Last month, Australian golf legend Greg Norman was officially named Chief Executive Officer of LIV Golf Investments. As CEO, the man known as the “Great White Shark” will oversee a new 10-event golf series on the Asian Tour with the long-term goal of luring big players away from the America’s PGA Tour.
Burning a hole in his pocket is $ 200 million in new funding from LIV’s lead investor, Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), a supposedly autonomous institution actually run by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – the man responsible for the execution of the journalist Jamal. Khashoggi is in touch at the Saudi consulate in Turkey in 2018.
Norman, 66, seems strangely relaxed about the man he goes to bed with (not that he’s legally allowed to do so in Saudi Arabia). He says his decision came simply from a desire to expand the game in another part of the world, which sports stars always say when asked to balance money from a regime with appalling human rights records. In January 2019, for example, Phil Mickelson, apparently one of golf’s stand-up boys, collected a seven-figure entry fee for flying halfway around the world to compete in the Saudi International tournament, which was funded by bin Salman, and passed that he just “I’m doing my part to expand the game in the kingdom.”
âI understand those who are upset or disappointed. You will be ok ” Mickelson told Twitter, in a frivolous, unconvincing and frankly insulting defense.
When Golf Digest magazine pushed Norman for Saudi Arabia’s treatment of women, he appeared unimpressed by the country’s reputation. (According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index, the kingdom ranks 147NS of 153 nations in the world.) He also wasn’t worried about where the financial support was coming from. âPIF, our majority investor, is obviously a commercial company. You are very autonomous, âhe said.
And very wealthy. The Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute estimates the PIF has assets of $ 450 billion and already has a wide range of holdings in US publicly traded companies such as Disney, Uber, Bank of America and Boeing.
But the Saudi invasion of sport seems different, even wrong. It’s an ugly attempt to gloss over issues the world is supposed to ignore – an obvious back door offer for international acceptance. Call it cynical, tasteless, or âsportswear,â it still stinks.
Worryingly, however, nobody seems to care. In October, Mohammed bin Salman’s PIF completed the $ 400 million acquisition of English Premier League soccer club Newcastle United, transforming them from perennial underachievers into the richest team in the country overnight. Didn’t their long-suffering supporters care where their newfound wealth came from? The fact that hundreds in the team’s stadium waved Saudi Arabian flags and wore keffiyeh does not suggest it. Several Premier League clubs, including Manchester United, protested the sale, although reigning Premier League champions Manchester City, owned by the Abu Dhabi United Group, remained conspicuously closed.
Even UNICEF Ambassador David Beckham is following the Middle East‘s money trail. Next month, English co-owner of Major League Soccer team Inter Miami CF will be revealed as the face of the 2022 World Cup, hosted by Qatar, as part of a reported 10-year $ 200 million deal he signed, around the country as a travel destination. Remember that this is a nation where homosexuality is punished with three years in prison and rape the victims can face imprisonment for sexual intercourse outside of marriage. Amnesty International estimates that more than 6,500 migrant workers, often paying less than a dollar an hour, died building the stadiums needed for the World Cup.
But hey, enjoy your vacation!
It’s hardly surprising. The simple fact that Qatar, a country smaller than the state of Connecticut with no footballing legacy to speak of, should be named the Sport’s Most Prestigious Event, given the ongoing bribery investigation during the application process, tells you all you need to know.
Across the region, money speaks louder than protests ever could. In December 2019, a completely new arena with 15,000 spectators was built near Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, just so that heavyweight boxers Anthony Joshua and Andy Ruiz Jr. Guarantee gold medals at major events. And next month, the first Saudi Arabian Formula 1 Grand Prix will take place in Jeddah, an event that will cost the kingdom nearly $ 700 million in hosting fees over the next 10 years.
Scratch the surface of most sports franchises or sponsorship deals and you’re bound to find something uncomfortable. But the PIF’s ruinous business is much more dire.
Unfortunately, for all the joy it brings, the world of sport still has an incurable habit of turning a blind eye to uncomfortable truths. As the vast wealth of PIF continues to grow influential, that won’t change any time soon.
Gavin Newsham is co-founder of Golf Punk magazine and has also written for Golf Monthly and Golf World.