SPICE ON GOLF
“Sportwashing” or Real Reform Across Saudi Sands? “Anybody who says sport isn’t political, By Judd Spicer
that’s rubbish, sport is very political and we’ve seen it through the years.”
Let us begin with a few numbers.
WASH YOUR HANDS The term has become known as “Sportwashing,” a word that infers that Saudi Arabia has worked, or avidly spent, to mask its loathsome human rights and gender inequality records by bringing massive sports and amusement ventures to its country.
Here’s one: 287. That’s where Jack Nicklaus ranks in all-time PGA Tour on-course earnings, with a tally of $5,734,031. Here’s another number: 15. That’s how many millions Rory McIlroy earned as a bonus for capturing 2019’s TOUR Championship. NEAR OBSCENE EARNINGS Ok, one more: 19. That’s where Charles Howell III ranks in alltime on-course earnings, with a bounty of $39,527,429. That’s about eight times as much as Nicklaus won; Howell, a veteran of 558 Tour events heading into 2020, has won three times in his career. The numbers and dollars signs could ensue, of course; but that’s another article for another time. Point being herein is that the cash for the world’s best golfers has gone from healthy to near obscene in recent years, and as the game’s global influence continues to augment, there is no shortage of hosts all-to-happy to toss more coin in the jar. Saudi Arabia among them.
Some may argue that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is genuinely interested in reform; others will counter that the Saudi royal family is tactfully distracting the globe from what lurks beneath its sudden interest in becoming a worldly nexus of entertainment. Since Salman directed his kingdom’s General Sports Authority to create a Sports Development Fund in the autumn of 2016, the nation’s efforts to bolster its aesthetic amid a deservedly-skeptical outside world has seen Saudi Arabia, according to The Guardian, conduct sport-driven meetings with entities ranging from the NBA, to the MLS, to WWE, to championship boxing events and the European Golf Tour. SAUDI ARABIA CONNECTED TO 9/11 ATTACKERS All this, of course: while the CIA concluded that Salman ordered the murder of Washington Post Columnist Jamal Khashoggi; while a Saudi-led coalition against Yemen has killed thousands of civilians; and while victims’ families from 9/11 are suing Saudi Arabia for compensation, based on the belief that a Saudi official helped two of the 19 hijackers carry out the terrorist attacks on New York City (though 15 of the 19 attackers were Saudi, the country has continually denied links to al-Qaeda). BLATANT DISCRIMINATION AGAINST WOMEN As for a sample of those gender inequalities: In early 2019, the nation began allowing women to travel abroad without a male’s permission; in late ‘19, restaurants in the country formally ended restrictions for separate entrances for men and women (with their kids); heck, women weren’t even allowed to drive cars in Saudi Arabia until 2018. And in 2020? Well, women will be driving a lot more. In the closing weeks of ‘19, it was announced that Saudi Arabia will host its first female golf tournament, with a maiden Ladies European Tour event in March of this year; the tourney’s purse of $1 million will be said tour’s second-largest payday for a non-major. Of course, participants may be forced to don trousers for the tournament, in order to comply with the kingdom’s dress regulations.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman— Providing multi-million dollar sports purses and millions more in appearance fees, with questionable motives.
22 Golf News Magazine | February 2020
Sportwashing or genuine reform? Perhaps only the sands of time will truly tell.
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Golf News Magazine the February 2020 issue.