series in London. The new competition is backed by the Saudi government and Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman amid heavy criticisms of the country’s human rights record and the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. Read the transcript here.
Transcribe Your Own Content
Try Rev and save time transcribing, captioning, and subtitling.
Finally, tonight, the intersection of sports and geopolitics. Today was the final round of the first ever LIV Golf Series in London. The new competition is backed by the Saudi government and its leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Saudi Arabia’s human rights records have been criticized over a number of issues, including the war in Yemen, the treatment of LGBTQ people, and the murder of Washington Post columnist, Jamal Khashoggi. Now, Khashoggi’s fiance is weighing in, saying that participating golfers should be banned from major tournaments. USA Today’s sports columnist Christine Brennan is here to talk about this. Christine, thanks for being with us. First off, just the basics. What is this new tournament and why is it so controversial?
Christine Brennan: (00:47)
John, what’s happened is a man named Greg Norman, major champion winner from the past, has been working for quite a while with Saudi leaders and certainly Saudi money to come up with an alternative golf series to the PGA tour. Now, this, by no means, is that competitive in terms of the actual number of good players. It is much smaller. It’s only 54 holes and normal golf tournament’s 72 holes, but it’s all about the money. And what has happened over the last few weeks, 17 PGA Tour players have now been suspended by the PGA Tour because they have decided to go and play in the LIV Golf Series. It started in London, as you mentioned, ending today, and there will be tournaments around the United States and there’s several others.
Christine Brennan: (01:39)
It’s almost an exhibition. It’s certainly not necessarily leading to anything. They’ve got teen competition. It’s different than what we’re used to with the PGA or the LPGA Tour. But with all that Saudi money, they are making quite a splash. And the controversy, as you described, because of the connection with the murder of Jamal Khashoggi among many other transgressions and terrible things that they have done, is gaining all of the attention that these golfers, many of them Americans, including Phil Mickelson and others, have now decided to be in business with the Saudi.
Is money the main motivation here?
Christine Brennan: (02:22)
Oh yeah, absolutely. Certainly not the quality of competition because they’re leaving the great competition, John. They’re leaving the PGA Tour. They’re leaving the best players in the world and going off on their own. It’s almost like retirement. So, they go and they play, and there’s no consequences if you play poorly, and they’re also getting so much money up front. I mean, I’m sure people have seen potentially hundreds of millions of dollars as advanced money, so the prize money almost doesn’t matter even though that’s huge as well. And that is certainly one of the reasons for the sports criticism of this as being nothing more than an exhibition.
As you said, the PGA suspended the players who participated in this. What does this mean for golf moving forward? The PGA doesn’t set the field for next week’s US open, but what are the implications for golf moving forward?
Christine Brennan: (03:14)
This is a crisis for men’s golf, John. It is really a broad side because of the money that the Saudis have, and then because of the controversy that’s inherent with taking Saudi money. And so, you’ve got one of the biggest names in the history of the sport, Phil Mickelson, who has decided to leave the PGA Tour and go off and do this. Golf doesn’t need this civil war and yet now it has come upon them. It is now something they have to deal with. And yes, the US Open which is in Boston next week, they’re going to allow the Saudi players to come back and play in that because they’d already qualified. The question on the table is the British Open in a month, and the Masters’ next April. Will they also allow these men who are taking Saudi money to come and play in their tournaments? Because if they do, then these Saudi guys could say, “Hey, I can go make all this money and I can still come back and play the four men’s majors.”
Christine Brennan: (04:08)
This is a big problem for golf structure, and frankly, the chickens have come home to roost, John, because all of these years of golf being so incredibly missing and deficient in leadership on cultural issues, especially discrimination against Black men and women. Now, the fact that they seem to have no spine and seem to have no leadership that can really, really clamp down on these kinds of things, now they have to deal with something that they have never had to deal with before.
And beyond golf, you referred to this as sports washing Saudi Arabia’s reputation. What do these players say when they’re asked about the Saudi human rights record, much less alone, the killing of the Washington Post columnist.
Christine Brennan: (04:53)
Yes. Well, there are talking points that have been revealed, that they have told what to say when they’re asked these questions inevitably by the journalists wherever in London or wherever. Certainly that I’ll see them at the US Open and be willing to ask these tough questions as well. And, you know, Phil Mickelson talks a good game. He says, “Of course, the killing of Jamal Khashoggi is reprehensible.” And then, he goes right into, “But we’re going to help grow the game.”
Christine Brennan: (05:20)
Well, that’s ridiculous. They’re going to help grow Phil’s bank account. Grow the game, again, that’s really the sports washing. Obviously, I’m a columnist, I’m giving my opinion. But there’s no doubt that this idea that they’re going to try to do good things, it’s all about trying to help the Saudis here.
And the families of the victims of 9/11 are now speaking out.
Christine Brennan: (05:44)
They are, yes. Reporting today about that in The New York Post that they have sent a scathing letter to Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson, and the others. Basically, “How dare you? How dare you take this money? How dare you be a part of anything that was part of the terrible tragedy?” The Saudis, of course, leading the way in the attack on 9/11. And I’m sure there are people other, John, who’s saying, “But doesn’t Saudi Arabia have… They had a tournament recently and LPGA, they played there.”
Christine Brennan: (06:16)
A tournament is one thing, one week. This is Phil Mickelson going into business with the Saudis. This is all about being part of the MBS brand, and the Saudi government, and the Saudi investment fund [inaudible 00:06:29]. It’s much more than just playing somewhere where they put the tournament that week. This is a choice that Phil Mickelson has made; to go into business with these people.
Christine Brennan of USA Today. Thank you very much.
Christine Brennan: (06:41)
John, thank you.