Saudi support for golf set to spark controversy for years to come
There has been a lot of talk about money in recent days, with Newcastle United wrapped up in the kind of mind-boggling riches you would get if King Midas suddenly appeared in your house and started touching everything.
While the ability to turn all manner of odds, turfs, chunks and bobs into gold would, I’m sure, have certain advantages, I always thought old Midas must have lived a pretty hectic existence due to powers of transformation which have been conferred on it.
Imagine, for example, the overwhelming social embarrassment of being the first in line at an appetizer buffet held as part of George and Bessie’s 50th wedding anniversary at the bowling club and inadvertently spinning around the Vol-au-vent or the cheese and pineapple hedgehog in solid, shiny clumps of inedible precious metal just as hungry guests lined up with an empty plate behind you? What an atrocious palaver.
Forget the Midas touch, however. These days, it is the bullet in the Saudi arm that continues to be talked about. The Newcastle takeover is the talking point of the Toon Army and beyond. In golf, meanwhile, the Saudi impact continues this week with the final Aramco Team Series on the Ladies European Tour (LET) in New York.
With a $ 1 million fund, the lucrative Pro-Am competition is one of four such events on LET, while the somewhat awkwardly titled Aramco Saudi Ladies International Presented by Public Investment Fund in November offers a another enticing $ 1 million date in the circuit diary. This Public Investment Fund, of course, is the same sovereign wealth gimmick involved in buying Newcastle.
Considering the scale of the planned operation at St James’ Park, the investment in LET is hardly staggering in comparison but the influence continues to grow. Across the golf course, the Kingdom’s tentacles are wrapped around various elements of the game. There are official male and female ambassadors sporting the Golf Saudi logo on their polo shirts, high-profile events taking place on the men’s circuits and women and basic programs are in place. Even Jack Nicklaus jumps on the sauce train and designs a course there.
Talks about a Saudi-backed world super golf league, meanwhile, have never gone away, while a recently struck 10-year deal with the Asian Tour for the money-rich Saudi international event. gives the Kingdom more traction for its ambitions of world domination. It’s like a Bond villain who offers to “make the game grow.”
Of course, behind all of this lies the gruesome shadow of human rights in an oppressive culture where torture and death are the price of dissent and basic human rights are routinely violated.
In terms of morals, top-level sport will never be confused with Mother Thérèse. All areas surrounding consciousness tend to be sacrificed on the altar of business realities. But when governments and global corporations are making all kinds of deals with the Saudis, can we really expect a group of golfers to act as moral arbiter?
Some have taken a stand, of course. England golfer Meg MacLaren, for example, refused to participate in the inaugural Saudi Women’s Championship last year “on the basis of what I think the sport is used to do in Saudi Arabia.”
While MacLaren admitted she didn’t want to be seen as ‘lecturing’ her fellow pros, it was an honest and heartfelt approach from a golfer who often says what she thinks and isn’t content with just saying what she thinks. trotting sound bites and bland platitudes. As an avid Newcastle fan herself, we don’t yet know her take on the weekend’s takeover. Presumably, she wasn’t opening Broon Ale?
In the LET, the Saudis found a very accommodating partner. Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, the circuit urgently needed more events and bigger prizes as the program ended up being stripped to the bone like a stricken gazelle falling into a pool of piranha fish.
Outside of major tournaments and the Women’s Scottish Open, events supported by Aramco are now the most lucrative on the LET program. MacLaren is on the entry list for this week’s tournament and it will be his first appearance in the series. Unlike its male counterparts, having the opportunity to play for a big jackpot of $ 1 million doesn’t show up every week on the LET. Her Saudi sponsorship will, no doubt, be uncomfortable with her take on the Kingdom and her ties to the game, but she also has to think about her livelihood. It’s a dilemma that will continue as Saudi influence in golf and sport in general grows.
AND SOMETHING ELSE
Money speaks. In fact, he’s not just talking, he’s roaring in your face. Traditionalists have revolted in some quarters over an overhaul of the first female major of the year. Starting in 2023, what used to be the ANA Inspiration, which was held each spring at its longtime headquarters in Mission Hills, Calif., Will be renamed the Chevron Championship and move to Texas. The upside is that the stock market will be inflated from $ 3.1 million to $ 5 million in a six-year deal while a network television deal has been struck. Can’t imagine that you’ll hear a lot of female players getting nostalgic for the tradition if it means more money and more visibility for women’s football?