As its name suggests, the United States Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee is used to dealing with serious matters. Its members, including Mitt Romney, opponent of Barack Obama during the 2012 presidential election, focus on strategic issues. Like, recently, the lessons to be learned from the attack on the Boston marathon ten years ago, or the situation at the Mexican border.
US PGA Tour teams up with Saudi LIV Golf
This Tuesday, July 11, however, we will talk at the Capitol about a seemingly light subject: golf. Not because it is one of the favorite pastimes of senators, but because a foreign power is trying to take over the tournaments of the professionals of the little white ball, and that this prospect moves the banks of the Potomac. In early June, the PGA Tour, an almost century-old institution that manages the circuit in the United States, announced that it had reached an agreement with LIV Golf, a competitor created in October 2021 by the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF).
In a letter recently sent to the PGA Tour, Senator Richard Blumenthal, an influential member of the committee, was worried about seeing this “cherished institution” by the Americans going under the Saudi flag. But it is not only a question of tearing the American flag from the greens and the bunkers… In his letter, the elected Democrat recalls that the PIF, endowed with more than 700 billion dollars, “announced its intention to use sport to serve the strategic objectives of the Saudi government”. It is a question, in particular, of “making people forget the violations of human rights”.
Golf and football, vectors of Saudi “sportswashing”
Should the PGA Tour, and athletes in general, be accomplices in this offensive? A subject all the more delicate as Saudi Arabia remains associated in a certain number of Americans with the attacks of September 11, 2001 – 15 of the 19 terrorists were from the kingdom. Representatives of the families of victims were thus the first to protest against the ambitions of LIV Golf.
“What Saudi Arabia is currently doing, in golf in the United States but also in football in Europe, is “sportswashing”, explains Sarath Ganji, researcher at the Center for a New American Security in Washington and founder of the Autocracy and Global Sports Initiative. Sport is the best promotional tool when you have money. For Saudi Arabia, it is about changing the image of a country and a region associated with terrorism, conflicts, at a time of promoting tourism. »
Athletes at the service of Saudi ambitions
Tourism is one of the pillars of “Vision 2030”, Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s plan for the post-oil era. If Leo Messi, the Argentine football star, has not given in to the golden sirens of the Saudi championship, he has on the other hand signed a lucrative contract with Riyadh to regularly go on vacation to Saudi Arabia. And, above all, to make it known on social networks.
“The other advantage of sport is that it transforms its actors into favorable spokespersons, continues Sarath Ganji. Like the golfers who joined LIV Golf when it was created, before the merger. Asked by the press about the conception of human rights of their new employers, they kicked into touch, taking up Riyadh’s speech on their own…
This Tuesday, the representatives of the PGA Tour will have to deliver more precise answers to the American senators. Greg Norman, world star of the 1980s and 1990s, now boss of LIV Golf, like Yasir Al-Rumayyan, director of the PIF, made themselves excused, preferring to remain on the bench.